Sweet Treats


The candy business is alive and well in the U.S. especially during holidays. Christmas stockings won’t be complete without candy. But it wasn’t always the case. I thought it’d be fun to look at the candy that found its way to the settlements in the Old West.

General stores and mercantiles would’ve most certainly stocked:

  • Licorice
  • Horehound Candy
  • Rock Candy (lemon drops)
  • Jelly Beans
  • Peppermints

Strange that some of the early “candy” like licorice, peppermint, and horehound started out as a medicinal treatment. My dad loved the taste of horehound candy and bought it by the bagfuls. I tried it a couple of times and always ended up spitting it out. It tasted horrible. But it was good for a sore throat. I opted for peppermint when I came down with a cold. It tasted much better.

Candies that were made in homes by industrious cooks were:

  • Taffy
  • Peanut Brittle
  • Candied fruit peels
  • Sugarcoated nuts (referred to as comfits)

In the middle to late 1800’s taffy pulls became all the rage. People would come from all around to make taffy. They pulled the candy to make it pliable and easier to eat. Folks saw it as a much anticipated social occasion. It gave them a wonderful opportunity to get together and catch up on news and gossip…and satisfy a sweet tooth at the same time.

One of my fondest memories was when my mother made homemade taffy. We had to butter our hands so the confection wouldn’t stick to our fingers. Then two people would stand facing each other about a foot away and pull the taffy back and forth between them. I remember it had to be pulled before it set up. It was a little hot on the hands. We all loved it though, especially the eating part.

Bonbons were 1st introduced as a Christmas novelty in the late 1840’s in London. They were sold in the U.S. mostly in confectionery shops. They were wrapped in tissue paper. The everyday person couldn’t afford them.

Chocolate was also very expensive and considered quite a luxury and I imagine it was very scarce as a candy in the old West. The 1st packaged box of Whitman’s Chocolates was sold in 1854 in Philadelphia.

Pralines is an old candy that was first made in France in the 17th century. It was transported to Louisiana in the U.S. by French settlers. I don’t think it was well known beyond the deep south.

Well, that’s early candy in a nutshell. I hope you’ve enjoyed it.

Do you make homemade candy at Christmastime? It makes an excellent gift. The thing I make most is fudge. It’s quick and easy (especially when cooked in the microwave) and it tastes great. YUM!

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Here in the Texas Panhandle, we do love our cowboys. There's just something about a man in a Stetson and jeans that makes my heart beat faster. I'm not much of a cook but I love to do genealogy and I'm a bit of a rock hound. I'm also a NY Times & USA Today bestselling author of historical western romance. You can contact me through my website and I'd love to connect with you on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and more. HAPPY READING!

23 thoughts on “Sweet Treats”

  1. Linda, I have had all the candy you mentioned. Never got into horehound candy. But we loved the rock candy that looked liked crystals on a string.
    I loved the description of a taffy pull in the Little House books when I was young.

    There are two memories I have of Christmas candie. One was the local stick candy my grandfather always had around. Different flavors, it was like those buttermints in texture but in stick form. Then there was my grandmother’s highly anticipated Christmas box. Peanut butter and chocolate fudge. Divinity. Peanut butter pinwheels. Bliss.

    My sister has taken over the candy making in the family but sadly I can’t eat a lot of it, having developed corn allergies. Do you know how many things have corn syrup in them?

    Just had my birthday and a dear friend made me sea-salt caramels with brown rice syrup. Absolutely wonderful! I am working on a fudge recipe next!!!

    Need to try making it in the microwave but I have to use the basic ingredients (sugar, cocoa) and no condensed milk or chocolate chips so don’t know if it would work.

    Peace, Julie

  2. I make divinity, fudge, peanut brittle, turtles and pralines. My husband and I cannot eat it because we are diabetic but I love to make it. He says its cheaper to but it than to make it but its not the same. I make it for family and friends. My daughter is a teacher and she takes it to school for the other teachers.

