October 30th is National Candy Corn
Day. And it is hoped that we do not need to point out its proximity to All Hallow's Eve
, All Saints' Day
and the Day of the Dead
is said to have cursed herself to a snowbird's life in Hell
through the unconscious nibbling of pomegranate
kernels. As we go gently into that good night of the year, it is meet that we remember the humble kernels of sweetness which brighten our journey thither. Like the Queen of the Damned
, we too will return in the Spring, God
willing and the creek don't rise.
Many would assure you that candy corn was invented by Gustav Goelitz, sometime in the 1880s. Do not be deceived. The website of the Goelitz company makes no such claim, though they will carefully explain to you how they make candy corn in much the same way as they have ever since the 1900s. It was Wunderle Candy Company in Philadelphia which first yoked together the concepts of cornstarch candy with the assembly line -- was ever there anything more American than that? Goelitz, I hasten to add, was and is the manufacturer of Jelly Bellies, a jelly bean irretrievably entwined with the rampant evils of the Reagan administration. The homeless froze upon the ground surrounding the White House, as the childlike Republicans mounched and mounched upon their margarita- and marshmallow-flavored Jelly Bellies, endlessly spinning their arcane plots against the hapless, godless commies. The back of my hand to the lot of them and their froward ways.
Cornstarch candy? An elusive topic -- what child-scientist does not learn about the cohesive properties of cornstarch at his or her mother's knee? It's a polymer and can freeze any sweet liquid into a portable, storable item. American aboriginals made cornstarch candy with the sugar they harvested from maple sap and with the starch they extracted from corn. Turks congealed a rose-scented syrup into Turkish Delight. German immigrants did something similar with potato starch and honey -- mayhaps a childhood memory for Wunderele and Goelitz. "You call it corn," the dark-eyed, blue-jeaned maiden in the Mazola margarine ads once intoned, "we called it maize." It's not just that indigenous American peoples have a deep and religious association with corn, it's also that Americans of European extraction have come to so closely identify Indians with their Indian corn. Candy corn recalls the (once) popular image of North American Indians stoically subsisting upon kernels of dried corn. Within living memory, Brach's made an Indian Mix of a mellowcreme consistency: war bonnets, canoes, squaws, papooses -- a whole bag full of stereotypes and unjust thoughts, much of it maple-flavored. Did Squanto and his cohort bring cornstarch candy to that great dinner party the Separatist tribe held in Plymouth in 1621? Some say so. There is no knowing.
The concept lives on, attenuated for modern sensibilities. Candy corn still comes in the traditional white-orange-yellow variety and the white-orange-brown of Indian corn, as well as more perverse incarnations at Christmas and Easter. But modern candy corn has nought to do with cornstarch, other than for molding purposes -- Goelitz uses oiled cornstarch in much the same way our ancestors ran copper ingots into damp sand. (Many candies are cast this way, most notably those of the Gummi ilk.) Powdered sugar takes the place of cornstarch in these modern, debased days and all the corny goodness to be found in our candy corn comes from the corn syrup contained therein.