Tag Archives: candy

How Do Old-Fashioned Candies Stand the Test of Time?

September 8, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Americans have a taste for sweet foods. According to the American Heart Association, the average American consumes three times the daily recommended intake for sugar.

We’ve been eating sweets for quite some time, due both to the prominence of sugarcane in the Americas and our tendency to mask unpleasant flavors with sweetness, which Americans did with both substandard food before the era of the Food and Drug Administration, and with cheap liquor during Prohibition.

Strange Flavors

While Americans have long eaten sweet food, our tastes have changed over time. As an example, the first popular chewing gum in America was made from tree sap. Called “The State of Maine Spruce Gum,” it was invented in 1848 and tasted of sweetened spruce trees.

Spruce isn’t the only unusual flavor used for gum. Black Jack gum, which was developed in 1871, had an anise flavor and was produced until 2013, when the machine that made it was destroyed. Fans of the gum still buy old packs of it online.

Admittedly, American tastes never got as avant-garde as they did elsewhere. As an example, in Australia, musk is a popular flavor for confections, and LifeSavers even manufactures a musk version to suit tastes Down Under.

Historically, Americans have demonstrated a limited taste for floral candies. In fact, the still-popular Jujube candy included lilac, violet, and rose flavors when it debuted in 1920.

Pop Culture Trends

Aside from odd flavors, American candies have a habit of latching onto popular trends and taking names from culturally significant figures. Baby Ruth candy is a terrific example, although it was not named, as most suppose, after baseball player Babe Ruth. Instead, it was allegedly named after President Grover Cleveland’s daughter Ruth.

Once-common candies include wax bottles and lips, Necco Wafers, baseball cards with gum in the packaging, and other current rarities on the market. Those long-time favorites began losing favor in the late 20th century.

Many pop culture references are short-lived, likewise for the candies that borrowed from them. As a result, we can no longer buy Domino’s Pizza brand bubble gum (which came in a pizza box);
The Real Ghostbusters Slimer gum; candy-filled plastic Max Headroom heads; Super Mario Chocolate ’n’ Crisps; or Punky’s collection of “ugly tangy speckled candy bites,” inspired by the punk rock movement (and produced by Willy Wonka’s).

Omaha Regional Sweets

There were local candies as well, often with their own local spokespeople. Council Bluffs had its own company, Woodward’s Candy, which made butterscotch and pure sugar sticks, among other items.

Woodward’s used two former vaudeville performers as spokespeople, Jean and Inez Bregant, who met when performing at Coney Island. The Bregants were “little people,” and according to their bio on findagrave.com: “Jean, age 35, was 46 inches tall and weighed 66 pounds; Inez was 18 years old, 43 inches tall, and weighed 45 pounds.”

The Bregants spent years hawking the candy around the Midwest, especially in Omaha, where they were frequently seen lauding Woodward’s at J. L. Brandeis and Sons.

The Bregants eventually went on to own a grocery store in Council Bluffs, living in a tidy little house on Fourth Street. The house was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2013, and can still be seen today.

Want to rediscover nostalgic candies? Try Hollywood Candy (hollywoodcandy.com) and Old Market Candy Shop (oldmarketcandy.com), both in the Old Market; Candy Wrappers
(omahacandy.com) in West Omaha; Smej’s Snacks & More (smejssnacks.com) in northwest Omaha; and Candyopolis in Oak View Mall and Westroads Mall.

This article appeared in the September/October 2017 edition of Omaha Magazine.

“The Talk”

October 23, 2014 by

Last year’s battle of Halloween was the kids’ standoff to replace their trick-or-treat buckets for pillow cases. Because, “Mom, you can hold way more candy in a pillow case!”

I knew this meant an equal quest for cavities and independence. I couldn’t even convince them to bring their holiday-specific, over-priced buckets back and dump them into a pillowcase, and then go back out. They wanted to go out for one candy run. The catch—they’re not coming back until the pillowcase is full.

I’m trying to remember how it is that there is a designated day of the year when all us parents lose our minds, dress up our kids (sometimes in drag), and then send them out in the dark to go knock on strangers’ doors for candy.

And yet, I send them on their merry way to collect as much candy as they can possibly fit in the pillowcase. They don’t believe me at how heavy that can get and when they’re that far away. It’ll be blocks away, and I won’t hear it, but in the dark of the night, with their burning biceps and candy weighing them down—they’ll whisper, “Mom was right.”

