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Wednesday
Sep292010

Maybe I'm A-Maized: A Brief History of Candy Corn

Image originally used for Serious EatsEating seasonal is of interest to everyone these days, and the freshest produce in the world of sweets right now is corn--candy corn, that is.

But in the same way that one might want to meet the producer, why don't we get to know the backstory behind those little sugary cones of delicious sweetness?

Here goes.

First off: Who invented Candy Corn?

According to this article, "Bill Plumlee, the public relations manager of Brach's Candy Co., said George Renninger of the Wunderlee Candy Co. created candy corn in the 1880s."

And, to answer another question you have ("what's up with the colors, dude?"), as I also discovered in the same article,

Creators chose the three colors of candy corn, to reflect the colors of the real thing.

"It's supposed to mimic corn," Plumlee said. "Yellow on top, darker as it goes down and whitish as it nears the end."

Now, I have to squint really hard to see it that way, but maybe the inventor had very poor vision (or maybe he was color blind?).

Interestingly, as I found out on Slashfood,

 The design apparently made it popular with farmers when it first came out, but it was the fact that it had three colors - a really innovative idea - that catapulted it to popularity.

Of course, though Mr. Renninger is credited with coming up with this sweet idea, many actually assign credit to Goelitz (now part of Jelly Belly) as being the ones who really brought candy corn into the public eye:"1898. Goelitz Confectionery Company begins making candy corn or "chicken feed." They continue to make this Halloween favorite longer than any other company." ---Candy: The Sweet History, Beth Kimmerle (discovered via Food Timeline)

And to expand on that, according to the Jelly Belly site,

Our beginnings are traced back to a family named Goelitz. When two young brothers emigrated from Germany to make their mark in America, they set the family on its candymaking course. In 1869, just two years after arriving in America, Gustav Goelitz bought an ice cream and candy store in Belleville, Ill., and his brother, Albert was sent out in a horse drawn wagon to sell their sweets to nearby communities.

Then the second generation of the family jumped on the band wagon of candy innovations by making a new type of candy, then called "buttercream" candies, including Candy Corn, a sweet we've made since about 1900 (and still use the same recipe). These candies carried the family through the Great Depression and two world wars. Today, the great-grandsons of Gustav Goelitz, the fourth generation, are still carrying on the tradition of making candy.

Was it always a Halloween treat?

Interestingly, as I found on Food Timeline, candy corn wasn't always strictly associated with Halloween, but more with fall--the transition to "Halloween Candy" was perhaps a subtle shift: "Candy corn, like many other candies we enjoy at Halloween, was promoted as treats for Halloween by candy companies after WWII." (a time when, by the way, the art of Trick or Treating really began in earnest). As the writeup goes on, "Candy corn might have been especially popular because it was also a seasonal (fall) confection. Popcorn balls and candied apples are other seasonal (fall) treats conventinetly transitioned to Halloween."

How is it made?

As I learned from this interview on NPR,

In the early days, making candy corn was hard work. It was done by hand. The ingredients were cooked in huge kettles. Then, the hot candy was poured into buckets. Men poured the liquid candy corn from the buckets into kernel-shaped trays. The workers had to make three passes to create the white, yellow and orange layers. Production was so labor-intensive the candy corn was made only from March to November.

Of course, now candy corn is made by machine--I could try to explain it, but the Food Network can show you in living color:

But that's not the only thing that has changed. Per Slashfood, the ingredient list has, too:

Originally, candy corn was made of sugar, corn syrup (not HFCS), fondant and marshmallow, among other things, and the hot mixture was poured into cornstarch molds, where it set up...The recipe changed slightly over time and there are probably a few variations in recipes between candy companies, but the use of a mixture of sugar, corn syrup, gelatin and vanilla (as well as honey, in some brands) is the standard.

Of course, if you're brave, you can make candy corn at home too. I did it last year, for Serious Eats.

How do Mellowcreme Pumpkins play into it?

Mellowcreme pumpkins (and the other weird shapes that come in those "Autumn Mix" assortments) were a later addition:

Candy pumpkins first were produced in mid 20th century using a process similar to that of candy corn. Corn syrup, food coloring, honey, and sugar are beat and heated in large kettles to produce an ultra-sweet syrup.

This slurry generically is called "mellowcreme" by confectioners, since the resulting candy has a mellow, creamy texture.

They are said to appeal in a different way than candy corn because their different volume and weight makes for an "interesting texture". And in case you were wondering--yes, I prefer Mellowcreme pumpkins to candy corn.

The final word?

Even if you believe, like Serious Eats, that candy corn is "the fruitcake of halloween candy" and one of the 10 worst Halloween candies to give out, there's no denying its iconic status as a Halloween classic, and whether it's because of its classic look or simply because it's slowly going stale in your goodie bag, it's not going anywhere.

Reader Comments (16)

Very nice!

September 29 | Unregistered CommenterMariMiloCakeDesign

I love candy corn (really!) and always eat it one color at a time, from the top down. I also actually love the "harvest mix," too -- even the chocolate ones!

Great post. Happy autumn!

September 29 | Unregistered CommenterThe Nervous Cook

I don't like candy corn, but I LOVE the little pumpkins!

September 29 | Unregistered CommenterSarah B.

I totally love the Autumn Mix! Especially the pumpkins. Gotta eat the green top off first!

September 29 | Unregistered CommenterEB

candy corn is actually my FAVORITE candy .. but only the kind by Brach's, anything else is too waxy tasting. nice post :-)

September 29 | Unregistered Commentersarida

LOL! Those candy corn is looking at the candy pumpkin like, "where on earth did you come from?"

September 29 | Unregistered CommenterJeanee

I haven't had candy corn in a while - but this is a great post, really informative! :)

September 29 | Unregistered CommenterWei-Wei

I ❤ Candy Corn. Big Time. One of things I miss most here in Germany. Sometimes my friends from the USA take pity on me and send me some. Great post for us insatiable candy corn freaks.

September 30 | Unregistered CommenterLora

The Harvest mix- a daily supply of fruits and vegetables...

September 30 | Unregistered CommenterDebbeS

Loved this blog! Read it from start to finish with a smile on my face!
How could anyone hate candy corn. It warms my soul.

September 30 | Unregistered CommenterChef Jenn

I had a dream about candy corn the other night. I built a tower of them or a pyramid, well actually, a giant candy corn out of little candy corns. I have been craving them ever since and this post may have just thrown me over the edge.

September 30 | Unregistered CommenterAudrey

we love candy corn in our house!

September 30 | Unregistered Commenteramanda

The Urban housewife makes beautiful vegan candycorn! I'm in awe of you for making that.

October 1 | Unregistered Commenterlilyofthevalley

Oops! Link:
http://theurbanhousewife.blogspot.com/2007/09/homemade-vegan-candy-corn-happy.html

October 1 | Unregistered Commenterlilyofthevalley
The page is indeed perfect and I am willing to read it.
October 6 | Unregistered Commenterugg tall boots
I only like the candycorn made with honey!!!
October 7 | Unregistered CommenterJoan
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