Candy corn. That Halloween staple that is never advertised but somehow ends up in your home in a bowl in an extremely accessible place anyway. What’s with that? You don’t really like it that much. It’s just sorta…eh.
Candy corn hasn’t always elicited the shoulder shrug and “eh” reaction. In fact, it used to be a pretty big deal. Its agrarian shape made it a hit with farmers and its innovative tri-color design was an exciting novelty. I know. It’s strange to think of candy corn as “innovative.”
The treat was invented by a man named George Renniger, an employee of the Philadelphia based Wunderle Candy Company. Wunderlee was the first to go into commercial production, but now the sale and production of candy corn is mostly credited to Goelitz Confectionery Company in 1898. You’ve probably never heard of Goelitz before. That’s because they changed their name. To Jelly Belly. They are the longest, continuous candy corn producers in the country.
Goelitz Confectionary Co began with two brothers, Guztav and Albert, who emigrated from Germany in 1867. Gustav bought an ice cream and candy store in Belleville, Illinois where he set up shop. He sent Albert out to sell sweet treats to the locals via horse drawn wagon. The second generation started the candy corn biz in 1898, which actually kept the company afloat through the Great Depression and WWI and II.
In the beginning, however, candy corn was not called candy corn. It was called “chicken feed.” Back then, corn was chicken feed. There were no sweeter hybrids delicious enough for human consumption. It had no association with Halloween, or the fall for that matter and was a seasonal candy. There was no special candy corn making machinery and because of the tedious nature of the work, candy corn was available only between March and November.
The corn shaped treat falls under the category of a “mellow cream,” also spelled “mellowcreme.” A mellocreme is a candy made from corn syrup and sugar with a marshmallowy flavor. It was originally dubbed a “butter cream” candy by the Goelitz company, but the manufacturers felt some pressure to change the name in the 1950’s because there is not, in fact, any butter in the recipe for candy corn.
The recipe for candy corn was simple: sugar, corn syrup (not high-fructose corn syrup), water, and other ingredients were put into giant kettles and cooked into a slurry. Once they were well blended, marshmallow and fondant (firm, sugar based icing) were added to the kettles to smooth out the texture and make the candy soft to the bite. Interesting fact: sugar crystalizes in different ways. How it is cooked will determine whether the candy is glassy and hard like a sucking candy or soft and chewy like candy corn.
The kettles were massive and could hold up to 45lbs of the mixture. The mixture was poured into buckets called “runners” and workers called “stringers” would walk backwards while pouring the mixture into large molds made of cornstarch. The molds had indentations of the kernel shape. The workers passed over the molds with buckets three times, each time with a different color: white, orange, and yellow. Another fun fact: candy corn is made from bottom to top. The yellow end is considered the top and the white is the bottom.
The candy corn was packed into wooden boxes, tubs, and cartons and shipped by wagon or train. Because of its perishable nature, it couldn’t travel far or for long periods of time. The penny candy was sold out of barrels in bulk at candy stores and drug stores. These butter cream candies became so popular that other companies tried making other plant and natural shaped candies, like turnips, four leaf clovers, and chestnuts. However, they just couldn’t compete with the revolutionary tri-color tidbits.
In the 1940’s, candy was beginning to get packaged in “family sized” clear cellophane bags, rather than be shipped in bulk. This helped the candy stay fresh for longer while allowing consumers to see inside the bags at the product. Remember that three color innovation?
In the 1900’s, the demand for candy corn was so high that the Goelitz Company actually had to turn down orders. They didn’t have the production capacity to keep up with candy corn’s popularity. That changed over the years and in 1951, when candy corn was being advertised as a Halloween treat, Herman Goelitz (the son of Gustav) had 12 factories around the country churning out candy corn. Some of the cities were Rochester, NY, Chicago, Midland Park, NJ, Brooklyn, and Dallas. After WWII, candy corn was heavily advertised as a Halloween candy and since then it has become synonymous with the holiday.
Prior to the Halloween boom, candy corn was a very versatile treat. It was used to celebrate Thanksgiving, other autumn festivals, was added to Easter baskets, and even used to celebrate Independence Day:
“Pre Holiday Sale…Goelitz Candy Corn, pound cello bag, 25 cents. Butter cream candy in three colors and shaped like a real corn kernel. Worth crowing about.” -advertisement, Washington Post, July 1, 1951, p. M7 (via The Food Timeline).
Want a real grasp of how versatile it was? Here’s a quote from Samira Kawash, a former Rutgers University professor, about places she’s found references to candy corn:
“I’ve found references to candy corn in the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s in such diverse sources as children’s stories, math textbooks, psychology experiments, party-planning handbooks, and baking and decorating books.”
Candy corn is made largely the same way today, but machines do most of the work. The recipe has only changed slightly and probably varies from candy company to candy company, but it still involves a mixture of sugar, corn syrup (not HFCS), gelatin, and vanilla. Some brands even use a little honey. The process used to make it is called cornstarch molding process. A tray stamped with the kernel shape is filled with cornstarch, which helps the candy keep its shape. The candy is made from the bottom. Each kernel shaped depression is filled with white, then orange, then yellow syrup, all artificially colored. The candy is allowed to sit for 24 hours so it has time to gel together. When they’re done, they get a glaze so they shine. Here’s a video detailing the process:
Companies make about 35 million pounds of candy corn a year, which is equal to about 9 billion kernels and Halloween sees 75% of candy corn sales. But it’s not a seasonal candy anymore. It’s made all year round. A company called Brach’s makes several different kinds:
Indian Corn (brown, orange, and white) for Thanksgiving (picture courtesy of Candy Favorites)
Reindeer corn (green, white, and red) for Christmas
Cupid corn (pink, red, and white) for Valentine’s day
and Bunny corn (pastel colors) for Easter.
