Archive for the ‘History’ Category

The Strawberry, a Spy, and a Happy Accident

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Taken, in part, from “Sweet as Sin” (Prometheus, 2016) Strawberry is one of the most popular candy flavors in the nation. It’s in chewing gum, hard candies, jelly beans, taffy, Caramel Creams. Strawberry leaves make a healthy and delicious tea and chocolate covered strawberries are unbeatable. Yet, the most intriguing aspect of the strawberry is its story, involving three continents, international spies, life at the high seas, and science. Humble Beginnings Originally, North American strawberries were tiny little nuggets, a humble yet wild plant. They held special meaning for Native Americans because they were the first to produce fruit in…

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Father’s Day: Expression of Love or a Commercial Trap? Why Worry?

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If you’re torn about Father’s Day – wanting to show Dad love but avoid a commercial trap – take heart.  While some people believe Father’s Day, and its counter-part Mother’s Day, are a Hallmark Card company gimmick, both have sincere origins dating back to the early 1900s in West Virginia. Father’s Day began in 1908 at a church service honoring 362 coal-miners who died at the Fairmont Coal Company disaster in Monongah, West Virginia. The one-time event honored not only those men but all fathers. The idea was picked up a year later by Sonora Smart Dodd of Spokane, Washington…

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The Great Billie Holiday

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Billie Holiday Billie Holiday, born Eleanora Fagan Gough in 1915, lived a remarkable, ground-breaking, and tragic life. She was raised in an impoverished section of Baltimore by her mother, her jazz guitarist father rarely around. After spending two years in reform school, she moved to Harlem with her mother where she ran errands in a brothel and later worked as a prostitute. Eventually, she went to a speakeasy looking for work as a dancer, but wound up singing instead. This launched a remarkable, international career where she appeared with Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Artie Shaw and other greats….

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Valentine’s Day: Why Hearts?

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So, it’s almost Valentine’s Day and you might be wondering how the ubiquitous  hearts got their start. The shape actually evolved from the ancient and now extinct silphium plant, used in the fifth century by Romans as a spice, aphrodisiac and birth control measure. The plant’s seed pod was heart-shaped, much like the bleeding hearts you see today. At some point, the heart was also used as a  depiction of the anatomical heart. Around 1250, the heart took on sexual and religious significance, appearing as  an inverted pine cone. A hundred or so years later, it was featured in its…

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Art Candy: From Candy Bowls to Christmas Candy

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When I think of candy and the idea of giving, I think of the candy bowls grandmothers of a certain generation left out for their children and grandchildren. These women grew up during the Depression and wars when sugar shortages were common and sweets hard to find. Once sugar was available they filled their bowls to the brim with brightly colored sweets, as ornamental as delicious. It’s no surprise some of these candies became standard Christmas fare, such as the art candy, ribbon candy, and candy straws. Of all these candies, the art candy is the most impressive, in my…

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Sweets Under Seige: Revolutionary War

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Here’s a picture of my handsome husband over there in Afghanistan. The USO gives a little levity to folks like him with shows and, yes, candy, upholding a tradition that started with the Revolutionary War. I send Dan chocolate covered espresso and bourbon balls among the books and aspirins.  My packages are always followed by an e-mail that exclaims: Got IT!  Then a blow-by-blow of what he ate first. So, why not explore what the troops have enjoyed since way back when starting with the Revolutionary War. The soldiers back then had an unpredictable assortment of food, sometimes nothing, sometimes…

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The Quick Clean Story of Dentyne

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This familiar gum was invented by pharmacist. Franklin V.Canning in New York in 1899. The name stood for “Dental Hygiene” and Canning was the first, since the Aztecs, anyway, to position gum as a breath freshener. Canning’s tagline was: “To prevent decay, To sweeten the breath, To keep teeth white.” “Taste the tingle” is new – demonstrates the transition of gum from something that is purposeful to something that creates an experience.

The Guy Who Invented Chewing Gum – A Life of Many Firsts

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John Bacon Curtis was the one who started it all – he ushered in the world of chewing gum, bringing the nation a new pastime and treat. In the process, he ignited many other firsts, most so commonplace we forget anyone could be first to do them. Curtis was born in Hampden Maine in 1827. He went to common school for a few years then left to help bring in money for his family. He worked as a farmhand and later a “swamper,” clearing the underbrush and forests to make way for roads. At that time, the Native Americans of…

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So Much Resin, So Much Time: The First Chewing Gums Ever

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Throughout history, people have chewed tree resins: they were the first and longest-standing chewing gum, appreciated for their flavor and medicinal and health value. Amazingly, the shift from gum as a natural resin to a popular industrial wonder spanned a mere 75 years – a fraction of a hiccup in time. Here are some of the originals: Birch: The oldest chewing gum in the world was found by British archeology students on a volunteer dig in Finland. There, they discovered a clump of birch-bark tar, complete with teeth marks. Finish archeologist Sami Viljamaa says the chunk is between 5,500 and…

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The Amazing and Mighty Date

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If you love sweets, ancient history, ancient symbols, and the miracle of certain plants…then you have to love the date. This remarkable fruit has been cultivated since 7000 BCE – longer according to some reports. Its very existence defies the endurance of other plants: it grows in hot, arid conditions, its palms rise up in the desert like large, ungainly umbrellas in the midst of dry earth. When food in the Mideast was often scarce, and sugar unusual, the date must have been a marvel. More than half of the fruit – roughly 54% – is sugar and the tree remarkably…

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Will the real cinnamon please stand up!

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“I have perfumed my bed with myrrh, aloes and cinnamon. Come let us take our fill of love till morning.” (Proverbs 7, 17-18) When enjoying cinnamon, a staple in food stores large and small, you’re actually enjoying a spice with a history colored by elegance, spirituality and brutality. The cinnamon goes back to Egypt around 2000 BCE and comes from the bark of a laurel tree. It has gone by the Malay name “kayumanis,” meaning “sweet wood,” the Italian, canella, or “little cannon tubes” for the rolled cinnamon sticks, and the Hebrew “qinnämön” – probably the origin of the English…

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Chocolate Talk Bits and Nips

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I attended a talk on the history of chocolate at the historic Dumbarton House in D.C. The speaker, Joyce White, managed to cover a broad swath of history in 90 minutes with plenty of interesting facts. Here are a handful with a few of my own thrown in. We all know that the ancients Aztecs revered the cacao bean: they even considered it money…so drinking chocolate was much like drinking gold. But the crème de la crème of the chocolate drink was the froth. The frothier the better. Chocolate was considered hot and moist in a purely sensual way. In…

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