Friday, February 5, 2021

Penny Candy from the Dime Store: Sweets for your Sweets


Candy Counter at the General Store

By Patti Sherry-Crews

With Valentine’s Day around the corner, my mind turns to one thing. Candy. Especially chocolate candy. When I was a child, every year I looked forward to a heart-shaped box full of chocolate covered creams, which I would savor.

But as popular as chocolate candy is now, it wasn’t a common candy for children until about 1900. More familiar to a 19th century child would be stepping into the local general store to pick out treats from jars of bulk candy, and these would usually be hard candies in aromatic flavors such as peppermint, clove, lemon, rose, and lavender.

How puzzled would a 19th century child be by the sweet treats we have access to in the 21st century and vice versa? 

There is a village near where I grew up called Long Grove. That village decided to maintain it’s rural, small town charm by having strict codes. There are no sidewalks, street lights, or fences and all the store fronts are historical. Going to Long Grove for a Sunday drive was a childhood treat. It was like stepping back in time.

My favorite store was the general store with it’s candy counter filled full of candy jars in a colorful array. Candies that were foreign to me and unlike any candy I’d get at my neighborhood Mom and Pop candy counter. My favorite old-time candies were rock candy on a string, horehound candy, and sponge candy.

The peculiar texture of sponge candy comes from combining some sweet like sugar or molasses with baking soda and vinegar. The reaction creates bubbles in this golden delicious, caramelly confection.

Sponge candy as fun to make as it is to eat. We used to make it at home on rainy days because you almost always had the ingredients on hand. Give it a try! There are variations of this recipe, but here is one from Epicurious (fancy!).



1 cup sugar

1 cup dark corn syrup

1 tablespoon distilled white vinegar

1 tablespoon baking soda, sifted


Line 9-inch square cake pan with 2-inch-high sides with foil, extending foil over sides. Generously butter foil. Combine sugar, corn syrup and vinegar in a heavy large deep saucepan. Stir over medium heat until sugar dissolves. Continue cooking without stirring until the clip-on candy thermometer registers 300°F, swirling pan occasionally, about 18 minutes. Remove from heat. Immediately add baking soda and stir until well combined (mixture will foam vigorously). Immediately pour mixture into the prepared pan. Cool completely.

Using foil as aid, lift, candy from pan; fold down foil sides. Cut or break candy into large pieces (save any small pieces or shreds to use as a topping for ice cream). (Can be made 1 week ahead. Store airtight at room temperature.) can dip squares of sponge candy in chocolate. Happy Valentine's Day!


Andrea Downing said...

This has been a great trip down Memory Lane. The first thing I thought of was those candy necklaces we used to be able to buy, and I found they're still available, not only at a site called 'Old Time Candy' but at Dylan's Candy Bar. Next on my list was 'All Day Suckers' which now seem to be called "Whirly Pops.' The trouble is, "Daddy, can I have a quarter to go to the candy store?" no longer exists--you have to add on two bucks to that! Thanks, Patti, for a very sweet post.

Kristy McCaffrey said...

I've never heard of sponge candy, but I love caramels, so it sounds delicious.

Patti Sherry-Crews said...

Candy necklaces on elastic! And remember the wax bottles filled with flavored water? Or the candy dots stuck on a roll of paper we had to scrap off with our teeth and so ingesting paper? Haha! In my neighborhood we used to have a little Mom and Pa on almost every block and going to the store to buy candy to eat at the park was what passed for entertainment. In my current neighborhood a new toy store opened up and included is a section with old time candies--much less appealing to the adult me. Thanks for stopping by and have a great weekend!

Patti Sherry-Crews said...

Kristy, in my opinion sponge candy is crunchy goodness! But it's been decades since I had it so maybe my opinion has changed. There are variations that don't include corn syrup, btw. I think the kind we used to make didn't involve that ingredient. It is a fun recipe to make with kids! The reaction of baking soda and vinegar. Thanks for stopping by!

Julie Lence said...

The village sounds like a wonderful place to visit. And the candys yummy! Thank you for sharing, Patti!

Patti Sherry-Crews said...

Thanks, Julie! Long Grove is a charming village in a pretty spot in Illinois. Very picturesque. It even has a covered bridge. It's been ages since I've been there, but the general store candy counter was so popular that they opened more retail outlets outside of the village. Thanks for stopping by!