Brach’s also makes caramel corn (with Brach’s Milk Maid Caramel) and caramel apple corn (with caramel and apple flavors). Another gourmet candy company called Galerie Gourmet Goodies makes gourmet candy corn in three different flavors: cherry, green apple, and tangerine.
Candy corn’s recipe has remained virtually unchanged over the last 100 years, but people’s reactions have changed quite a bit. It is the least liked Halloween treat, and yet most consumers feel like it wouldn’t be Halloween without it. And that doesn’t stop it from having it’s own holiday. October 30th is National Candy Corn Day.
And here’s a video of a science experiment done by an astronaut with candy corn.
Keep eating and asking, my friends.
Bibliography for Candy Corn:
-“The Food Timeline–Halloween Food History: Traditions, Party Menus & Trick- or-treat.” Food Timeline: Food History & Vintage Recipes. Ed. Lynne Olver. 28 Oct. 2011. Web. 28 Oct. 2011. <http://www.foodtimeline.org/halloween.html>.
-“Candy Corn – The Fun Stuff – NCA.” NCA – National Confectioners Association. National Confectioners Association, 2007. Web. 28 Oct. 2011. <http://www.candyusa.com/FunStuff/CandyType.cfm?ItemNumber=1582>.
-“Fun Facts About Candy Corn – Candy and Chocolate – NCA.” NCA – National Confectioners Association. National Confectioners Association. Web. 28 Oct. 2011. <http://www.candyusa.com/FunStuff/FunFactsDetail.cfm?ItemNumber=966>.
-“Farley’s & Sathers Candy Company, Inc. Fun Facts and FAQs.” Farley’s & Sathers Candy Company Home Page. Farley’s & Sathers Candy Company, 07 Mar. 2008. Web. 28 Oct. 2011. <http://www.farleysandsathers.com/FunFacts/FunFacts.asp>.
-“Results for Brachs Candy Corn – Candy Favorites.” Popular Searches for Overall – Candy Favorites. Web. 28 Oct. 2011. <http://search.candyfavorites.com/search/keywords-brachs_candy_corn>.
-Huget, Jennifer L. “The Chemistry of Candy Corn.” The Washington Post: National, World & D.C. Area News and Headlines – The Washington Post. The Washington Post, 28 Oct. 2011. Web. 28 Oct. 2011. <http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/the-checkup/post/the-chemistry-of-candy-corn/2010/12/20/gIQAS5EaNM_blog.html>.
-Watson, Stephanie. “What is candy corn and how is it made?” 29 September 2006. HowStuffWorks.com. <http://recipes.howstuffworks.com/menus/candy-corn.htm> 28 October 2011.
-“History of Candy Corn, King of Halloween Candy.” Haunted Bay. Haunted Bay. Web. 29 Oct. 2011. <http://www.hauntedbay.com/history/candycorn.shtml>.
-Weston, Nicole. “The History Of… Candy Corn.” Slashfood.com. The Huffington Post, 30 Oct. 2006. Web. 29 Oct. 2011. <http://www.slashfood.com/2006/10/30/the-history-of-candy-corn/>.
-“Butterfinger Rules for Trick-or-Treaters: NetBase Brand Passion Index Reveals Halloween Candy Favorites.” Marketwire – Newswire Service for Online Press Release Distribution, Social Media Releases, Social Media Monitoring, Online Newsrooms, News Release Analytics and Reporting. NetBase, 13 Oct. 2010. Web. 29 Oct. 2011. <http://www.marketwire.com/press-release/Butterfinger-Rules-Trick-Treaters-NetBase-Brand-Passion-Index-Reveals-Halloween-Candy-1334160.htm>.
-Kawash, Samira. “Where Our Love/Hate Relationship With Candy Corn Comes From.”The Atlantic — News and Analysis on Politics, Business, Culture, Technology, National, International, and Life – TheAtlantic.com. The Atlantic, 30 Oct. 2010. Web. 29 Oct. 2011. <http://www.theatlantic.com/life/archive/2010/10/where-our-love-hate-relationship-with-candy-corn-comes-from/65428/>.
-Kawash, Samira. “1951 Goelitz Candy Corn Ad.” Candy Professor. 30 Oct. 2010. Web. 29 Oct. 2011. <http://candyprofessor.com/2010/10/30/candy-corn/>.
-“Candy Corn.” 2011. The History Channel website. Oct 28 2011, 8:08 http://www.history.com/videos/halloweens-origins.
-Lichtman, Flora. “Scifri Videos: Candy Corn In Space.” Sciencefriday.com – Every Day Is Science Friday. Flora Lichtman, 29 Apr. 2009. Web. 31 Oct. 2011. <http://www.sciencefriday.com/videos/watch/10210>.
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