by Kate Heyhoe
Candy, like candidates, it seems, is largely about packaging and promotion. With election politics heating up, and Valentine's Day approaching, I thought I'd take a look at the sweet-and-sour politics of candy.
As a young kid, I remember one of my favorite candies was an Abba Zaba bar, a tough little taffy with a peanut butter filling. Not to date myself too much, but back then (in the 1950s) the wrapper, and I believe the display box, featured images of black-skinned creatures (monkeys hanging from palm trees? or natives?), with an unstated but clearly African emphasis. Unbelievable but true. At least I think it's true. I've been searching for images of the original packaging on the Net and so far, all I've come up with are the current candy packaging and bulletin board references to that now banished wrapper. The company, Annabelle's, makes the statement that the graphics on the wrapper have never changed, under their ownership, but the original manufacturer, Cardinet Candy Co., made Abba Zaba bars up until the early 70s. I'm quite positive that simian-like images did exist before then, and I'm still looking for further substantiation. (I feel like Patrick McGoohan in the Prisoner, hallucinating hazy images, questioning his sanity and reality.)
Flipping through Beth Kimmerle's delightful book Candy: The Sweet History, I ran across a few other sweet tidbits that reflected the values (misguided as they were) of times past.
Does anyone remember "puffing" on candy cigarettes, with all the elegance of sun-shaded movie stars? Those were the days when smoking was universally cool, even if it was smelly. To counter smoker's breath, a guy named Charles Howard launched violet-flavored Scented Gum as early as 1934, with "fragrance that refreshes after eating, smoking or drinking."
How about bubble gum cigars, in pink and blue? In the 1960s, the Swell company made news with their line of Presidential Favorites: brown, cigar-shaped gum, with gold embossed bands, were displayed in cigar boxes bearing photos of the candidates and their slogans. You could select from the "Win with Jack" Kennedy cigar box or the "Win with Dick" Nixon carton. The cigars sold for a nickel.
Packaging is as important as product in candyland. The Ferrara Pan Company, makers of Red Hots, Jaw Busters, and Boston Baked Beans, has created some real doozies of candy boxes, though not all have withstood the fickle finger of fashion. To wit: the racially insensitive Cherry Chan candies, "packaged in a bright red box featuring a sinister Asian fellow with a mustache. For a while," writes Kimmerle, "they were also named Cherry Clan and featured a trio of cherries with slanted eyes wearing rattan hats." The candies were later renamed Cherryheads.
Not to be outdone in the area of racial stereotypes, Topps Chewing Gum's series of "Wacky Packages" trading cards parodied a Kiwi show polish can with a short, loinclothed, spear-toting African man and a logo reading "Piwi: Jungle Show Polish for Muddy Pygmies." Ouch! (Copyright was only 1979 on this classic P.I. example.)
And finally, the top contender in the "If-we-only-knew-then-what-we-know-now" file: The Pete Rose Supercharg'r Energy Bar, which billed itself as "Nature's Answer to Candy" but sported corn syrup as the first ingredient. Honesty is such a nagging inconvenience, eh, Pete?
Trivial Tidbit of the Day: Did you know that the first heart-shaped, Valentine's Day box of chocolates was introduced in 1868, by Richard Cadbury? The political scene, though, wasn't quite so sweet. That same year, Andrew Johnson (who succeeded Lincoln after the assassination) was the first President to be impeached, before being acquitted. That was also an election year, in which Ulysses S. Grant of Illinois stomped past Horatio Seymour of New York to become the next President of the United States.
Kate's Global Kitchen for February 2004:
02/06/04 Candy is Dandy! But Is It Politically Correct?
02/13/04 Food Fights For Fun and Love
02/20/04 A N'awlins' Mardi Gras Meal
02/27/04 James Beard's Protégés
Copyright © 2004, Kate Heyhoe. All rights reserved.
This page created February 2004
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