The Ghosts of Candies Past

The 1920’s were a decade of decadence for Americans, an era when we refined frivolity from indulgence to art form.  The post war economic boom meant that people with ideas could find capital to finance them; professional sports, comic books, and trading cards became thriving industries. It was during this era that America said goodbye to “Little House on the Prairie” era candies and confections, gone were the days of sucking on peppermint sticks or chewing on anise roots and only a hayseed would be caught dead with marzipan.

Many of the candies of the interwar period have survived to both pleasure and torment us almost 100 years later.  Here are five that are worth their weight in sugar and five that never should have survived beyond the Korean War.


Butterfinger – If you can’t believe that this candy bar was invented in the 1920’s you aren’t alone, it’s actually more plausible to me that it was left behind in a speakeasy by a flaming DeLorean.  “The Finger” is to candy bars what Moutain Dew is to soda: adolescent crack.  Sure it falls apart in your lap and sticks in your teeth for days, but the Butterfinger is still with us because it passes the ultimate food test; no one knows what it is but we eat it anyway.

Charleston Chew – The Charleston chew appears to have received an 11th hour stay of execution by two innovations that have consistently kept it on the shelves of convenience stores, grocer’s aisles, and little league concessioners.  The first was the refrigerator, whose solidifying effect significantly reduced the amount of time it took to consume the bar, and the second being the mid 1970’s introduction of new chew flavors.  Starsky and Hutch may have eaten a straight chew, but it’s a safe bet Huggy Bear cooled out with a chilled strawberry.

Orange Slices – I know it’s just an orange gumdrop shaped like a fruit slice, but how did that earn them the headlining gig at the Brach’s candy dispenser?  Probably because you can’t actually eat only one… go ahead and try.  Sure it tastes like chewy Triaminic, but it comes at you with sweet, sugar crystals and finishes with a strong, smooth, citrus nose.  Plus you’re getting your vitamin C right?

Life Savers – Possibly the best thing that can come out of a grandmothers purse, can you imagine a childhood without Lifesavers hard candies?  Whether they arrived one roll at a time or in the keepsake holiday book, Lifesavers may be the most “approved of ” candy on the planet.  I’ll trade you my Wint-O-Greens for your Butter Rums every day of the week.

Milky Way – Milky Way did for the design of modern candy bars what Milton Hershey did for candy distribution, it raised the bar and forced everyone else to jump over it.  The combination of caramel and nougat has formed the bedrock of every major bar to follow.  While it can be argued that the Oh Henry beat Milky Way to the punch with peanuts, Milky Way re-eclipsed the Oh Henry when it added nuts and called itself by the most powerful name in the candy bar universe, “Snickers”.

Baby Ruth forfeits a spot on the list because they are lying, thieving, cheats.



Good-N-Plenty – If you’ve never had a Good-N-Plenty, imagine a sliver of stinky black licorice making out with an ancient Tic-Tac… in your mouth.  I’ve never met anyone that loved both black licorice and Contac pills but put licorice inside of a Contac brand cold capsule and watch people gobble them up.  Maybe it’s a gender thing, the folks at the Ontario Science Center report that when blended with cucumber, Good-N-Plenty is the most desirable smell to females.

Circus Peanuts – I know that the “orange marshmallow shaped like a peanut” is an incredibly easy target, but ask yourself this, “If we all hate them so much, how are they still in business?”  The truth is that some of you actually do enjoy artificial banana flavoring and you’ve got a secret stash of these and Banana Runts hidden behind the Old Crow in the liquor cabinet.  I bet we’d like them more if they started shaping them like bananas.

Tootsie Roll – While they serve a useful purpose as the center of any red colored Tootsie Pop, the Tootsie Roll is the bizarro Circus Peanut.  Everybody claims to love them but consider the last full candy dish you passed by… full of Midgees right?  I’m pretty sure that Don Draper was the man behind a Tootsie Roll campaign that we still believe.  Go ahead and have one… if you are hoping to rip out a filling.

Chick-O-Stick – From creation, to promotion, to packaging, nothing can compete with the Chick-O-Stick in terms of candy failure.  Imagine taking the chocolate away from a Butterfinger, rolling it in the thinnest cellophane sleeve since Smarties, and then breaking it into 6 pieces before it ever hits the shelf… that’s the Chic-O-Stick.  Oh wait it CAN get worse; old ones absorb moisture through the wrapper and get chewy.

