Sweet Talkin' Blog

The Mystery of Watergate (Salad)

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What on earth is Watergate salad? Who invented it? Why? And why call it Watergate? These questions are circulating around DC these days, and I was fortunate enough to be invited to WAMU, DC’s Public Radio affiliate to weigh in on the matter. So, allow me: Watergate is a dessert made of pistachio pudding, nuts, whipped cream, pineapple, and above all, marshmallows. It first appeared in 1975– a concoction supposedly invented in the kitchens of General Foods – now Kraft – and has since appeared at picnics, church get-togethers, and other family events. Its origin, however, is not in the…

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Yesterday’s Medicines, Today’s Delights: Three Fascinating Flowers

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 Throughout history, people used roots, barks, flowers and seeds as medicines. Today, we recognize them as delights – tasty, relaxing or pleasant pick-me-ups.  I want to tell you about all of them…but there are simply too many to review in one blog. So, let’s start with three flowers: the rose, lavender and marigold. All  are popular today,  typically for their scent and good looks. Through most of history, they’ve been used for many other reasons. Roses Roses have inhabited the earth for 35 million years. The Chinese first cultivated them 5,000 years ago and they have held a place in…

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The Unexpected Origin of the Marshmallow: from Ancient Medicines to the Steam Locomotive

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Yes, the marshmallow really is from the marshmallow plant.  The marshmallow plant, or Althaea officinalis, is a relative of the hollyhock, with pastel-colored, papery flowers.[i] The plant, especially its roots, have a sticky substance that once gave the marshmallow its taste and texture. Today, the root is available as a tea: the mucilage is like a syrup in hot water but thickens into a strangely sweet gel when cool. The plant originated in Europe and West Asia where the ancients used it to treat coughs and sore throats. The marshmallow was also a sweet where the Ancient Egyptians boiled with…

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The Slow and Quick Rise 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?  The answer is “yes.” Peppermint was all this and more. The peppermint originated as a naturally occurring  hybrid of water mint and spearmint. The exact date of this union is unknown, but the ancient Egyptians and likely, the Greeks, did use it. In Europe, the peppermint appeared in John Ray’s book Methodus Plantarum Nova in 1682 and was listed in the London Pharmacopceia in 1721.   From there, the…

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The Chocolate Tasters Have Spoken!

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And the winner is….Hostess Mints! We sent our official candy tasters a variety of chocolates to try …and the verdict is in! Out of two cordials – Irish cream and peach – chocolate covered figs, milk Wilbur Buds, chocolate cayenne pepper balls, hostess mints, and the great outlier of them all chocolate covered gummy bears…the winner is the Hostess Mints!! So what about the Hostess Mints? They’re a classic treat with chocolate enrobed or sandwiched mint. and a favorite of bridge players from the 1920s through 1950s… Among the positive reviews were that the hostess mint was “GREAT! Much better…

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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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The Remarkable Life and Times of the Jelly Bean

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The story of the  jelly bean is remarkable, spanning cultures and centuries, involving sultans and ancient apothecaries, wars and great literary figures. It began around 226-652 CE in the Persian Empire where the ruling power, the Sasanids, enjoyed a sweet called “abhisa” made of honey, fruit syrups, and starch.  By the 9th century, it appeared in the Arab apothecaries as a remedy for sore throats called “rahat ul-hulküm,” later shortened to “lokum,” meaning “throats ease” which many still use today. The sweet had a more or less humble life until the 1750’s when Sultan Abdul Hamid I fell in love…

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Retro Candy You May Have Missed

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The universe of “retro” candy is a large one, spanning over 150+ years – Wax Lips (early 1900s), Good n’ Plenty (1893), NECCO Wafers (1847) and such sensations as Fruit Slice Gum (1960s) and Turkish Taffy (around 1931)… to name a few. But wedged into this clutter of wrappers, flavors and advertising stints are candies long forgotten but still among us – alive, well, and ever fascinating. Here is a sample of some of them: Cherry Cocktail (1926). Still made by the family-owned Idaho Spud Candy Company which opened in 1901. The candy bar is not your everyday cherry cordial,…

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The True Story of Beemans – Pig Guts and Pepsin

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This popular Beeman’s gum was invented in the late 1800s by Dr. Edward E. Beeman, an Ohio-based physician and researcher, who discovered that pepsin, derived from the stomach of hogs, could aid digestion. He begin selling pepsin powder, but sales were not what he’d hoped. So, Nellie Horton, his bookkeeper or local shopkeeper, depending on who you ask, suggested that he make a delicious tasting pepsin chewing gum to increase sales. Beeman made the gum. It tasted good, was individually wrapped, but sales were lackluster. And why? Beeman was a doctor, not a marketer, and called his company the unappealing…

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The Return of Black Jack, Clove and Beeman’s Gum – But Returned from Where?

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The iconic Black Jack, Clove and Beeman’s Gum have gone in and out of fashion for years. They left the market in 1978, returned in 1985 and, just a few years back, vanished again. And now – they’re back! Again! This much hailed return begs the question ‘where did they begin in the first place?’ The answer to that question requires a timeline of sorts which goes back to the origin of commercial chewing gum, which is unexpectedly recent. Throughout History: People everywhere have chewed tree resin to clean their teeth, heal gum and tooth problems, and ease other bodily…

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The Candy Cane – Details Revealed

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A few weeks ago, I posted that History.com interviewed me via a number of written questions.The editor said I could share the full Candy Cane Q&A once the article, with my quotes, was released. She also said I need to give them credit…which, as you can imagine, is a pleasure. So…here it is… What do you know about the origins of the candy cane?  The first candy cane most likely took shape in 17th century Europe when people were enjoying pulled sugars, the parent to today’s candy sticks. At that time, somewhere in Germany, an unknown person added a hook…

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The Deep – and Not Dark – Backstory of Holiday Candy

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One of the most beloved – and inexpensive – gifts during the holidays is Christmas candy. So, it’s ironic that the candy has little to do with Christmas, the birth of Jesus, or even the wintry season. The candy cane, for example, originated in Germany somewhere in the 1600s. Rumors abound as to its origin – some say a choirmaster gave it to the choirboys to quiet them during the services. Whatever the case may be, they were hand-pulled, all white, and yes, hung from evergreen trees…but not for Christmas. As for the most gorgeous candy (in my opinion) –…

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