Peggy Keener: Your dentist’s most lucrative holiday

Published 5:28 pm Tuesday, November 2, 2021

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What can I say about Halloween? Well, for sure it is a caries delight, but then who cares? Once a year … bring it on!

One of Halloween’s most iconic treats is Candy Corn. George Renninger invented a way to layer buttercream in the late 19th century, resulting in his tri-colored, kernel-shaped candy. Some disparaging party poopers first called it “chicken feed.” But disparage all you like. For the last 71 years Candy Corn has been synonymous with Halloween.

So, how do you eat yours? National Candy Corn polls show that 7% of our population bites off the yellow bottom stripe first. More folks, 29%, start with the pointy white top. And finally, 65% just pop the whole kernel in their mouths. But, then, these folks don’t know how to have fun.

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The next chewy delight is the chocolaty Tootsie Roll. An Austrian candy maker introduced it to us way back in 1905. He named it after his daughter, Clara, whose nickname was “Tootsie.” It was the first individually wrapped candy, which begs the question—with her name on the wrapper did this mean that Clara also had to wrap them? All of them?

During the Depression, the yummy Tootsie Rolls sold well because they only cost a penny. During W.W.II, the military got on board with a candy contract for the troops which turned the non-melting treat into a GI favorite.

On the heels of the Tootsie Roll were Hershey Kisses. Concocted in 1907, no one knows for sure how they got their name. One version is that it came from the gentle sucking sound made during production when the chocolate plopped onto the conveyor belt. That works for me.

And, the little white paper plume on top was trademarked in 1924. Then in 1962, the silver aluminum wrapper was upgraded when one enterprising Christmas elf suggested they use seasonal red and green wrappers. Astonishingly, today more than 70 million teardrop Kisses plop off the line every day in Hershey, Pennsylvania. (Bet that candy thinks it’s hot stuff having a town named after it! But, then, I suppose their bragging rights are legit. Like have you ever heard of Tootsie Roll, Wyoming, or Candy Corn, South Dakota?)

No one knows for certain, but it would seem that Babe Ruth inspired the candy bar which bears his name. After all it came out in 1921, the same year the short slugger hit 59 home runs. Still the big boss of the Curtiss Candy Co. claimed that he named the candy after the early demise of President Grover Cleveland’s daughter Ruth. As for me, I just can’t see it. Can you picture a little trick or treater holding out her candy bag and hoping for a President-Grover-Cleveland’s-Daughter Bar?

An incensed Babe later endorsed a different candy bar and named it after himself. Curtiss’s CEO Schnering sued to keep it out of the stores. A patent judge (clearly not a baseball fan) upheld the claim. But, Baby Ruth aficionados strongly protested. In a twist-of-the-knife marketing ploy (also called “guilt”), Schnering erected a billboard advertising Baby Ruth Candy Bars outside of Chicago’s Wrigley Field. Et tu Brute.

In 1912, Life Savers appeared. There was only one flavor—Pep-O-Mint. Seven years later, six new flavors were introduced. They were wrapped in distinctive hand-wrapped foil packages. (Oh, no! Do you suppose that little Clara/Tootsie had to wrap those, too?) Since 1935, Life Savers have come in 5 flavors, with 14 doughnut-shaped candies in each roll. (Does anyone know what happens to the candy doughnut hole?)

Talk about hype! This next candy’s name was coined to encourage kids to be smart and pursue an education. Edward Dee immigrated from England to New Jersey in 1949. There he began making his pressed sweet/sour discs in, of all places, an old W.W.II pellet making factory. He called them “Smarties.” Billions, yes, billions are made each year. But, does anybody know anyone who got smarter just by eating them?

At this point, does it seem that the finger of candy-eating-blame should be directed at immigrating Europeans? Should Ellis Island have welcomed them with open arms? Or turned them away?

Another case in point: British soldiers during W.W.I, turned chocolate into an American national craving. (See what I mean? There those Europeans go again!) The Brit troops ate tins of King George Chocolates along with their daily rations. This got the U.S. Army Quartermaster Corps thinking. Wouldn’t chocolate be both an energy booster as well as a morale raiser for our troops? So, what did the Quartermaster do but start asking (cajoling? begging?) American confectioners to donate 20 pound blocks of chocolate to the military cause. The huge blocks were then cut into small pieces and doled out to the men. What happened next? You guessed it. Our doughboys returned home with an insatiable craving for chocolate!

(I would add here a personal note. During our decades with the military, I ate piles of boxed C-rations. They each contained a tiny package of 5 cigarettes. Even though a soldier didn’t smoke, he was nonetheless drawn into the camaraderie-ness of it all, lighting up with his buddies, as well as cementing into his brain that each meal was always finished off with a cigarette! Think about it.)

In gnarly irony, during Prohibition (1920-33) when alcohol was not legally available, chocolate became a substitute for the Devil’s Drink. No surprise there. Like alcohol, chocolate boosted moods and made people feel better. It still does, although now, with no holds barred, you can down each bite with a stiff shot of gin. How blessed we are!

Later the chocolate was combined in the boxed Field Ration D meals as a 4 ounce, 600 calorie bar which could withstand heat and keep a starving G.I. alive. It is estimated that during that war, more than 3 billion bars were shipped out to military personnel all over the world.

In 1991, during Operation Desert Storm, about 144,000 Hershey Desert Bars went to the troops in the Middle East. They were formulated to turn fudgy during high temperatures, as opposed to melting. The troops loved them. Then, just like that, Hershey discontinued the candy bar shortly after Desert Storm ended. (Wonder if they were miffed over having their chocolate treat spelled “Desert” instead of “Dessert?” Does anybody know?)

The scariest thing about Halloween is this—and here I transmogrify into a first class, spoil sport marplot— Americans buy an estimated 160 million pounds of Halloween candy each year. The average candy cache per child can reach up to 7,000 calories. And, if that is not enough to sign you up for candy counseling, the cost of one measly silver amalgam filling is between $50-$150. If you want your little trick or treater to have a personal tooth-colored composite filling, make that $90-$250. Then if neither of these paltry treatments is good enough for your cherub, a single cast gold or porcelain filling will reduce the family income by $250 to$4,500!

None of this begins to tap into the weight gain. But, then the argument would be, what do you mean, Peggy? Our be-costumed darlings are getting a ton of exercise simply by frolicking from house to house while carrying their heavy loaded bags.

Boy, I sure sound like a grump! Like the only candy I eat is sour grapes. Okay, okay, I’m sorry for spoiling a perfectly fun day. So, eat up! Happy Halloween! Chew … swallow … burp … (all done to the background noise of the dentist’s drill.) Ka-ching, ka-ching, ka-chiiiiinnggg!!