We’ve reached a turning point of Halloween. My kids are 11 now. And although you may think that’s still young enough to trick-or-treat, the other element is they stand taller than most adults. We can’t find age appropriate costumes in their size either. But mostly, if their quest for candy is their big desire, then it’s just time to let them pass on the torch to the 5-year-olds they may inadvertently knock over as they run from door to door.

So, we have The Talk. Consider it the Geneva Negotiations of Halloween 2014. It’s time to retire from trick-or-treating. In return for my demands, my precious tweens have made their own: take the money I spend on their costumes and buy them all of their favorite candy. I tack on a few toothbrushes and floss. With a few nods and pinky promises, we agree. As we all grieve a rite of passage for a kid—trick-or-treating, we bid farewell.

Winter Is Coming

December 2, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

The day after Christmas 2011 coincided with the eight-year anniversary of the day Matt and Kim Mixan first met. At the skating rink on 10th and Howard streets, a small group of their friends quietly encouraged Matt to go through with the afternoon’s plan: proposing to Kim. “It was something I’d been wanting to do for years,” he explains. “I’d always planned that spot, that day, that event, for three years in a row, and it never panned out.”

“At lunch, he was downing the margaritas,” Kim recalls. “I was like, what is going on?” The nerves didn’t go away. It took several laps around the crowded rink and Kim wanting to stop due to bruised ankles from the skates before Matt coaxed her to the center of the ice. With their friends surrounding them, he got down on one knee and said, “I couldn’t think of a better place to do this than on our eight-year anniversary with people who love us.” Laughing, Kim asked a couple times if he was serious, then answered, “Yeah, okay!”

Of course, it’s not strictly necessary to be prepared with that level of commitment before enjoying the ConAgra Foods Ice Skating Rink, and you don’t have to plan for three years. As of Sat., Dec. 14, all that’s really required is a five-dollar bill for admission and skates, because who has those? On the weekends, night owls and lovebirds alike can skate till midnight. Wear an elf hat and feel good about yourself, because 100 percent of proceeds go to Food Bank for the Heartland. The donations translated into 1.3 million meals last year, according to event manager Vic Gutman of Vic Gutman & Associates.

Still, the rink’s varying hours can get a little tricky to keep in mind. If you just want to soak up some holiday cheer already, Downtown’s Holiday Lights Festival is in full swing from Thanksgiving evening until about a week after the New Year. What that means in English is the trees along the Gene Leahy Mall are lit by more than a million fairy lights every night. As are six blocks of 24th Street in North Omaha. And six blocks of 24th Street in South Omaha. Soak up even more nostalgia and stop by the Mall around 7 p.m. on Saturdays. Choral groups, ranging from youth to professional, will regale passersby with holiday tunes for an hour.

But sometimes standing around admiring sparkling lights isn’t that appealing because, you know, winter. It’s cold. Get thee to Beer Corner USA on 36th and Farnam streets for Holiday Beerfest. This is a one-time deal on Sat., Dec. 7, and it’s from 1–5 p.m. (drinking in the afternoon? Psh, it’s the holidays. Also, good prep for long-planned proposals, apparently). The seasonal-brew-sampling fest has been going on for the past seven years, so get your tickets early ($22 in advance, $27 at the door) and drink your way through 100 or so winter brews and three separate bars: Crescent Moon, Huber-Haus, and Max and Joe’s. “Winter beers,” explains Michael Perdue, manager of the attached bottle shop, Beertopia, “are darker, use more roasted malt, and there might be some spice as well—cinnamon, cardamom. We’ll have a lot of porters, stouts, some strong English ales, too.”

What is beer without a little snack? The Old Market Candy Shop officially has its annual offering of pumpkin pie fudge. Owner Jeff Jorgensen promises that egg nog fudge is not far behind. Sometimes they have ribbon candy too, but don’t hold your breath. It may or may not be available when you go. Of course, right next door to the Candy Shop is Downtown’s permanent homage to Christmas, Tannenbaum Christmas Shop, also owned by Jorgensen.

Consider working off the chocolate with an amble along Farnam Street near 33rd. The shop windows at Midtown Crossing are decorated once again for Miracle on Farnam, a series of intricate holiday displays. More than 20 sponsors have designed these nostalgia-inducing, shadow-box-like tableaus. The windows housing animated pieces in particular call to mind postcards of old-fashioned toy shop windows decked out for the season.

It makes for quite a romantic stroll in the evening, by the way. No ice skates required. And let’s be real, you don’t want to be that guy who stole someone else’s proposal technique anyway.