The Origin of The Candy Cane
December 20, 2007
As legend has it, the origin of the candy cane appears to stem back to Cologne, Germany around 1670. A clergyman and choirmaster purportedly had given hard white candy, with one end shaped into a "crook", to pacify anxious children during church services. Although straight peppermint sticks have been a sweet treat for over 600 years, the legend of the peppermint candy with a curved hook seems to be the starting point for our modern candy cane that we know and love today. The real meaning and reason of the "crook" shape along with whom the original creator is still shrouded in mystery as there have been no historical evidence uncovered to validate such. As the candy cane evolved, various other religious symbolism of the candy cane became imbedded in the religious and spiritual ideals as it pertained to Christian ideology.
Candy has shown to have been around for thousands of years. Egypt, Greece and China have shown archaeological evidence of sweet foods of honey, fruit and nuts that could be inferred to be our modern version of candy. Regardless of time period and culture throughout history, man continues to have a "sweet tooth".
The history of our modern candy is said to have started by apothecaries of the time by adding sugar to hide the acrid taste of medicine. Although making candy was prevalent in the early 1800's it was relatively limited until the introduction of basic machinery in the 1840's .
However, it wasn't until an international confectionary exhibition held in London, England 1851 that attracted confectioners from Germany and France which later became world renowned for their variety of sweet delicacies. Candy making really took off in the United States after the World's Fair in Chicago in 1893. A new chocolate-making machine was introduced that produced the first candy bars. In the decades that followed candy took on new shapes, sizes and flavors as the boom for candy consumption increased.
The Modern Candy Cane
Until the turn of the century, the candy cane peppermint treat remained white. It is speculation that candy maker Bob McCormick of Albany, Georgia, who established McCormack's Famous Candy Company in 1919, created the red-striped candy in the 1920's as treats for friends and family. He may have been inspired by the Swedish candy known as "Polkagris" (English: polka piglet). The originator of the red stripes on candy canes is popularly accredited to McCormick. History does show that Christmas cards at the turn of the century show pure white candy canes pre 1900 and striped candy canes post 1900.
Producing the red and white candy canes in the beginning were labor intensive because they were made by hand. It wasn't until the 1950's that McCormick's brother-in-law Gregory Keller created an innovative machine that aided in manufacturing and mass producing the candy canes. The irony here is that Keller happened to be a Catholic priest, which after taking into account the possible historic origin along with the various modern spiritual connotations and nature of the candy cane, was apropos.
The new and improved process of production and packaging of candy canes led to the success of the later renamed candy company to "Bobs Candies" which is one the leading candy cane producers in the world. There are other popular companies as well such as "Spanglers" and "Jolly Rancher" that contribute to the candy cane industry.
Although automation has revolutionized the way candy canes are produced, many confectioners still hold to the original hand-crafting technique of pouring, pulling and kneading, cooling, coloring and shaping the sugar mixture.
Also to note, in candy-making terms putting the hook at the end of the striped candy is called "crooking" and in traditional red-white candy canes, the white stripe is the only part that has the flavoring.
Candy canes now embody many flavors and colors by different manufacturers. They are as traditional as the Christmas Tree, Stockings, Cartoons, Carols and gift exchanges which have become an integral part of the holiday season.
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