Boston and New England’s Favorite Candies and a Peek into Their History

Boston was once the candy capital of America. Main Street, Cambridge was known as Confectioner’s Row

New England has a rich candy history with strong traditions especially in the Boston area. It starts with Dr. James Baker and Irish chocolatier John Hannon who, in 1764, built the first chocolate factory in America at a water-powered gristmill on the Neponset River in Boston. Baker’s Chocolate Company mill buildings are now condos.

Ye Olde Pepper Companie traces its roots back 200 years to Salem, Massachusetts where in 1806 an English woman by the name of Spencer was shipwrecked and in destitute condition. Her neighbors learned that she knew how to make candy and bought her a barrel of sugar. Little did they know that this single act of kindness would produce the “Salem Gibralter”, said to be the first candy made and sold commercially in America and transported around the world by sea captains and their crew.

For a period in the twentieth century Boston was the candy capital of America. In 1950, Boston and Cambridge, Mass., were home to 140 candy companies. Main Street in Cambridge, known as Confectioner’s Row, was lined with New England candy makers: James O. Welch (Junior Mints), Fox-Cross (Charleston Chew), Jack Smiley (hard candies), Graylock Confection (Tweet) and Daggett (chocolates).

Boston Baked Beans Candy

Boston baked bean candy originated around 1924. It is designed to resemble the purely American dish of slow-cooked indigenous beans that originated with Native Americans and were adopted by English colonists of the 17th century. These are the beans that gave Boston its Beantown nickname.

This traditional New England treat consists of peanuts panned with a hard candy cover, colored to look just like the real beans, using the cold-panned candy process. The process starts with single peanuts that are tossed into revolving pans while adding flavor, color, and other candy ingredients. Over a period of four days the pieces grow to the desired size. For a colonial look, the candy is often packaged in a baked beans crock.

Gummi or Gummy Lobsters

Over a century ago, in 1920, German confectioner Hans Riegel created a gelatin-based, bear-shaped candy to sell in his local area. While many people view Riegel as the creator of gummi candies, similar candies were also appearing in other parts of the world. Turkish delight and Japanese rice candies are similar in consistency, but are made with cornstarch or rice, rather than gelatin. Gummi candies are also related to jams and jellies since they all involve combining sugar and fruit.

The first American maker of the candies in 1981 was the Herman Goelitz Candy Company, now known as Jelly Belly. Atlantic Lighthouse created a lobster mold for gummi candies and lobster gummies were born.

Maple Candy

The early settlers of Massachusetts learned sugaring from the American natives who collected sap in hollowed-out logs and steamed away the water by dropping in hot stones. According to the Agricultural Statistics Annual Bulletin of New England, more than 2.7 million gallons of maple syrup was produced here in 2020, with more than half coming from Vermont.  The process to make maple candy is extremely labor-intensive, which explains why it has gotten more expensive. To make a pound of maple candy actually requires 90 gallons of maple sap. And to collect that much maple sap, you have to tap over 350 sugar maple trees, each tree being 30-40 years old. The sap gets boiled down over a long period of time to get to the maple syrup stage. Too little boiling means bacteria will grow in the syrup and ruin it. Boil it too long and it will crystallize in a bad way.

The 100%-pure maple syrup, now concentrated down to one gallon, must be intensely heated and subsequently cooled to get it ready for stirring until the candy crystallization starts. At that point, it is carefully hand-poured into molds. To give the candy a shelf life long enough for consumers to enjoy it, maple candy is often given a thin coating of crystalline sugar. The best maple candy is still made  in New England, be it a single piece or an entire gift box.

Lobster Pops

Lobster pops are relatively new on the scene. Red lollipops shaped as lobsters began showing up in Boston-area candy stores in the 40s and 50s. They now come in different flavors, with cherry being the most popular, and are often made with barley sugar. Individually wrapped and measuring 4 1/2 inches with the white stick, they can be used as New England party or wedding favors.

Salt Water Taffy

Saltwater taffy was first popularized around 1883 at Fralinger’s, a shop on the Atlantic City boardwalk. Though the recipe calls for some salt, the taffy was never actually made with saltwater; the name likely refers to the boardwalk’s proximity to the sea. Another fun, but most likely mythical story has a storm passing through a boardwalk candy shop, soaking all the taffy with salty seawater. Reportedly, the shop owner joked that all he had was salt water taffy.

Maple and Molasses Peppermint Drops

Maple and Molasses Peppermint Drops have likely been around New England for a century or more. They make a wonderful treat for all or a special dessert treat. Each bag is still handmade the old fashioned way using original recipes dating back over a hundred years. The candy starts with only the finest ingredients, all cooked in small batches in copper kettles over open-fired gas stoves. The Ye Olde Pepper Companie is one of the few companies still makin this candy.

Chocolate Covered Cranberries

Cranberry harvesting originated on Cape Cod in the early 1800s. The berry itself is one of three fruits native to North America. Coating them in thick tasty chocolate just seems like a natural thing for New Englanders to do.

Necco Wafers

Necco was headquartered on Mass Ave, Cambridge until Novartis took over the building in 2003

In 1847, a young English immigrant and progressive thinker, Oliver Chase, invented the first American candy machine, a lozenge cutter. As the new candy began to sell, he joined forces with brother, Silas Edwin and founded Chase and Company. In 1901, Chase and Company merged with both Fobes, Hayward & Company and Wright & Moody to officially form the New England Confectionary Company, or Necco.

Over the years, Necco prospered and produced many well-known products, but its success was propelled by its most beloved candy: Necco Wafers. Up until 2003, Necco candies were made on Mass Ave in Cambridge at the site now occupied by Novartis Biomedical Research. Spangler purchased the Necco Wafer brand in 2018 and after a two year absence, The Original Candy Wafer was returned to fans in the summer of 2020.


~ by massbay66 on August 9, 2022.

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