The History of Candy Corn: Halloween’s Most Iconic and Reviled Treat

H/T Atlas Obscura.

A history of candy corn.

Candy corn either you like it or hate it.

 

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Pure terror. (photograph by Fred Rockwood)

Halloween provides a cavalcade of whimsical scares for children and adults alike, but nothing chills the bones quite as much as the piles of candy corn left at the bottom of pumpkins and pillowcases across America.

A 2010 market research survey found that candy corn was in fact the least popular Halloween candy of all those polled. Despite being the consolation prize of confections, candy corn is a ubiquitous part of Halloween and continues to sell billions of kernels each year. The waxy little treat may not be loved, but its relentless domination of an otherwise pleasant night of ghouls and sexy nurses is over one hundred years in the making.

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No one is sure who invented candy corn, but it may have started like this. (photograph by Anna Fox)

The true creator of candy corn is a mystery lost to time, but the first reports of the multi-colored sugar drops began in the 1880s when the candy began appearing during the Halloween season. Soon after the candy’s sporadic appearance throughout the states, the Wunderle Candy Company began mass-producing the treat under the name, “Chicken Feed.”

In 1898, the homespun recipe for the candy had been adopted by the Goelitz Candy Company who quickly eclipsed Wunderle as the primary purveyor of the faux corn. Despite the sudden adoption by large candy conglomerates, the process for creating candy corn remained remarkably labor intensive. After mixing a cavity cocktail of sugar, corn syrup, fondant, marshmallow, and water, the slurry would be dyed one of the three candy corn hues: orange, yellow, or white. Laborers would then take 45-pound buckets of the hot liquid candy and pour it into long rows of trays of kernel forms, making three passes, one for each color of the corn. Once this back-breaking work was complete, the molds would cool and candy corn was unleashed upon an autumnal population.

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This candy corn factory burnt down in 1950 when the slurry vat burst into flames. (via nj.com)

The agrarian America of the late 19th century embraced the sweet little treats that recalled the season’s harvest time roots and farm-fed lifestyle. In fact, candy corn became so popular during the candy season that confectioners even experimented with other vegetable-formed candies such as candy pumpkins and turnips (the horror…). Due to the slow, laborious candy creation process of the time, treats such as candy corn were only made from March to November, so the tide of candy corn would only wash across the nation around the time of Halloween, hence the inextricable link between the holiday and the candy.

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A candy corn ad from 1951. (via The Free-Lance Star)

Candy corn remained a stalwart product for companies through the 20th century as candy trends came and went. The simple recipe for the candy has been unchanged throughout, although the strongmen with the buckets of sugar were eventually replaced by industrial machines which now heartlessly crank out “All Hallows’ Tears” year-round. Breaking its bond to Halloween, candy corn is now produced for a number of holidays in a rainbow of abominations such as the red and green “reindeer corn,” or the pastel “rabbit corn.” But no matter the coloration, the recipe remains the same, and the chalky sweetness of its frontier roots will continue to haunt candy bowls long after all other treats have gone.

Bed, Bath & Beyond Removes Black Jack-O’-Lanterns After Backlash- ‘Extreme Lack of Sensitivity

Nobody in their right mind looks at a black pumpkin and see anything more than a  black pumpkin.

If there are two colors that you associate with Halloween, they’re orange and black. Given this, you would think that a black jack-o’-lantern wouldn’t spark that much controversy.

However, Bed, Bath & Beyond has taken black decorative pumpkins off of its shelves after two of them sparked a controversy in Nyack, New York.

According to News 12, the pumpkins — which have white lips, eyes and noses — first became an issue when they were put out on the front porch of a law firm in the New York village.

The pumpkins had the names of the partners in the law firm on them. Here they are (well, were) at the law offices of Feerick Nugent MacCartney:

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@News12WC

The store says it took action after News 12 reached out but would not say if it had received any other complaints – http://westchester.news12.com/story/41211141/bed-bath-and-beyond-pulls-black-jackolanterns-after-complaints-in-nyack 

Bed Bath & Beyond pulls black jack-o’-lanterns after complaints in Nyack

Bed Bath & Beyond has removed black jack-o’-lanterns from sale after a News 12 investigation that stemmed from complaints in Nyack about the product.

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The law firm began to receive complaints that the pumpkins looked like they were in blackface. Not only that, but the local NAACP chapter got involved, too.

Displaying the pumpkins “shows an extreme lack of sensitivity,” according to NAACP regional director Wilbur Aldridge.

“By now I would believe everyone [would] know that anything in Black face is offensive,” Aldridge said.

“Equally as offensive is that a retail store would have such an item in [their] inventory for general purchase.”

Well, no longer — Bed, Bath & Beyond has taken them off of its shelves.

Bed Bath & Beyond pulls black jack-o’-lanterns after complaints in Nyack

In a statement, the store said that they had removed the jack-o’-lanterns from their inventory once they were contacted by News 12.

“We have immediately removed the item from sale,” the company said via a statement.

“This is a sensitive area and, though unintentional, we apologize for any offense caused.”

The store added that it had meant no offense by the product — obviously, considering they had stocked it as part of their Halloween merchandise — although they neglected to say whether they had received any other complaints.

The law firm is also apologizing.

15 Spooky Halloween Traditions and Their Origins

H/T Mental Floss.

With Halloween just around the corner, I thought a little trivia was in order.

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Trick-or-treating, Jack-O’-Lanterns, and creepy costumes are some of the best traditions of Halloween. Share these sweet facts with friends as you sort through your candy haul.