  3. Hi Julie…….thanks for coming by to chat this cold morning. Nothing warms me up like a a cup of coffee and conversation about candy. Candy warms a body’s heart and makes them feel special. I guess that’s why kids (and adults) love it so much. Sorry to hear about your corn allergy. Ouch! That would really limit what you can have no doubt about it.

    I’m not sure if you can make fudge in the microwave since the main ingredient to bind it together is sweetened condensed milk. Keep trying though. Good luck.

  4. Hi Minna…….how nice to see you this morning. Glad you stopped by to chat. I’ll bet it’s really cold and snowy where you live. Thanks for sharing that chickens in the road website. Lots of interesting things over there. That cream toffee sounds absolutely scrumptious! I’ll have to try it. I’ll bet my family will love it. It’s interesting that you can substitute cardemon for the vanilla. I love anything that tastes like cinnabuns.

    Hope you have a wonderful day. Stay warm!

  5. Hi Goldie…….I’m glad my blog interested you. I think everyone loves to talk about candy. Even if they can’t eat it. I know your daughter and the rest of your family really appreciates your efforts. Homemade turtles are my favorites. Yummy!

    Have a special kind of day!

  6. Linda, what a great post! I’ve been thinkin’ about candy lately, so this gave me some great ideas. Mama always made great divinity, but had two rules … never when it was humid and never without Daddy. She contended that humidity made the divinity yucky and it wouldn’t set up properly. I remember her pouring a trickle of syrup on the beatened eggwhites, while Daddy beat the stuff until it was no longer shiny or his arm wore out, whichever came first. That was the key to having it set up right. That was our family tradition. My aunt made peanut patties and my mother-in-law made fantastic bon-bons. Grannie’s specility was datenut loaf and fudge, so we had all kinds of candy during the holiday season. One of my daughters’ favorite things to do is get together and make a variety of candies this time of the year. Thanks for the memories, friend. Hugs and I look forward to seeing you tomorrow. Travel safe, Phyliss

  7. I have a standard recipe I call Connealy Crunch. so fast and easy.

    This kind of post is so nostalgic. Think of the family event it was, pulling taffy. Remember the molasses candy they made after they cooked the maple sap in Little House?

    Now we just sit and watch TV. Buy candy and other goodies in stores and eat it so fast we barely taste it, instead of savoring it. If it wsa RARE we’d savor it, truly enjoy it. Now we just hope we don’t get our fingers sticky so we don’t mess up our phone while we text, watch TV and eat at the same time.

  8. Yeah, it’s very cold here right now. Not a good time to have any kind of power cuts (and we had one really weird power cut the other day).
    Yeah, Suzanne’s website is great! We all have been nagging her about writing a book with recipes and stuff. Hopefully she’ll get around writing one!
    The toffee recipe is very basic, so you might want to try other spices, as well. My favorite combination is coconut milk+vanilla+unsweetend cacao powder or few pieces of dark chocolate. With cinnamon you can only use cream, though. Cinnamon reacts strangely with coconut milk.

  9. Morning, Phyliss……a wonderful start to a chilly morning. The next best thing to chatting with you in person is on here. Sounds like you grew up with some great traditions. I love how your dad helped out. I’ve tried making divinity but never quite got the hang of it. Mine never turned out right. Now peanut patties I could do. That was easy and oh how tasty. My mom made the best date nut loaf you ever tasted. I always looked forward to getting some at Christmas. Another thing she made really good was fruit cake. It was tons better than store bought.

    Keep your traditions going. You have lots of grandkids to pass it on to. See you tomorrow!

  10. Hi Mary…….hope you get a break soon from the frigid temps. Keep warm up there. Yes, I love how families used to get together and to things like making candy and other things. Life was so hard back then and I find it very sad that children couldn’t even afford a penny to buy something sweet. Like you said it was a real treat to get anything. We sure don’t appreciate what we have today. Not like those pioneer families did. But families were more close-knit back then. We could take a lesson from them.

    That Connealy Crunch sounds interesting. I’ll bet it’s good.

