Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Night of the Living Candy Freak

I thought today would be the most appropriate time to discuss perhaps my favorite food topic: candy. According to quintessientially Gen-X writer Steve Almond, author of Candy Freak, I am a member of this illustrious group. Call me what you will: Sugarmonger, Chocophile, Dentist’s Best Friend, Nougatwhore (where did that come from?), that’s me. Like with most foods, however, I have a particular bend towards one type of sweet. I don’t prefer cookies, or cakes, I think at this point we all know how I feel about cupcakes. Pastries don’t do it for me, ice cream is good, but never quite hits the spot, no, when it comes down to the deepest, darkest of sugar cravings (this happens twice a day), I prefer candy.

I grew up a few miles from the Ferrara Pan Candy Company in Chicago. You know, the maker of such wonders as Lemonheads, Jawbreakers, Red Hots, Atomic Fireballs, and my personal idea of tragedy, Boston Baked Beans. In those days, we walked the seven flat blocks to school, and the way home was paved with candy cigarettes, wax bottles full of corn syrup, Now and Laters, Root Beer Barrels, Jawbreakers, Bubble Yum, and endless other 20-50 cent options. I include sugar cereal in the candy category. Never allowed Trix for breakfast, I had to spend the night at friends’ houses to get my sugar cereal fix. I preferred Katie’s house of Lucky Charms over Stacey’s Cocoa Pebbled kitchen. For Christmas I often received a box of Froot Loops, which I also had mailed to me as contraband from distant pen pals. I had to keep it under my bed, you see, and my pitiful allowance covered only the requisite after-school dimestore candy rather than a full box of Cocoa Puffs.

Halloween was HUGE in Oak Park, Illinois. The one day where all the freaks, candy and otherwise, would come out to Take Candy From Strangers!! What other holiday gets you out of the house and interacting with your community in this way? What other holiday allows you to break every parental rule in the book, to turn the other cheek of good sense, to revel in sheer vice? Every year, every single house in the entire town was open for business. Sure, there were a few raisin and pencil houses we did our best to avoid, but for the most part, Oak Park offered us a smorgasbord of sugary wealth, enough to develop a formidible cache to store in a dark, forbidden place and last at least until Christmas. Almost better than trick-or-treating was after we came home, sweaty and disheveled from candysweeping the streets, we opened the Great Sibling Trade Center.

First, we were forced to stand at attention, tears forming on our lids as Dad picked through to find his favorites from our stash- A parental tax imposed by a staunch Democrat who believed one should pay dearly for high quality services. But then, it was a race to the bedroom where we dumped our bags and the bidding began. With the speed of an auctioneer, we would barter, shout, stomp and sometimes cry. We could be heard all down the street: “Can I get one butterfinger for two cowtails, one for two, one for two, who’s got a butterfinger. . .” late into the evening.

Steve Almond writes, “If I had been the kind of kid who kept a diary, the entries from the years twelve to say, sixteen, would have read: Got high, ate candy.”

I don’t feel I am close to matching to his mania, his obsession with hording, categorizing, and generally playing with candy. I do, however, relate to the presence of candy in his daily life. Also, I agree that the best candy has come and gone, and I am constantly in the search for new creations. The Caravelle, for example, is a thing of the past. Chapter two in his book is nothing more than an elegy for this sweet wonder. The Caravelle: A strip of caramel covered in a thick shell of milk chocolate, which was embedded with crisped rice. I know, I know, the 100 Grand, right? No, the Caravelle was in a whole different hemisphere than the 100 Grand. According to Almond, “The Caravelle tasted more like a pastry: the chocolate was thicker, darker, full-bodied, and the crisped rice had a malty flavor and what I want to call structural integrity; the caramel was that rarest variety, dark and lustrous and supple, with hints of fudge.”

Had enough? The Caravelle was discontinued when Cadbury acquired Peter Paul, and so many others were banished in the name of buyouts and the end of the smaller candy makers who maybe made one or two bars, but made them with equal parts precision and love. In the spirit of sugar-coated nostalgia, indulge me and share with us your favorite candy, living or dead.


Edgy Mama said...

Candy Freak is my all-time favorite non-fiction book. I adore Steve Almond. His parenting blog is one of my great inspirations!

Jeremy said...

Candy, candy...where to begin? When I was a kid, the nice lady who worked at the corner market used to give me Zero candy bars a lot, so those hold a fond place in my stomach -- er, memory. I also loved Kit Kats, Chick-O-Sticks and Butterfingers. I remember buying Lick-M-Aid at the drug store in the mall and sneaking it into movies. If you don't remember that one, it was a packet containing sugar sticks that you lick and dip into -- wait for it, wait for it -- flavored sugar. For straight up candy, candy corn and circus peanuts were always a favorite.

Jeez, no wonder I was a "husky" kid.