Candy was released on October 15. Yesterday, we got reacquainted with our favorite childhood toys. For today's Nostalgia Week guest post, we're turning our focus to another childhood obsession (for most of us, anyway): candy!

Samira Kawash's Candy: A Century of Panic and Pleasure is a scrumptious, sweeping history of sweet treats that includes the early days of mass production, its eventual entanglement with morality and how it became downright vilified by a diet-obsessed culture. This fascinating account of a candy crazed nation is certain to satisfy your craving for an entertaining and informative read. Here's Samira with more on the book and some interesting tidbits she learned while writing it:

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Candy: sometimes it seems like such an innocent pleasure. But then we worry: Will it rot my teeth? Make me fat? Ruin my dinner?


The ambivalence around candy really came home to me when my daughter was about three years old. Should I let her eat it? When and how much? I began to realize that I had grown up with a very confused message about how candy was both very desirable and very bad. My own confusion as a parent seemed reflected in many others’ experiences. It seemed to me that there was something interesting going on there, and I wanted to figure out what it was.


My research led me back to the earliest days of what I call “industrial candy,” that is, candy made in factories in mass quantities. Candy grabbed hold of the American imagination and stomach in the early decades of the 20th century, yet at the same time, there were many reasons Americans were suspicious about candy: It was a new kind of food; it was entirely artificial; and it offered pleasure and stimulation in ways that made some people who were influenced by religious moralism feel very uneasy.


Candy uncovers this untold history, both bright and dark. Here are some of the surprising stories about candy that I learned along the way.


•  Early nutrition research in the 19th century identified sugar as a significant source of quick energy. The German military experimented with candy rations and discovered significant advantages for endurance and strength. By the early 1900s, U.S. and British forces were generously provisioned with candy. The number one favorite was lemon drops, which candy makers produced to a precise U.S. government formula.


•  The quantity of inexpensive candy available to ordinary Americans exploded in the 1880s. Not everyone celebrated. Early candy critics warned that cheap candy was poison candy. Reformers alleged that candy routinely included noxious or toxic ingredients and fillers,  including boot black, floor scrapings, glue, plaster of paris, arsenic and iron rust. Hundreds of alleged poisonings were blamed on bad candy. The evidence? None to be found.


candy ad •  Candy bars combining ingredients like nuts, nougats, caramel, marshmallow and chocolate were an exciting new sensation in the 1920s. They were portable, convenient and affordable: the perfect food for a nation on the go. Classics like Snickers and Milky Way got their start in this era. But thousands more were offered to a candy eating public hungry for novelty. The bars are long gone, but the names remain. Silly names like Snirkles and Damfino. Salacious names like Fat Emma, Big Dick, Hot Liza and Love Nest. And even substantive names that evoked more nutritive meals: Denver Sandwich, Chicken Dinner and Spud.


•  The Oh! Henry candy bar was one of the top sellers in the 1920s. The secret to success? Creative marketing, including a campaign to encourage women to use the bar in novel ways. One suggestion: to “slice and serve,” transforming the rugged bar into a dainty delicacy. Another idea: cooking with Oh! Henry candy bars. Recipes for desserts, breakfast treats and even savory and vegetable dishes enhanced with Oh! Henry bars were collected in “60 Ways to Serve a Famous Candy.” Candy salad, anyone?


•  Candy’s popularity led inevitably to a dietary backlash. Lulu Hunt Peters was the first American author to popularize the idea of dieting by counting calories in her 1918 bestseller Diet and Health, with Key to the Calories. Candy was, for Peters, an especially pernicious temptation. She warned: “When you see a pound of candy you would like, don’t think of it as candy, but as a lump of fat annexed to your fattest spot. If you have any candy around, and can’t give it away, throw it away.” But more Americans were eager to follow the advice of the candy industry promoters: “Candy is Delicious Food! Enjoy some every day.”


Thank you, Samira! What do you think, readers? Aside from craving a sweet treat, do you plan on checking out Candy? What's your favorite candy?

[Images from Candy, used with permission.]

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