Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Bottled or Tap? What’s the choice?

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Today, most Americans are concerned about the quality of the water they drink. This concern is relatively new to North America: for thousands of years, Native Americans lived by reliable fresh water sources. Not so for the settlers. They considered fresh water dangerous, a perspective rooted in paranoia and the realities of poor water-drinking decisions. Said Jamestown resident George Percy, “cold water [was] taken out of the River, which was at a floud verie salt, at a low tide full of slime and filth, which was the destruction of many of our men.”   Instead, they favored fermented libations, primarily…

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Valentine’s Day – Sweet and Ancient

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Valentine’s Day sweets are older and more remarkable than taste reveals, some originating thousands of years ago, and were associated with the less romantic notions of fertility and sex. One example is the quintessential heart-shaped candy box. The heart, which obviously looks nothing like an actual heart, likely evolved from the now extinct silphium plant used by fifth century Romans as a seasoning, medicine and birth control measure. Its pod was heart-shaped, lending itself to the symbolic heart of today. After appearing in everything from 14th and 15th century artwork to16th century playing cards, it found a place in Valentine’s…

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Valentine’s Day – Sweet and Sexy

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Valentine’s Day sweets are older and more remarkable than taste reveals, some originating thousands of years ago to celebrations of fertility and sex. One example is the quintessential heart-shaped candy box. The heart shape, which obviously looks nothing like an actual heart, likely evolved from the now extinct silphium plant used by fifth century Romans as a seasoning, medicine and birth control measure. Its pod was heart-shaped, lending itself to the symbolic heart of today. After appearing in everything from 14th and 15th century artwork to16th century playing cards, it found a place in Valentine’s Day sweets in 1861.  That’s…

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Sichuan Province and the Global Wonton

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When it comes to food research, I generally focus on sugars and sweets. But a recent lunch with a friend, Judy, convinced me to venture away. She and I met in Rockville, Maryland at the Sichuan Jin River restaurant, situated in an old style (think 1950s) shopping mall-ish place, between a vast parking lot and a busy street. The restaurant lacked dazzle and the menu was full of common, crowd-pleasing items such as wonton soup. Fortunately, Judy, who has mastered the art of eating, selected satisfyingly Sichuan-style dishes for both of us: roasted peanuts with tiny anchovies, emboldened by chili…

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The Taming of the Peppermint Plant

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I recently got a call from a reporter at the Wall Street Journal, asking about the background of peppermint in the U.S.: Was it a breath freshener? A medicine? A treat? I don’t think I’m scooping WSJ by answering the question here, which is “yes.” Peppermint was all this and more. A hybrid of water mint and spearmint, the peppermint first made an appearance in England in the 1600s and in North America via the early colonists. They used the plant as a medicine as well as a treat in early versions of candy. It was tasty, effective, and grew…

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Black Music Month

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We cannot let June slip by without acknowledging Black Music M onth and the remarkable contribution of black musicians to our culture, our history, and, dare I say, our candy.  Here are three of our favorites:   James P. Johnson.  In 1894 and the great African American musician and composer was born. Classically trained, he went on to bridge the gap between ragtime and jazz, as back-up player for such greats as Ethel Waters and Bessie Smith, mentor to Duke Ellington and  Fats Waller, among many others, and an accompanist on over 400 recordings, and colleag ue of George Gershwin….

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Potato Candy

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The potato candy is quickly rising to the best seller list at the shop. Our customers have two reactions to this Americanized German immigrant. One is: “What is potato candy?” The other: “My grandmother use to make this.” So, let’s address this fascinating candy: What is potato candy? Potato candy came to the U.S., somewhere around the turn of the century, reportedly from Germany. It arrived in recipe form – possibly memorized rather than written – with immigrants. The candy consisted of two main ingredients: potato and sugar. One it hit the American shores, it took on peanut butter –…

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New! Gummy Cola

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A little known fact: the gummy candy started life as the Turkish Delight – a medicine used for sore throat around 900CE – and is a cousin to the Chuckles and jelly bean. Our question: which new gummy should we introduce at the store? The consensus: the gummy cola. And let me tell you –they’re flying off the shelves. More than the gummy bear, gummy bear, and even the jelly beans! I’m serious m- they’re delicious.

The Story of Hate and Love

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Throughout my career as a candy researcher, I have encountered much love – candy that grandparents gave to grandchildren, parents gave to their kids, lovers gave to each other. I’ve also encountered hate through the realities of the displacement of Naive Americans, the enslavement of African Americans, and the horrors of the spice trade, to name a few. These were no economic activities – they were rooted in a hate that makes the most egregious activities  commonplace. So, when I confronted hate in my hometown of Shepherdstown, West Virginia I expected the community to rise up against it. Yet, that…

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Cinnamon Tree

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What is this gnarled tree? Today we know it well – we use its bark as a flavoring and garnish which we associate with love, comfort and fun. Yet for millennia, it had multifold uses in the Mideast, Mediterranean, and Asia – as a perfume, spice, embalming agent, medicine, appetite stimulator, digestive, and, like so much else,  aphrodisiac. It was transported from Asia through the brutality and currency of the spice trade and has had a a leading player in the American food and beverage landscape since the 1700s.  It’s the cassia, aka cinnamon, tree. “I have perfumed my bed…

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