Oldtime sweets still a favourite during the holiday season
By: Viola Pruss
| Posted: Saturday, Dec 21, 2013 06:00 am
Local Candy Lore
Sometime in the early 20th century, St. Albert resident Cheri Chevigny owned a pet black bear named Betty.
The bear’s patrons had fed it candy when it was a cub and sometimes it was seen wandering to Perron’s General Store – then a local family business – to get candy. The bear later ended up being sent to the zoo.
Source: Musée Héritage Museum
You don’t mess with tradition, especially not at Christmas time.
That’s why Don Goldsworthy returns to St. Albert’s Candy Bouquet every year in December to buy his Christmas cake, dearly remembered from his youth in Britain.
“My mother used to do a heck of a lot of cooking around Christmas time,” he said. “She used to make her own Christmas cake and I guess it’s just the feeling of everything was different and the world was a better place.”
The Christmas cake is not the only sweet item on Goldsworthy’s shopping list. While he balances packs of mince pies, cherry pies (his favourite!) and Jaffa Cakes, his wife is scanning the candy store for Dolly Mixture confectionary and Jelly Babies.
They can’t get everything that they remember from their youth, said Goldsworthy, but it “wouldn’t be Christmas without certain things.”
Foreign candies always a hit
The British corner is a favourite among customers of the small store set in the heart of downtown St. Albert. Beside the large bins of Canadian hard and soft candies, the Candy Bouquet specializes in all sorts of seasonal items that are hard to find in other shops.
There are German advent calendars, Belgian waffles, Dutch licorice, Italian confectionary and American chocolate bars – just to name a few.
Some of the sweets look familiar but taste different, explained store owner Kathie Fisher – such as the British Cadbury chocolates that aren’t quite the same as their Canadian counterparts.
“Cadbury stopped in here one time and they said they follow the same recipe and the only thing they can figure is that the British cows graze on grass year round,” she said. “Their milk tastes different than ours.”
Some of the candies have to be ordered well ahead of Christmas, or get delivered on a customer's request, such as coconut bonbons and taffy from the U.S. The store always has taffy, said Fisher, but gets the salt water type only at Christmas time.
Today, kids like more of the chewy candies, such as Skittles or Haribo Smurfs, she said. The most popular candies now are Dutch licorice and cola roller balls. But their customers range from all age groups and there’s always a special treat that invokes old memories.
That’s probably why the Candy Bouquet does a third of its business in December, she said.
“On a minus 30 day, when we think we are the only people here, it’s like comfort food. They all come,” she laughs.
German sweets still a favourite
For John Wagner, that special memory comes in the form of small marzipan pigs, a German sweet that was given to children at Christmas time.
Wagner, whose father was German, said 40 or 50 years ago the pigs came with little marzipan apples in their mouth and were decorated a lot more than they are today. They were also bigger – almost six inches long – and had the beige colour of a real pig.
“And the only time you got them was at Christmas time. We tried to hold onto them as long as we could,” he said. “You only ate a little bit and then you wrapped them up again, trying to make it last forever.”
The other German sweets he remembers from his youth were chocolate advent calendars, with each small, chocolate figurine wrapped up in foil, and Christstollen, the German equivalent to British fruit cake.
“My mom makes it from scratch. It has raisins in it and you serve it with icing sugar and that would be your breakfast on Christmas morning,” he said.
“The other thing we used to get were little round chocolates and they had little sprinkles on them and we used to hang them on the tree as ornaments.”
Old and new
Not all traditions have to cross the big pond before settling into Canadian homes. Sharon Morin, program manager at the local Musée Héritage Museum, remembers a story her mom used to tell her about growing up in the 1930s and her family making frozen syrup in the snow.
“She talks about them going out to where the birch trees were … they would have a fire set up and they would heat the syrup and put it on the snow and they would eat it from there,” she said.
Morin isn’t sure whether the tradition is French Canadian or Métis, but said eastern Canadians did the same with maple syrup and her family moved to Alberta from the east. Today, some francophone festivals still celebrate the tradition but families rarely do it on their own anymore, she said.
