Boomers Loved Their Halloween Candy

It’s Halloween week, an appropriate time to reminisce about the candy we collected when we were young enough to want as much as we could possibly carry. The Holy Grail in Mister Boomer’s neighborhood was to fill a standard pillowcase. It’s a feat only one boy came close to accomplishing, but along the way, we gathered mounds of Mounds, and plenty of Good ‘n Plenty.

Mister Boomer has always enjoyed getting more bang for the buck, and that held true for Halloween candy, too. After full-size candy bars (the ultimate prize), things that offered multiple items were among his favorites: Whoppers, Kits (m-m-m — banana flavor!), Dots, Junior Mints, Chuckles and Lifesavers, to name a few. And then there were the sugary wafers and tablets of Necco Wafers, Smarties and SweeTarts.

Necco Wafers
Predating the boomer era by two generations, Necco wafers were the product of a New England confectioner named Oliver Chase. He invented a lozenge cutter machine in 1847, which was the first candy-making machine in the United States. Oliver partnered with his brother, Silas Edwin Chase, and they began selling candy as Chase and Company, which later became the New England Confectionery Company (NECCO).

During the Civil War, soldiers carried some of the lozenge-shaped, Chase brothers candy. They called them “hub wafers.” The sugary concoction would not melt in a pocket and could last a long while. In 1911, the brothers began calling their candy Necco wafers. When World War II came along, Necco wafers were given to soldiers for the same reasons Civil War soldiers carried them. A great many who may not have been acquainted with the New England brand took a liking to it, so when they returned home, they continued to buy it. This helped the brand expand coast to coast. Once these former soldiers got married and started the post-war Baby Boom, they introduced their children to the brand, most notably, on Halloween.

The original flavors were lemon (yellow), lime (green), orange (orange), clove (purple), chocolate (brown), cinnamon (white), licorice (black) and wintergreen (pink). Mister B liked the licorice the best and the clove the least. All black packages of Necco were available in some stores.

The small, sweet-and-tart Smarties candies were among Mister Boomer’s favorite Halloween booty. Edward Dee and his family started CeDe Candy in 1949, perfectly positioning their product to take full advantage of the Baby Boom. They repurposed shell making machines from World War II to make their candy tablets.

Kids loved the sugary taste as much as the shape. In an era when medicine seemed to taste bad by its very nature, kids could pretend they were taking a Smarties pill and enjoy the experience. Made in pastel colors, the “pills” were fun. The original color/flavor line up was orange (orange), yellow (pineapple), pink (cherry), white (orange cream), green (strawberry) and purple (grape). When there was a shortage of sugar in the 1970s, the company switched to dextrose. The company name was changed to Smarties Candy Company in 2011 to reflect the importance of the product to the company’s bottom line. Now in his 90s, Edward Dee still runs the company.

A true boomer candy, SweeTarts were invented by John Fish Smith and introduced in 1963. The story goes that mothers were looking for a less messy version of the immensely popular Pixy Stix. You will recall Pixy Stix were a blast of colored and flavored sugar delivered as a powder inside a wax paper straw. Smith solved the powder mess by using the same basic recipe and same flavors of cherry, grape, lemon, lime and orange to form his SweeTarts candies.

The tart flavors were a big hit with Mister Boomer’s sister. Halloween night she would try to trade Mister B and Brother Boomer her collected Three Musketeers and PayDay bars for as many SweeTarts as the boys were willing to part with, which in Mister B’s case wasn’t much. He enjoyed the candy, too, just not to the extent of his sister. Mister B was willing to part with some of the smaller, Halloween-sized packages because he didn’t like the fact the tiny pouch only contained three candies. He’d keep the full-size packages for himself.

The candy is now owned by Nestle and branded with the Willy Wonka label.

Mister B, like most boomers, has fond memories of running house to house to collect as much sugary goodness as he could in the short trick or treat evening. While he still feels a day without chocolate is like a day without sunshine, these candies remind him that boomers did not live by chocolate alone.

Necco wafers, Smarties and SweeTarts: were they among your favorites, boomers?

Boomers Loved Their Root Beer Barrel Trick or Treat Candies

Halloween is happening this week, so naturally it got Mister Boomer thinking about his boomer days of trick or treating. In an era when products proudly carried the label “sugar,” candy wasn’t seen as the great evil it is today. Back then, high fructose corn syrup wasn’t added to practically every product, though, so sugar consumption was undoubtedly lower per child. Candy wasn’t usually an everyday treat, either. The biggest complaint parents had against the onslaught of sugary Halloween treats was possible tooth decay.