Candy Buttons – While these are getting hard to find outside of “Old Fashioned” candy stores, there’s very little good about a thin roll of wax paper covered in dried-out frosting dots.  While they don’t taste very good to begin with, factor in the flavor of the paper which is inevitably stuck to the bottom and you’ve got a recipe for the extinction of fun.  Maybe if they’d used dried out toothpaste kids could care for their teeth while getting their daily fiber.


If you aren’t hungry enough yet, here’s some quick candy bar tips if you’re travelling:

In the American South, absolutely find a Goo Goo Cluster.
In the American West, look into the Rocky Road and flee the Big Hunk.
In the American Northwest, ignore the Cherry Cocktail and sample an Idaho Spud.
In the American Midwest, beware the addictive Valomilk and try a Twin Bing.
In the American East, just eat a Snickers or find a box of Tastycakes.
In New England, bite the Peanut Sky Bar but mock the Boston Baked Beans.
In Canada, there is only the Coffee Crisp.
In Europe, Eat whatever dark chocolate you find.  If you must have a candy bar then you can’t go wrong with Ritter Sport.

Finally, If you like 3 Musketeers, give the U-no bar a shot.  It’s like a high calorie 3 Musketeers with tiny almonds… which means that the U-no bar is delicious but as bad for you as a pack of Marlboro Reds.

Is there a candy bar you love?  If so, holla back because it’s almost 2:30 and I need to make it till 5:30 tonight!


24 Responses to “The Ghosts of Candies Past”

  1. Jordan March 28, 2011 at 2:55 pm #

    I had my first bite of a Big Hunk when I had my braces on in 7th grade. It was instantly deemed unsafe to eat… I could “brake a brace off”. It never stopped me from wanting them. Three years later… the day my braces came off, I immediately went to the Wilsonville 7-11 and bought a Big Hunk. That was the day I chipped a tooth. Still love them.

    • Jon March 28, 2011 at 3:00 pm #

      Do you like them warmed up in your back pocket, or straight up?

  2. Abbey March 28, 2011 at 3:06 pm #

    How in the world did Snickers not make your list? And a Heath bar, shove one of those in the freezer and you are in for a fabulous treat. We used to then take the package and whack it on the counter to crush the bar into a million tiny pieces. Personally my favorite childhood candy obsession was the insanely large Gobstopper Ball. The white one that was the size of a baseball. I famously kept one of those alive for an entire summer. Licking, licking, licking…then graciously invited my friends to partake in a taste of the center once it was reached in late August. Oh man…

    • Jon March 28, 2011 at 3:15 pm #

      Snickers is the undisputed candy bar champ, unfortunately it was made in the 1930’s not the ’20’s or it would have been on the top of the heap (i did give it some love with the Milky Way though). Chocolate Toffee is great, it’s just been around for so long I couldn’t put it in the top 5! Gotta love how patient you were with the Gobstopper!

  3. Peter March 28, 2011 at 3:06 pm #

    hmmm, a comprehensive reveiw indeed jon! I agree with the 5 you chose for each side. My additions to the good would be red licorice and any color bag of skittles. To the bad I would have to add Neco wafers – basically an antacid only it has no medicinal value, only useful as roof tiles on gingerbread houses…. this was a great blog, hilarious!

    • Jon March 28, 2011 at 3:16 pm #

      I really hated having to exclude the terrible Necco Wafers! They almost beat out the wax paper drops.

  4. Alice Burnham March 28, 2011 at 3:35 pm #

    You skipped Jujubes. They are the worst. Pretty colors and shapes are soooo tempting, and they seem like a good idea before they enter your mouth. Then for the next three hours, as you try to get them unstuck from your teeth, you remember why it has been years since you bought your last box.

    Best, from much more recent than the 20’s, is the 1000 Grand bar. You can eat the outside chocolate and crispy off and be left with a wonderful bite of carmel.

    Guess I like my candy an eating adventure as well as tasting good.

    • Jon March 28, 2011 at 4:39 pm #

      Do remember when the 100 Grand was called the 100,000 Dollar bar? Jujubes are terrible too, sometimes you have to send in a “rescue” jujube to stick to the one stuck to your tooth so you can get leverage to pull it off!

