Blowin’ In: Magical Confections

Blowin’ In: Magical Confections
By Susan Mangan

  “There were shelves upon shelves of the most succulent-looking sweets imaginable.  Creamy chunks of nougat, shimmering squares of coconut ice . . . peppermint creams shaped like toads, fragile sugar-spun quills, and exploding bonbons.”
–  (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling)

Let’s face it, the January cleanse is a bit tiresome. I can no longer tolerate shots of turmeric with a fresh ginger chaser. Perhaps February is the month to finally brew that cup of decadent hot chocolate, European style, with thick organic cream, slowly melted Callebaut chocolate, and brandy. Such a delight would surely restore the color to my pale cheeks.

Sweets touch us all with a sense of magic, of nostalgia, of simpler times. Think of all the iconic films that feature soda fountains and penny candy stores. In It’s a Wonderful Life, a young George Bailey waxes poetic to the girls of Bedford Falls who visit him in the chemist shop about his dreams to travel and explore, all while serving up a mean egg cream. Somehow, magic merges with reality when you pop a peppermint striped straw into a marshmallow topped chocolate malt.

As a little girl, my parents would visit the shops in Oak Park, Illinois. The elegant Marshall Field’s may have promised Frango Mints in decorative tins, but my favorite spot was the penny candy store.

I can still feel the give of the old wooden floors as I padded enthusiastically from glass jar to glass jar filled with glistening sweets in my rubber-tipped red sneakers, waving my brown paper bag. An equal opportunity connoisseur of sweets, I sprinkled silver foiled chocolate kisses among vines of red licorice, sticks of rock candy, and squares of peanut butter Mary Jane’s.

With every bubble-gum-decked, lollipop-filled, sugar-fruited apothecary jar, my eyes shone with delight and greed, masked innocence indeed. Once home, I would clear the stuffed animals off my pink ruffled bed and dump the sack of treasures right on my quilt, delighting in the glory, unaware of the cost of my gluttony – a fierce stomachache and a hearty dose of Milk of Magnesia. Magic does come with a price.

Candy, Copenhagen and Dr. Pepper
Candy brings out the child in even the most weathered of souls. When my family visited our Missouri kin, our Uncle Ted would treat my cousin Michael and me to random trips to CJ’s Gas Station. This unassuming country place filled with bottles of Dr. Pepper and tins of Copenhagen chewing tobacco, also housed a most magnificent array of candies.

Our bachelor uncle loved to indulge us kids. He would allow my cousin and me to fill up our bags with treats galore: cherry Jolly Ranchers, bubble gum cigars, 100,000 Dollar Bars, Pixie Sticks, and fruity Laffy Taffy. After our trip to the store, we would climb into his truck and he would wink at us with his laughing blue eyes, “Now, don’t y’all go eatin’ that before your supper.”

As I grew into adulthood and my travels brought me over the great Atlantic Ocean, I realized that confections were even more magical. Haribo candy makers craft gummies in every imaginable shape and flavor. One can sup on lemon and vanilla fried eggs or indulge in cola flavored worms. 

Wine Gums and Fruit Pastilles in tangy essences like black currant could never be found in my American youth. Glorious chocolate eggs housed a nest of blue speckled malted eggs. Delicate cocoa shells revealed orange delights with a mere tap of the finger.

Most wonderful of all were Licorice Allsorts. Who would have thought that coconut, licorice, chocolate, and pink flavoring could marry in such a delightful way?

Candy is not just an indulgence; it is a means to bring generations together. My grandmother Rose always kept a jar of sugared orange slices on her kitchen counter. She would offer me one each day after school and we would visit.

I would tell her about math class, and she would tell me stories about growing up in Chicago. She hardly had a penny to her name, but her heart was filled with love and she always had a sweet to share.

Can Candy Cure a Bad Tooth?
As a boy growing up in Ireland, my father-in-law also loved his sweets. Like my grandmother, he did not have a penny to spare, so treats were quite precious. He enjoyed telling us the story of his bad tooth.

After dealing with a sore tooth for weeks, his mother finally gave him a few pounds to have his tooth removed. Rather than have the tooth extracted, my father-in-law made a detour to the chemist for a bar of chocolate. A sure tonic for an ailing tooth. Again, the price for childhood indulgence is fierce when you either have to suffer with a toothache in silence or confess your penchant for sweets.

In the world of adults, childhood gluttony and confectionary magic become the inspiration for cautionary tales.  How many times have children only been awarded dessert if their plates of brussels sprouts were clear? On the contrary, has any child ever been denied a plate of brussels sprouts for a poor grade? A wily military stratagem in the guise of a tin of chocolate dipped biscuits.

As a child, I both loved and feared Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. How glorious that you could chew a piece of gum that tasted of both your dinner and dessert? How thrilling it would be to ride on a gondola atop a chocolate river? How fabulous to visit a sweet’s shop on your way home from school that sold Everlasting Gobstoppers and Wonka Bars?

Interestingly, there are similar literary allusions in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. British authors have a way of developing larger than life characters that both instruct, as well as incite wonder.  If only I could have read about Harry Potter’s visit to Hogsmeade and his trip to Honeydukes when I was a child. What fun it would be to eat Peppermint Toads, Fizzy Whizzies, and Bertie Bolt’s Every Flavor Bean? If only in my imagination.

Now the lesson must come to a close. One can indulge in memory for only so long until one loses one’s way toward future paths. Chewing gum ultimately becomes flavorless. Too much candy can result in more than a belly ache for the mature adult.

Our hearts do in fact enjoy a healthy plate of greens, followed by a dram of Oolong tea. But dear reader, never despair. Moderation in all things is most desired. When late winter clouds threaten, only the Candy Man can make the sun rise.

*Susan holds a Master’s Degree in English from John Carroll University and a Master’s Degree in Education from Baldwin-Wallace University. She may be reached at [email protected].

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