In Mister Boomer’s neighborhood, trick or treating began immediately after dinner. For Mister B and his siblings, that meant around 6 pm. The younger children were accompanied by a parent or older sibling, but by the age of eight, most of the neighborhood kids were on their own. They usually traveled in packs of four or more, and the streets were filled with kids and adults all the way to 9 pm.

When it came to candy gathering, a small plastic pumpkin wasn’t going to do the trick. Only the little tykes carried those. For the rest of the kids, regular cotton pillow cases were the receptacle of choice. The goal was to fill the pillow case. It was a Herculean task that Mister B never accomplished. In fact, the closest he ever saw was a neighbor boy who literally ran from house to house for the three designated hours, and was able to fill three-quarters of his pillow case. Mister Boomer could count on filling half the case pretty regularly.

Mister B loved the whole idea of being able to walk up to a stranger’s front door and receive candy just for simply saying, “Trick or treat.” After a quick “thank you,” it was on to the next house. The whole gamut of 1950s treats found their way into Mister Boomer’s pillow case. There were very few kinds he didn’t like; however, he preferred candy to popcorn balls or apples, and definitely didn’t want pennies.

Naturally, though, Mister B had his favorites. Among the loot was Milky Way, Snickers, Three Musketeers, Baby Ruth and Payday candy bars, Good ‘n Plenty, Necco Wafers, Smarties, rolls of Lifesavers, Mary Janes, Squirrels, Junior Mints, Slo-Pokes, Turkish Taffy, Tootsie Rolls, Tootsie Pops, Dots, Boston Baked Beans, assorted gums, including Bazooka bubble gum, Juicy Fruit, Fruit Stripe, Chiclets and Black Jack, malted milk balls, Dum Dum suckers and many more. Mister B leaned toward the chocolate candy bars as his favorites, but to this day, he asks the question of why anyone would want to limit themselves to just one favorite? His younger self could probably never answer the question, but yet there were certain kinds that were separated and hidden away from the grabbing hands of Brother Boomer.

Among the bounty that Mister B chose to isolate to savor at his leisure were Chunky bars (with raisins), other chocolate bars, Smarties and one hard candy — root beer barrels. Mister B was not a big fan of hard candies, but root beer barrels were the exception that made the cut to the favorites column. He had always been a fan of root beer, that tasty concoction that enjoyed a resurgence of popularity in the boomer era. Mister Boomer even had a neighbor who brewed his own, and he shared some with the families whose children played with his boys. Stronger than store-bought root beer, it was extremely flavorful. By contrast, root beer barrel candies were a pale comparison, but the fact that the candy took a while to melt on your tongue meant a continuous bombardment of sweet, root beer-like flavor could be enjoyed.

The Internet is great for finding just about anything these days, but when it comes to the origin of root beer barrel candy, the info is stingy at best. It is generally conceded that Charles Hires is credited for introducing a bottled root beer at the 1878 Philadelphia Centennial Exposition. Root beer, like beer or liquor, was produced by farmers in small batches for years — probably decades — before Charles Hires delivered his first bottle. The drink is like beer or liquor in that there is no one recipe. Different regions might flavor their version with local plant and herb extracts, and individuals within any given region might add their own touches to perfect their flavor.

By the mid-1800s, the Industrial Revolution was underway and manufacturing of all types began in earnest. The completion of the first transcontinental railroad in the U.S. was completed in 1869, which meant goods could be transported to all parts of the country. Many industries where processes were accomplished by hand were revolutionized by the assist from newfangled machinery. The candy industry was among them. Mister Boomer, therefore, believes that since root beer was already a known flavor in most parts of the country, the first root beer barrel candy was probably produced in the late 1800s.

Root beer, the drink, has ridden the wave of popularity many times since then. It became popular during Prohibition as a substitute for beer and liquor. A lot of the flavors and foods that were enjoyed in the 1950s were carry-overs from before the War. Our parents had suffered though the Great Depression and the second World War, so any comforts they had from their childhood were brought into the post-War era so they could share them with their children. It is Mister Boomer’s supposition that root beer barrel candy was one such treat.

The world of the root beer barrel — and commercially-produced root beer — came to a temporary halt in 1960, when the Federal Food and Drug Administration banned sassafras oil and safrole from commercially-made products. They were key ingredients to making root beer, but had been labelled as possible carcinogens. The major brands of root beer — Hires, Dad’s and A & W (which was then sold only in their drive-in restaurants)  — had to scramble to substitute for the banned ingredients. It wasn’t long before root beer — and Mister B believes, root beer barrel candies — were back on the market, but by then the public had moved their loyalties to colas.

Root beer barrel candies are still produced today under a variety of brand names. Almost all of them label it as a nostalgia item. How about it, boomers, do have a nostalgic memory of root beer barrel candies?