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‘Sweet as sin’ offers history of sweet treats

  • Candy from Richardson’s Candy Kitchen, 500 Greenfield Road (Routes 5 & 10) in Deerfield. In “Sweet as Sin: The Unwrapped Story of How Candy Became America’s Favorite Pleasure,” author Susan Benjamin explores the history of sweet treats. RECORDER STAFF/MATT BURKHARTT



For The Recorder
Friday, May 13, 2016

I always savor the sight of the penny-candy section of my local general store, despite the fact that none of its candy sells for a penny any longer.

When I look at it, memories flood into my brain — of being given coins to purchase my own candy as a youngster, of my teenage pride in using my own baby-sitting money to buy candy for my charges, of the sweets favored by my now deceased parents.

“Sweet as Sin: The Unwrapped Story of How Candy Became America’s Favorite Pleasure” reminds me and all of us that candy doesn’t represent only personal memories for Americans. It evokes shared cultural memories.

Author Susan Benjamin is the proprietor of a historic candy company called True Treats and an enthusiastic culinary historian. She will appear at Historic Deerfield on Saturday, May 21.

After a brief personal introduction, her book begins tracing the history of American sweets with a look at the ways in which Native Americans harnessed sap, corn, and even meat to preserve food and make treats.

It goes on to talk about ancient confections and to look at the history of sugarcane. Benjamin touches on the contributions of African-Americans (slaves in particular) to culinary history and reminds us that Abolitionists promoted alternatives to slave-based sugar and molasses.

She then moves on to chronicle the development of a variety of popular treats in the United States — candy bars, marshmallows, chewing gum (and its sister bubble gum!), cough drops, jelly beans and much more.

The book is loosely organized and features many personal asides and interviews with candy manufacturers and their descendents. “Sweet as Sin” is never dull and always charming. Its humorous, informal narrative combines social history, industrial history and expressions of the author’s taste.

It’s hard to resist the sheer facts with which Benjamin regales her readers. I hadn’t previously considered the fact that salt-water taffy contains no salt water. (Benjamin explains the origins of the name.) And I was unaware that the NECCO wafer started out as a medicine containing opium.

It’s also hard to resist Benjamin’s tales of candies, past and present. Readers will probably find themselves wanting to go out and shop for something sweet at the end of this delicious book.

Benjamin will talk about the history of candy, sign copies of “Sweet as Sin,” and lead a candy tasting on May 21, at 1:30 p.m. at the Visitor Center in Hall Tavern at Historic Deerfield.

Tickets costs $20 for adults, $11 for children between six and 17, and $6 for Historic Deerfield members. This price includes an admission ticket to the museum. For further information or to register, visit: www.historic-deerfield.org (Tickets may also be purchased at the Visitor Center on the day of the event.)

“Sweet as Sin” by Susan Benjamin (Prometheus Books, 320 pages, $18)

Tinky Weisblat is the author of “The Pudding Hollow Cookbook” and “Pulling Taffy.” Visit her website: www.TinkyCooks.com