There are other candies from the Maritimes that have now made it to the west, said Fisher, who grew up in New Brunswick. She remembers always finding a pack of ribbon candy (a hard candy) or barley toys in her stocking. Most of these sweets are now available at the Candy Bouquet.
Other candies are not as easy to place. A search through old Eaton’s catalogues reveals that among holiday favourites were chocolate almonds, rock candy and peppermint lozenges in 1901, as well as Turkish delights, licorice cream candies and peppermint humbugs in 1927.
“Scotch mints and all of that, we always had that growing up. And boxes of chocolates, that’s almost a Christmas standard,” said Roy Toomey, education programmer for the Musée Héritage Museum. “In the catalogues it didn’t really specify where the sweets came from. Some would have been produced by the Eaton’s company.”
Some oldtimers have now vanished from store shelves altogether, such as Mojos – a chewy, British candy – or Cuban Lunch chocolate bars and Black Cat chewing gum, said Fisher.
Lucky then for Goldsworthy that he can still find most of what he's looking for. There’s only one candy he remembers that he hasn’t seen in years. And that came with a silly song.
“Murray mints, murray mints, too good to hurry mints,” he sings. “It was on TV then. A little ditty.”
Small candy encyclopedia
Traditional fruitcake served at Christmas time. It might be dark and crumbly-moist, or light and sticky-wet. Sometimes spongy, often heavy, it comes in all shapes and is often topped with icing. One favourite is the Scottish version, in which the cake is made with Scotch whiskey.
Small, British fruit-based mincemeat sweet pie. Often contains meats, fruits and spices and is traced to the 13th century when European crusaders returned from the Middle East.
A cake-style biscuit named after Jaffa oranges. Circular in shape with three layers: a sponge base, a layer of orange flavoured jelly and a coating of chocolate.
British confection, consists of a variety of multi-coloured, soft sweets and sugar-coated jellies. Comes in different shapes, such as cubes and cylinders, with subtle flavours.
Originally called “unclaimed babies,” the British sweets were first invented in 1864 and became Peace Babies after the end of the First World War. In 1953, the product was relaunched as Jelly Babies, with a name and colour for each baby’s shape and taste.
Salt water taffy
A variety of soft taffy originally produced in Atlantic City, N.J. in the early 19th century. Taffy is often chewy and made of corn syrup, glycerin and butter. Although called salt water taffy, it does not include any salt water.
A confectionary flavoured with the extract of licorice plant roots. Also referred to as black licorice and comes in chewy robes or tubes. Product from Dutch and Nordic countries often tastes more salty.
British confectionary company that is best known for its dairy milk chocolate, the Crème Egg and the Roses selection box. Dairy milk chocolate in particular was introduced in 1905 and uses a higher proportion of milk within the recipe than other products.
Brand of fruit-flavoured sweets with a hard sugar shell that carries the letter S. The inside is mainly sugar, corn syrup and palm kernel oil, along with fruit juice and flavouring.
German confectionary company, founded in 1920, that made the first gummy candy called Gummibärchen (little gummy bears). Now one of the biggest manufacturers of gummy and jelly sweets in the world, producing gummy bears, other jelly sweets and licorice.
A type of hard candy that tastes like cola.
Stollen (also called Weihnachtsstollen or Christstollen)
Traditional German fruitcake, often filled with candied citrus fruit and raisins. Sometimes filled with nuts or marzipan, and covered with icing sugar.
A confection consisting mostly of sugar, honey and almond meals. Often covered with chocolate or made into imitations of fruits, vegetables and animals. Also used for cake decorations or as a filling.
Traditional variety of British hard candy, often yellow or orange in colour with an extract of barley added as flavouring. Similar to caramel candy in texture and taste. Often made into small, spiral sticks.
Hard-boiled sweet that is flavoured in peppermint and striped in two different colours.
Confection based on a gel of starch and sugar, mixed with chopped dates, pistachios, hazelnuts or walnuts and different flavours. Often packaged in small cubes dusted with icing sugar.