The red and white tradition of peppermint bliss: The “Painted” candy cane. Perfection in sugar, for certain. The swirling array of holiday color that instantly beckons childhood memories of delight! The joy as a child when the first candy cane of the season meets our wide eyes and the sugary peppermint that meets our awaiting smiles and lips….sweet bliss of Holiday style, indeed….
The history of candy canes goes back to the 17th century, when candy-makers across Europe were already producing hard sugar sticks, a popular treat at the time. These candy cane were completely straight and all-white in color. Who knew? History states that it was in 1670, that a choirmaster of Germany’s Cologne Cathedral introduced a new twist to the sweet sugar sticks. At his request, a local candy maker provided the sweet sticks for the choirmaster with a distinct ‘new’ look. To justify giving candy to children during the worship services, he requested that the candy maker add a crook (or hook) to the top of each stick, which would help children remember the shepherds who paid a visit to the infant, Jesus, at Bethlehem. Thus, his sweet intentions were twofold: to ensure that the children would remain quiet during the church’s lengthy Christmas ceremony and to commemorate the occasion with the representation of the shepherd’s crooks. Alas, the candy, with its classic and familiar hook-shaped appearance of a ‘cane’ was born!
Following the choirmaster’s innovation, bent sugar stick treats became a popular holiday confection in Germany. In time, candy canes of white would spread to other parts of Europe, reaching the hands of many children during Christmas plays reenacting the nativity. Quite a history, indeed. Sweet Christmas gifts of the “Shepherd’s crooks”.
Of interest, the first documented reference of candy canes in the United States goes back to 1847, when a German-Swedish imigrant named August Imgard decorated his Christmas tree with candy canes hanging from its evergreen branches. A decoration of the evergreen tree of the holiday’s began! The embellishment of candy canes soon became a tradition that would spread across the country. In fact, candy canes became a staple of Christmas celebrations throughout the United States.
And of the addition to these plain white sugary canes of the colorful red and white striped swirl? No one is sure exactly when the customary red stripes were introduced, but it is thought to have been somewhere around the turn of the century. The first recipe for straight peppermint candy sticks, white with colored stripes, was published in 1844 and the candy cane itself has been mentioned in literature since 1866. Of interest, vintage Christmas cards produced from before 1900 display plain white canes while striped canes appear on many cards printed after the 1900’s. In fact it is believed that around the 1900’s the iconic popular peppermint flavor emerged entwined in the red swirls of striped patterns of sugary bliss!
The first patent for candy cane making machines in the United States was filed in the early 1920’s by Chicago confectioners, the “Bunte brothers”. Alas, the commerical candy cane was born in America! However, producing the canes was a time consuming and labor intensive process. Candy makers had to pull, twist, cut and bend the sticks by hand! Without the help of machinery paired with the fragile construction and vulnerability to moisture of this hard candy, the canes could not be adequately packaged to withstand long-distance shipping. As a result, candy canes were a local fare. In the 1920’s, further innovation in the production of candy canes was credited to Bob McCormack from Albany, Georgia. McCormack had a longstanding dream of distributing the confections around the country. To his sweet delight, around 1950, his brother-in-law and Catholic priest, Gregory Keller, invented a machine to automate the production of candy canes. Coinciding with this invention, McCormack’s oldest son, Bob Jr., developed a new packaging device that wrapped and sealed the treats in moisture-proof plastic wrappers. Perfection in production! Together, these two innovations led to the widespread distribution of candy canes. Soon “Bob’s Candies” had become the world’s largest candy cane producers. With the inventive spirit of the McCormack family, they had successfully mass-produced and packaged this iconic Christmas treat with a sweet-tooth love affair of success with a striped stick of candy bliss! Today, an estimated 1.76 billion candy canes are currently produced each year. This confectionary, with its main ingredient of sugar and peppermint flavoring, now has an assortment of colors and flavors. And of the array that have been introduced? Striking, in their own right, yet I return to the classic red and white stripe every time. A classic is a classic, indeed…
Consider partaking in the past delights of youth of red and white. The possibilities of incorporating these sweet treats are endless! And of the sticky end one finds oneself in after enjoying the sweet treat of swirled, bold Holiday color? A childhood delight that is certainly worth its sugary, sticky finish! Sweet recollections and traditions with sheer bliss in red and white. Candy cane bliss, indeed…
PS: The next time that you hear the words of the well known classic Holiday song “Holiday Season” (Happy Holiday):“….so leave a peppermint stick for Old St. Nick, hanging on the Christmas Tree….” or “Painted candy canes” from the equally well known Holiday classic song “Christmas Waltz”, may thoughts of the tradition of the “Peppermint Stick” resonate with these songs of the Holidays! And…Merry Christmas!