Do you love candy? How about chocolate? Chewing gum? Lollipops? Here in Iowa, our grocery stores are starting to put Halloween candy on the shelves. In modern America, candy companies claim that we spend $7 Billion on candy every year! Wow! That’s a lot of chocolate bars and gummy bears!
Do you think kids spent money on candy a long time ago? In a town like Walnut Hill, the 1875 town at Living History Farms, you could have bought candy at the general store or at the drug store. The candy wouldn’t look quite the same as the candy you might buy today though!
In 1875, stores like the Greteman General Store sold a lot of penny candy. Kids would pay a penny and the store keeper would scoop the candy out of a jar or bin for them. Kids might get a few pieces of the small candy drops for a penny or maybe one large stick of candy for a penny. A bigger bag of candy could cost a nickel or a dime! A penny was pretty cheap, but a dime was more expensive. A farm worker might only earn one whole dollar every day. A dime was worth over an hour’s worth of work!
What did these penny candies taste like? A lot of penny candies were hard drops or sticks of sugar that kids would suck on. There were some lemon candies and peppermint candies and some other fruity flavors—like cherry drops. Most of us know what lemons taste like. Do you like the red and white striped peppermint candy?
You might not have tasted some of the other flavors of candy from a long time ago. Many of the candies were flavored with herbs. Herbs are plants that are used to give things flavor. Herbs like horehound, anise, and licorice were often used in candy. Horehound tastes bitter or sour to many people. Those same herbs could also be used to disguise the harsh taste of medicines. Many early hard candies were even given as medicine! Horehound and lemon drop candies can help your sore throat feel better. Peppermint candies can help an upset stomach.
Do you like jelly beans or gummy worms? These are candies made of sugar that are sticky and chewy. In 1875, kids could buy a few chewy candies. A favorite treat was called Turkish delight. It was a small square or drop of a jelly, made from starches and flavorings. It might be lemon or orange or even flavored with rose water—which sort of tastes like vanilla. It sometimes had nuts on the inside.
We know that kids in the 1870s could buy gum drops and maybe even a sort of jelly bean. Ads in newspapers mention stores selling these things. A candy-maker in Boston advertised sending jelly beans to Civil War soldiers!
We don’t know if these chewy candies were exactly like the ones we have now. The gum drops were made with different types of gelatin, the stuff that makes them gooey. So we aren’t sure if old-fashioned gum drops were as soft as the ones we eat now. Many of the gum drops were flavored with spices and herbs. Do you like black gum drops? They are licorice flavored.
When you visit the general store at Living History Farms, a candy you won’t be able to find is chocolate bars! In 1875, chocolate was not very popular as a candy. Most people drank chocolate as a hot drink, sort of like the hot cocoa we drink now. Most chocolate drinks would taste bitter compared to modern sweet hot chocolate. Some 1800s cookbooks used chocolate in frostings and a few candies. But most people did not have our modern love of chocolate a hundred years ago.
The general store sold many things and candy was just a small part of the money that the store made. But for a child with a penny in his or her pocket in 1875, penny candy could be pretty important! As your summer comes to an end, come taste a piece of history: Enjoy some candy at the Greteman General Store!
Caregivers and parents! The General Store does not sell Turkish delight–a popular Victorian candy, but you can make it at home. There is a simple recipe for it here. Hot sugar can be dangerous in the kitchen. Kids can help you measure ingredients for this recipe, but should not handle the boiling sugar syrups.
Just a reminder, Living History Farms will be closed August 22-26 for a private rental. Beginning August 27, the museum will begin fall season hours. We are open Wednesday through Saturday from 9 am to 4 pm and Sundays, Noon to 4 pm until October 12, 2014.