  5. Sharon O March 28, 2011 at 7:45 pm #

    Oh my new favorite is heath bar icecream made by breyers if I am going to consume a calorie which will land on my hips and make a roll I am going to go for a good calorie. OR godiva chocolates and Yes I like butterfingers too. My all time favorite is reeses peanut butter cup. Don’t know when any of those were invented just know they are good.

    • Jon March 29, 2011 at 9:05 am #

      Ice Cream plus Heath Bar sounds amazing! Reese’s are money too!

  6. Cody March 28, 2011 at 10:48 pm #

    Sweet Tarts and Peanut M&M’s are my ‘go-to’ candies. No idea when they were made. I’ll add Red Hots to the worst ever list. They’re like spicy glue. They start out hard, get soft, than petrify in your teeth.

    • Jon March 29, 2011 at 9:06 am #

      Red Hots are terrible! Sweet Tarts come in a big chewy size that I like too.

  7. Chris March 28, 2011 at 11:30 pm #

    In 1923 another delicious choice was added to the plethora (and I do know what that word means) of candied consumables: Reese’s Peanut Butter cup. The only way to buy it is in the pack. I try to buy a king size so that there is at least one to share with Raelene, but somehow it always get’s “lost” on the way home. Great post, great homework interruption. I think reformation theology could have used a little sugar.

    • Jon March 29, 2011 at 9:06 am #

      Good call with both the Reese’s AND 3 Amigos reference… plus you worked in reformation theology!

  8. Destiny March 29, 2011 at 7:25 am #

    Frozen Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup all the way. It’s the only one that I can justify as a “healthy snack” since peanut butter is a protein food. Now it’s even better as they have come out with a Dark Chocolate and we know how healthy that is for your heart. Been eating dark for years so I’m good.

    You should watch the show Unwrapped and see how all the candies you mentioned are made and the history behind it. Unless you already do and that’s is one of your sources for this blog entry. Which is great by the way.

    Sorry, all I had were Nerds,Runts and Hot Tamales for you! Hope you all enjoyed them and made it til 5:00.
    I think at the next staff meeting everyone should bring their favorite candy. You can learn alot about a person that way.

    • Jon March 29, 2011 at 9:07 am #

      WHAT! Dark Chocolate Reese’s? YOu always have the market cornered on good info Destiny!

  9. John Saddington March 29, 2011 at 11:55 am #

    um. sour patch kids.

    • Jon March 29, 2011 at 12:07 pm #

      Sometimes those green ones are so sour they can make you squirm! I eat Sour Patches in the dark at the theater and the green ones are like little grenades!

  10. Laura March 29, 2011 at 3:36 pm #

    I like the Chick-O-Stick (even with the coconut-y flake outside) for the same reason I like the Butterfinger: the odd orange colored center is yummy. And it gets stuck in my teeth so I can continue to enjoy it for hours. That’s not my favorite though.

    For the past few years I’ve loved the Reese’s Mini Peanut Butter Cup. And as much as I love them I’m not completely loyal. I would never turn down a Twix, Dark Chocolate Toblerone, or Ghirardelli chocolate with carmel, mint or raspberry filling. It seems to be snack time all of a sudden….

    • Jon March 29, 2011 at 5:53 pm #

      Spoken like a candy connoisseur! You’re the first person I’ve ever known to defend “the Stick”! Thanks for sharing;)

  11. Keith Dart March 29, 2011 at 8:46 pm #

    JF….I’m in agreement with the worst of the worst…but an honorable mention has to go to the ding dong that decided to put a stick of gum inside a pack of Topps baseball/football cards.

    For those that never collected. You had a pack of cardboard trading cards with a micro thin stick of bubble gum wedged in between. So one side of the gum tasted like cardboard and the other like the wax paper it was nestled up against.

    Of course is could also double as a steak knife since it typically was a hard as a rock and thinner than most razor blades.

  12. Jon March 30, 2011 at 7:50 am #

    So true Keith, Don’t forget that the gum also stained the card it was sticking to… I lost a Mike Schmidt that way, Still bitter.

  13. Jesse March 30, 2011 at 12:19 pm #

    Hot tamales are one of my favorites, they are great in a movie theater, especially if the movie is bad their great taste and spiciness can distract you from any movie, like say the mummy for instance.

    • Jon March 31, 2011 at 2:43 pm #

      Remember when you said, “If that guy comes back and saves everybody at the end, this movie sucks.”? That movie gave us something to do while we waited for Star Wars, but it took two hours from us that we’ll never get back. At least we spent it together.

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