Welcome back to 14 Eats! We are entering the one-year anniversary of the pandemic and with stress at an all-time high, I thought it would be great to celebrate the last week of Black History Month with a little fun. There are universal things a lot of Black people share with each other, and one of those is nostalgic old-school candy we would get from older Black women in our family. While I call this candy “grandma candy,” any elder — an aunt, cousin, and, of course, your grandmother — could offer you a piece.
This month’s column is focused on the top 7 grandma candies from my childhood that gave me the opportunity to bond over sweets with family. Obviously, this list won’t have everything you may have come across in your own life, but this list will have at least one old-school candy you’ve heard of or at least tried.
Strawberry Hard Candy
This is the candy that everyone just knew as “strawberry candy,” and, lo and behold, that is basically the name. This mysterious candy cannot be attributed to a sole creator. It seems the candy started as medicine and were so popular, they were sent to troops. Strawberry hard candy is infamous for its strawberry wrapper that entices sweet-tooth enthusiasts to take a handful for later. Depending on the company you purchase these from (yes, multiple companies sell these), you’ll get one with or without a strawberry gel in them. This candy is top tier. If you don’t believe it, try Googling “grandma candy,” and it will be the first image you’ll see. This hard candy has no competition.
Nowadays it’s easier to eat Werther’s with all the soft and chewy versions available. But the real OG’s remember the hard candy version that you were afraid to choke on. Werhter’s started in 1909 in Werther, Germany, by confectioner Gustav Nebel, and in 1985 it took off and became the popular candy we know today. Butterscotch certainly isn’t a flavor a lot of young kids flocked to, but this candy has its bright spots. The 111-year-old candy company was likely a part of many of our grandma’s upbringing, so they had to make it a part of ours as well. But where does this rank? Is it really a top-tier candy? This may be controversial, but I think it’s a low-tier candy (fight me). Werther’s wasn’t bad, it just gets stuck in your teeth and is a major safety hazard.
So –– there are spice drops and then there are fruit slices. One is old and delicious and the other is old and absolutely vile. Fruit slices are the former. Fruit slices were made by H.W. Powers Candy company and are handmade in small batches in North Carolina. While this wasn’t a regular find in my grandmother’s home, it was delightful as long as you ate it quickly. Left alone long enough in a hot room, these candies would melt together like plastic and stick to each other making it pretty gross to eat. There’s a lot of sugar in these slices so even as a kid, it was a bit much, so this is a low-tier candy.
Created in 1912 by Clarence A. Crane, who eventually sold the candy to Edward J. Noble, this candy is well known and really doesn’t need an introduction. It must be said that the fruity Life Savers are the only worthy bunch. When my grandma would put out her candy dish with the mint versions, they stayed there. The fruit flavored Life Savers were on constant rotation and cherry was always the first to go with raspberry and watermelon following, while orange and expectedly pineapple stayed in the dish. It’s not that pineapple was disgusting, it just wasn’t a favorite in our family.
Let’s get this out of the way — it’s a low-tier candy. In the worst way, this candy was either hard or stale. There was never a good Tootsie Roll had. Created in 1896 and named after Clara, aka Tootsie, the daughter of Austrian immigrant Leo Hirshfield.
The thing is with the Tootsie Roll it didn’t matter if it came in the traditional packaging, if it was the larger size; even when you ate the Tootsie blow pop, it was sad. Or maybe I ate too many stale ones. Either way, why eat those when you could turn to its flavorful version, Frooties? Frooties didn’t make an appearance in my grandmother’s home, but once I learned about them, it was over for the Tootsie Roll. That said, who didn’t grow up with these? They were a favorite of the older family members, it just wasn’t the best for kids.
Albert’s Fruit Chews
My absolute favorite, Albert’s Fruit Chews were created in 1916 by Robert Lawrence Albert, and later his son Sidney joined the company, and following that, Larry, Sidney’s son, joined and turned it into a global company.
My grandmother and mother called these “penny candy,” literally because one chew was one penny back when my mom was a kid. These hard or soft chews (depending on the freshness) came in a dizzying array of flavors, which made them a great candy. Of all the top-tier candies (yes, this is a top-tier candy), this was the most rare of them all because my grandmother didn’t go out of her way to get these, so when I saw them, I would take a pocket full for later.
Cinnamon drops/buttons, the ones I remember were made by Russell Stover. It is unclear when this candy was first made, but other companies like Atkinson’s make them as well. What is this candy doing on the list? It’s just a hard candy that tastes like spicy cinnamon, and, you’re right, it does, and that’s what makes this one special. It has no frills and became a reason why my grandmother had them. But is it really a top-tier candy? Not really. It lacked depth, was spicier than it needed to be, had a weird aftertaste and, really, was mint.
All of these grandma candies are worthy to be on this list even if I have my preferences because of how iconic they were in my childhood. In honor of the end of Black History Month and my grandmother, who made sure I got sweet treats, this list is dedicated both to nostalgia and family.
Header Illustration by Yusra Shah