1. CARVING HALLOWEEN JACK-O’-LANTERNS

Jack-o-lantern

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Jack-O’-Lanterns, which originated in Ireland using turnips instead of pumpkins, are supposedly based on a legend about a man name Stingy Jack who repeatedly trapped the Devil and only let him go on the condition that Jack would never go to Hell. When he died, however, Jack learned that Heaven didn’t really want his soul either, so he was condemned to wander the Earth as a ghost for all eternity. The Devil gave Jack a lump of burning coal in a carved-out turnip to light his way. Eventually, locals began carving frightening faces into their own gourds to scare off evil spirits.

2. SEEING GHOSTS

Celtic people believed that during the festival Samhain, which marked the transition to the new year at the end of the harvest and beginning of the winter, spirits walked the Earth. Later, the introduction of All Souls Day on November 2 by Christian missionaries perpetuated the idea of a mingling between the living and the dead around the same time of year.

3. WEARING SCARY COSTUMES

With all these ghosts wandering around the Earth during Samhain, the Celts had to get creative to avoid being terrorized by evil spirits. To fake out the ghosts, people would don disguises so they would be mistaken for spirits themselves and left alone.

4. GOING TRICK-OR-TREATING, THE PAGAN WAY

Trick-or-treaters

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There is a lot of debate around the origins of trick-or-treating. One theory proposes that during Samhain, Celtic people would leave out food to placate the souls and ghosts and spirits traveling the Earth that night. Eventually, people began dressing up as these otherworldly beings in exchange for similar offerings of food and drink.

5. GOING TRICK-OR-TREATING, THE SCOTTISH WAY

Other researchers speculate that the candy bonanza stems from the Scottish practice of guising, itself a secular version of souling. In the Middle Ages, soulers, usually children and poor adults, would go to local homes and collect food or money in return for prayers said for the dead on All Souls’ Day. Guisers ditched the prayers in favor of non-religious performances like jokes, songs, or other “tricks.”

6. GOING TRICK-OR-TREATING, THE AMERICAN WAY

Some sources argue that our modern trick-or-treating stems from belsnickling, a tradition in German-American communities where children would dress in costume and then call on their neighbors to see if the adults could guess the identities of the disguised guests. In one version of the practice, the children were rewarded with food or other treats if no one could identify them.

7. GETTING SPOOKED BY BLACK CATS

Black cat in autumn leaves

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The association of black cats and spookiness actually dates all the way back to the Middle Ages, when these dark kitties were considered a symbol of the Devil. It didn’t help the felines’ reputations when, centuries later, accused witches were often found to have cats, especially black ones, as companions. People started believing that the cats were a witch’s “familiar”—animals that gave them an assist with their dark magic—and the two have been linked ever since.

8. BOBBING FOR APPLES

This game traces its origins to a courting ritual that was part of a Roman festival honoring Pomona, the goddess of agriculture and abundance. Multiple variations existed, but the gist was that young men and women would be able to foretell their future relationships based on the game. When the Romans conquered the British Isles, the Pomona festival was blended with the similarly timed Samhain, a precursor to Halloween.

9. DECORATING WITH BLACK AND ORANGE

The classic Halloween colors can also trace their origins back to the Celtic festival Samhain. Black represented the “death” of summer while orange is emblematic of the autumn harvest season.

10. PLAYING PRANKS

As a phenomenon that often varies by region, the pre-Halloween tradition, also known as “Devil’s Night”, is credited with a different origin depending on whom you ask. Some sources say that pranks were originally part of May Day celebrations. But Samhain, and eventually All Souls Day, seem to have included good-natured mischief. When Scottish and Irish immigrants came to America, they brought along the tradition of celebrating Mischief Night as part of Halloween, which was great for candy-fueled pranksters.

11. LIGHTING CANDLES AND BONFIRES

Campfire in the woods

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These days, candles are more likely than towering traditional bonfires, but for much of the early history of Halloween, open flames were integral in lighting the way for souls seeking the afterlife.

12. EATING CANDY APPLES

People have been coating fruit in sugar syrups as a means of preservation for centuries. Since the development of the Roman festival of Pomona, the goddess often represented by and associated with apples, the fruit has had a place in harvest celebrations. But the first mention of candy apples being given out at Halloween didn’t occur until the 1950s.

13. SPOTTING BATS

It’s likely that bats were present at the earliest celebrations of proto-Halloween, not just symbolically but literally. As part of Samhain, the Celts lit large bonfires, which attracted insects. The insects, in turn, attracted bats, which soon became associated with the festival. Medieval folklore expanded upon the spooky connotation of bats with a number of superstitions built around the idea that bats were the harbingers of death.

14. GORGING ON CANDY

Halloween candy and brownies

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The act of going door-to-door for handouts has long been a part of Halloween celebrations. But until the middle of the 20th century, the “treats” kids received were not necessarily candy. Toys, coins, fruit, and nuts were just as likely to be given out. The rise in the popularity of trick-or-treating in the 1950s inspired candy companies to make a marketing push with small, individually wrapped confections. People obliged out of convenience, but candy didn’t dominate at the exclusion of all other treats until parents started fearing anything unwrapped in the 1970s.

15. MUNCHING ON CANDY CORN

According to some stories, a candymaker at the Wunderlee Candy Company in Philadelphia invented the revolutionary tri-color candy in the 1880s. The treats didn’t become a widespread phenomenon until another company brought the candy to the masses in 1898. At the time, candy corn was called Chicken Feed and sold in boxes with the slogan “Something worth crowing for.” Originally just autumnal candy because of corn’s association with harvest time, candy corn became Halloween-specific when trick-or-treating rose to prominence in the U.S. in the 1950s.