Boomers Loved Easter Jelly Beans

Easter, that strange amalgam of the religious and secular, was celebrated by many boomers as a time to enjoy certain seasonal candies. Specifically, what candy corn was to Halloween, jelly beans were to Easter.

Historians do not agree on the origin of jelly beans, but many point to Turkey centuries ago, where a gel-like candy was covered in crushed pistachios. However, the more modern version of what we know as jelly beans — a concoction of sugar and corn syrup thickened with corn starch — was introduced after the Civil War. A couple of decades later, during World War I, the Schrafft candy company tried to boost jelly bean sales by suggesting people buy them to send to the soldiers fighting in Europe. Slowly, jelly beans carved a niche in candy consumption.

By the 1930s, jelly beans began to be associated with Easter. The reason, more than likely, was the bright colors of the candies as a reflection of spring, like Easter itself. During World War II, sugar rationing hit U.S. confectionery companies hard, with many going out of business. After the war came the Boomer Generation, and with it, a resurgence in candy sales.

As far back as Mister Boomer can remember, Easter baskets were part of his household’s Easter tradition. His mother was the main annual assembler of the baskets. Somewhere in the early 1950s, his parents bought baskets for Mister B and his siblings. Once emptied of their goodies after Easter, the baskets were stored in the basement, like Christmas decorations. Each year, “fresh” Easter grass was placed into them, followed by loose jelly beans, individually wrapped milk chocolate eggs, a marshmallow peep or two (or occasionally chocolate covered marshmallow eggs), and topped off with a boxed chocolate bunny. A single bag of jelly beans was all that was needed to split among the three children.

When asked what jelly beans tasted like in the boomer years, many boomers may be hard pressed to answer. To this day, Mister Boomer and his siblings say the red ones tasted “red.” There was hardly a discernible flavor to some of the colors at all, other than sweet. Orange was vaguely orange, and some say the green was vaguely lime. The black jelly beans were the exception, in that they had a licorice flavor. They were a favorite of Mister B’s mom, who was sure to filter out a few for herself before filling the Easter baskets.

For Mister Boomer, jelly bean flavors fell into a specific hierarchy of preference:
Red: top of the list
Black: pretty good
White, Yellow & Orange: OK
Green: meh
Purple: not so good
Light Blue: blecch! horrible!

Mister Boomer, always the pragmatist, didn’t want to eat his favorites first; rather, he would be sure some of his favorites lasted as long as possible. The light blue ones tested his discipline, though. They often ended up last in the basket.

Later-era boomers may recall when a new jelly bean arrived on the shelves in 1976. For early-era boomers, purchasing these new confections may have been for their own children. These candies were smaller, but packed a lot of flavor. They were labeled as gourmet and the flavors, matched to colors, were printed on the back of the package.

Called Jelly Belly, gourmet jelly beans were introduced by confectioner Herman Goelitz. The smaller size belied the explosion of flavor that accompanied each tiny bean. They reminded Mister Boomer of how the larger bulbs hung on Christmas trees in the 1940s and ’50s slowly but surely were supplanted by the smaller, brightly-colored lights of the 1960s.

Though gourmet jelly beans have not completely replaced the traditional jelly beans known by boomers, they have captured a wide audience of year-round jelly bean enthusiasts. In fact, many claim their popularity was boosted when President Ronald Reagan, a huge fan, kept them in a jar on his desk in the Oval Office. Reagan began munching the candies when he gave up smoking a pipe as Governor of California. When he became president, the then California-based Herman Goelitz Candy Company (now renamed Jelly Belly) shipped jelly beans to the White House every month. For his inauguration, the company created a blue jelly bean (blueberry) to accompany the red (very cherry), and white (coconut). Three and a half tons were given to guests.

How about you, boomers? Do you have fond memories of jelly beans at Easter, or did you dislike them the way some boomers will never touch a circus peanut?

How Quickly Did Boomers Eat Their Halloween Candy?

Now that another Halloween has passed, parents everywhere are left with the age-old dilemma of how much of the candy their children collected should they allow their kids to eat — and over what span of time. To set the current scene, there are some recent statistics available that can shed some light on the subject:

• A study conducted in 2021 concluded that 80% of kids eat all of their Halloween candy in one week.
• A study conducted in 2019 revealed that 86% of parents admitted to eating candy from their kids’ Halloween haul; the same study stated that nearly 60% of parents hid some of their kids’ Halloween candy in order to control or pace out their consumption of sugar.

In the boomer years, there were no such studies readily accessible. There were annual warnings of cavity-inducing threats from dentists and sugar-poisoning cautions from dietitians and nutritionists, but to boomer kids, such pronouncements sounded like the “wah, wah, wah” of the adult-speak in the Peanuts cartoons and comics. Ergo, Mister Boomer can only relay his own experiences, and the thoroughly unscientific polling he has conducted among his boomer friends. Basically, Mister B’s inquiries echoed the recent studies. Some boomers did fiercely tear through their candy bags in one week, though others took more time. Most boomers did recall that their parents ate some of their candy from their bags. However, this is where the similarities end.

In Mister Boomer’s case, he and his siblings differed in their approaches to post-Halloween candy consumption. Mister B’s parents issued an annual edict that no more than two or three pieces of candy should be eaten in any one day, but that was regarded as more of a guideline than a rule since Mister B and his siblings were in possession of their own bags. Brother Boomer attacked his treasure and if not in one week, certainly within two weeks, his cache would be gone. Mister Boomer and his sister took more time. This grasshopper-and-ant tale led Brother Boomer to very often beg for a morsel from each. Mister Boomer strongly suspected (to this day) that Brother Boomer happily stole from his bag regularly, since Mister B kept a loose inventory of his own supplies.

For Mister Boomer, it was somewhat of a game, trying to see how long he could stretch out eating the candy, with Thanksgiving as the end goal. Most years, Mister B could do that. One recent study Mister B found suggested that the average number of houses “hit” by children on Halloween was 30 … that number seemed mighty low to Mister Boomer. From the ages of 8 to 12, Mister B, like his neighborhood denizens, attempted to cover blocks and blocks of homes — far beyond 30 houses — to reach, in his estimation, more than 100. Each year neighborhood kids aspired to fill pillow cases with candy, though hardly any ever reached much past halfway. Still, it was a considerable collection.

In Mister Boomer’s situation, his parents immediately weighed in to check the booty at the end of the night. At the same time, it was understood by Mister Boomer and his siblings that the “fee” for this bag-check would be some on-the-spot confiscation. Two or three pieces of their favorites were targeted; for his mother, it was Milky Way, and for his father, it was Butterfingers.

Some boomers reported that their parents literally took away some of their candy on Halloween night, allowing them only a certain amount. Others allowed a grace period on Halloween, but portioned out what their children would eat in the days that followed. Mister Boomer and his siblings had full control of their bags, so no appreciable quantity was hidden or taken away, other than the sacrificial tokens required here and there for the duration. In later years, Mister Boomer recalls people bringing in “excess” candy into the workplace. Mister B felt sorry for his co-workers’ children.

How about you, boomers? Did you maintain possession of your Halloween candy? And how long did it take to consume your bag of treats?