  11. Minna, glad you came back. I’m sure it was no fun when you had the power cut recently. Brrrrr! I hope you have a fireplace. That’ll help. Thanks for the tip about the coconut milk and cacao powder. Yummy! Yes, I hope Suzanne gets around to putting all her recipes in a book. Bet she could sell a lot of copies.

  12. Linda,
    I hadn’t thought of taffy pulls in ages. We did it a few times as kids and it was great fun. I’ll have to remember next summer and have one for the kids.
    I’ve made peanut brittle in the microwave. It is so easy. My sister makes ‘Fairy brittle’ (pecan brittle) in the microwave. I have tried several times, but have burned it every time. We have a new microwave and it is evidently a higher power than our old one. I’m still trying to get the timing down. I’ll just let my sister keep me supplied ; )
    My mom made fudge from the recipe on the Hershey cocoa can. It is still my favorite chocolate fudge. The first time I tried to make it as a kid, I burned it solid. 50+ years later the black marks are still in the pan. I have gotten so I will just throw sugar, cocoa, milk & salt into a pan and make a mini batch when I want some. I do the same with brown sugar and pecans for pralines.
    I have done chocolate candies in molds and hope to try some with fillings one of these days. Have done lollipops too.
    I have done butter mints in molds and there is a cream cheese mint recipe I have also tried.
    Have done candied orange peel and sugared nuts. (Didn’t realize they were called comfits. Have seen that term used often in historical fiction and never bothered to look it up. Thanks for that piece of info.)

    I remember my grandmother giving me Horehound for medicinal purposes.I didn’t mind it so much, but tried some again recently and don’t like it.

    Thanks for a fun post. It was a good walk down memory lane.

  13. Just remembered another one.
    I can remember my mom boiling down maple syrup to soft ball stage then pouring it over snow. Made a nice maple taffy type candy. However, after I pulled a filing out with it, she didn’t make it anymore. I did make it a time or two for my kids when they were little and we lived in snow country. Could do some now. It is colder and we have more snow here in TN than my dad does in northern NY.

    Have a great Christmas.

  14. Linda,

    You mentioned the taffy pull, and it brought back a memory for me. It had to be before I was 6, because we moved that summer. And I definitely remember it being in the house we lived in up until that time. I remember my mom buttering my hands and hers and us pulling taffy together, and my sisters pulling some together. WOW. I didn’t remember that until just now when I read your post. My favorite holiday candy is fudge. My mom used to make divinity for my dad, but it was never one of my favorites. Great post!


  15. Hi Estella……that cranberry walnut white fudge sounds delicious. I can just taste it now. I wonder what all the frontier women would’ve made if they’d had the ingredients we have today. I like to experiment and try new things, add new ingredients to an old recipe. I must be adventurous. Ha!

  16. Hi Patricia B…….glad my blog jogged some old memories. The taffy pull is definitely lots of fun and you can make it any flavor you want. They didn’t have that luxury in the old West. But yes, please let your grandkids try it. They’ll have loads of fun. I’ll bet that snow candy would be wonderful! I’ll have to try that next time it snows. My mother always made snow ice cream and that was good too.

    You’ve made a lot of different type candies. It sure is nice when the whole family can get together and make a bunch of things. And add a decorative basket or other type of container and they make excellent gifts for the neighbors.

    Glad I could shed some light on what comfits are. I always love learning new things.

    Stay warm and keep a roaring fire going in the fireplace if you have one. That snow sounds pretty deep.

  17. Hi Cheryl P……..glad I could bring back some happy memories. The mention of taffy pulls always reminds me of my mom who passed away several years ago. She loved to cook almost as much as she loved to eat. She was always making some delicious something for us. I like fudge too but I prefer the microwave kind because I lean more toward the lazy side and it’s quick and easy.

    Hope your day is going well.

  18. What a yummy post. Here in Nova Scotia we get ribbon candy at Christmas. It’s like hard candy in the form of a curly ribbon. It comes in beautiful colors and different flavours.
    At home I make creme sucre, a rich brown sugar fudge that I don’t dare make any other time of year, or I’d be as wide as I am tall. Of course, there are no calories in Christmas treats, are they?

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