Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Lollipop, lollipop....

I provided some general thoughts about candy some time back, and that post came to mind after I recently read the new book Candyfreak: A Journey Through the Chocolate Underbelly of America, by Steve Almond. This book described the author's lifelong fascination, and obsession, with candy -- how he consumes candy each day, how he always keeps several pounds of it on hand, the various hard-to-find (or just-plain discontinued) candies he misses, and more. It was a pretty fun book to read, although I suppose your mileage here would be dependent upon the degree of your sweet tooth.

Almond laments the "Days of Yore" in American candymaking, when every major metropolitan area had its own candy companies that made their own locally treasured candy bars and such -- before Mars and Hershey basically took over the national market and began shutting the smaller manufacturers out by basically paying the large retailers exorbitant placement fees to get their bars on the racks near the checkout (where the vast majority of bars are sold), fees that cannot remotely be approached by the smaller manufacturers, who hang on by marketing their wares through specialty retailers. This is doubly a shame, Almond notes, because the smaller companies' candy bars are often superior to the better-known big names. I tend to agree: I like the Butterfinger bar, for example, but the Clark Bar really is better. Ditto the Goldenberg Peanut Chew (available at The Store!), whose chewy texture, peanutty goodness and strong molasses flavor put the Snickers bar to shame. And I can't go a month without trekking to Vidler's in East Aurora, NY to pick up an armload of Boyer Smoothies, a bar which, to paraphrase Almond in his book, "makes the Reese's Peanut Butter Cup its bitch." (I've waxed poetic about the Smoothie before.)

Of course, it's hard to read Almond's book without being able to directly sample the candies he mentions, but most of them seem to be available online, so that's not too much of an issue. (I haven't bought any of them yet.) I also couldn't agree with Almond's list of "candy dislikes", things he hates in candy; his list starts off with Marshmallow Peeps, which I find as disgusting as he does, but then he mentions coconut and white chocolate, both of which I love. (The Reese's White Chocolate Peanut Butter Cup comes a lot closer to the Boyer Smoothie than its flagship milk chocolate cup.) But Almond does share my preference for dark chocolate, and he tells a fascinating story that the only real reason milk chocolate is preferred in the United States is because of agressive marketing a hundred years ago.

If you enjoy candy, check out this book. It's a fun and insightful read.

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