It’s something worth crowing for.
That’s how it was described in the 1880s when there were no cell phones or televisions. City people traveled by horseback, horse-drawn streetcars, and steam-hauled commuter trains.
Nearly half of the population lived on farms and in rural areas.
Meet George Renninger. He lived in Philadelphia, PA, and was a a longtime employee of the Wunderlee Candy Company. Legend says that the father of five sons and two daughters invented a tri-color candy to celebrate the farmers who made up half of the workforce.
Renninger called the confection “chicken feed.” The colors of yellow, orange, and white represented the fall harvest.
Chicken feed was made by hand and looked like the real thing. It was a slow, labor-intensive process. Melted ingredients were ladled from large buckets into separate triangle-shaped molds lined with cornstarch. It took three passes to get the final colors. The candy was dried for at least 24 hours before packaging.
Although invented in Philadelphia, it was Goelitz, a Cincinnati company, that made it famous.
Goelitz Confectionary was a family business established in Belleville, Illinois in 1869. Gustave Goelitz started it and his younger brothers, Albert and George, immigrated to America to join him. Sadly, the company failed during the Panic of 1893 and subsequent economic depression.
It didn’t, however, stop the Goelitz family.
In 1898, Gustave’s oldest sons, Adolph and Gustave Jr. brought the company back to life in Cincinnati, Ohio. They took the recipe for chicken feed and produced it with cheaper, more available ingredients, quickly rising to America’s largest producer of what we now call candy corn.
It was sold as Goelitz Candy Corn – “something worth crowing about.”
Molded and chewable – standing out because of its tri-color and shape – what could be better?
Today it hasn’t changed very much. Like the original, if you stack up the candies they still look like corn-on-the-cob.
Another brother, Herman Goelitz, took the recipe and moved to Oakland, California. The brothers operated separately for many years. Eventually they merged under the name Jelly Belly Candy Company, known for crazy jelly bean flavors – a favorite of President Ronald Reagan.
Sound familiar yet?
Candy corn was sold in the first half of the twentieth century as penny candy – “the universal Christmas Confection.” Ads claimed “No Wonder Old Santa is So Popular!” It came in pails, boxes, and novelty packages associated with farmers and chickens.
According to History.com, by WWI “packages of Goelitz’s candy corn displayed a rooster and the motto, King of the Candy Corn Fields. It cost 25 cents per pound.
Sugar rationing during WWII fueled the ritual of Halloween “trick or treat” – cheap sweets for kids. Ideal for candy corn.
Then September 9, 1950, changed everything.
It started out as a regular day. A kettle lined with beeswax caught fire at Goelitz’s Midland Park, NJ factory. The block-long building was completely destroyed. Lisa Rose wrote in NJ.com, “This thing got going so fast, everyone had to get out . . . burning candy is a hot, hot fire. . .”
Everyone escaped. Over 2,000 pounds of candy corn were lost. The factory was never rebuilt.
Today, Goelitz still makes candy corn, although the number one manufacturer is Brach’s. It’s made by machine – a much faster and easier process. The National Confectioners Association estimates that 35 million pounds of candy corn are sold each year. 93% of Americans say they share chocolate and candy on Halloween. 60% of parents confess that they steal or share Halloween treats with their kids.
National Candy Day is on October 30, the day before Halloween.
Some people love candy corn and others hate it. Mike Snider described it in USA Today as “Candy corn: The Halloween candy that divides a nation . . . for some, just the name of the candy makes them salivate. Others recoil . . .”
Where do you stand?
While most connect candy corn and Halloween, new types have emerged. You can get Indian corn – brown and yellow – for Thanksgiving. How about Reindeer corn – red and green – for Christmas? There’s Cupid corn for Valentine’s day (red and pink) and Freedom corn (red, white, and blue) for Independence Day.
It’s not just colors that evolved. Try peppermint and pumpkin spice along with strange flavors like hot dog, hamburger, and roasted turkey. There are candy corn cakes, candy corn cookies, candy corn ice cream, and deep-fried candy corn. Check Amazon – you’ll find over 200 candy corn cookbooks, including a Grace Lemon mystery, Candy Corn Crime.
That’s really something to crow about.
*Note: all of the images in this blog have been
designed with AI (artificial intelligence)!