Satisfying That Old-Time Craving for “Sweeties” – Part 1 by Pam Crooks

Years ago, my mother gave me a cookbook reprinted from 1888 that offered all kinds of advice and recipes for the homemaker. One section was devoted to Confectionaries, and I found their selection of candies, sodas, and ice cream fascinating.  Who knew they had so many? And yep, they called them “sweeties.”

Given that I have had a sweet tooth since the time I was old enough to hold a lollipop, I’d love to share with you my trip through history in both the 19th and 20th centuries in the next few blogs. 

The author of my cookbook mentions the fortune made by a Mr. Pease in New York with his horehound candy.  Ditto with a Mr. H. N. Wild’s candy store on Broadway which must have been a super store at the time, given the description of great numbers of customers (mainly ladies and children) who shopped there at all hours.

But my focus is for the common housewife who made “sweeties” for her family.  She was encouraged to use the best refined sugars that left behind no sediment and that had a bright color, such as sugar from the West Indies or Louisiana.  She was also encouraged to buy coloring materials and flavoring extracts rather than try to make them herself since educated chemists at the time had perfected them for consistency as well as reasonable price.

After a listing of tools needed, the recipes followed for Butterscotch and Everton taffy. Peanut and black walnut candy were different than what I imagined – no chocolate but covered with a sugar syrup then cut into strips.  The Cocoanut and Chocolate Cream candies sounded pretty good, as did the Fig and Raisin Candy, where figs and raisins were laid out in a pan and covered with sugar syrup, cooked slowly over a fire.

Rock candy in various flavors and Ginger candy was pretty self-explanatory. I must admit to being confused on what “paste drops” were. Made with currants, raspberries, pears, apples, and pineapple, I can only imagine them being similar to our Fruit Roll-Ups.

Candy “Tablets” followed. Again, it took some imagining, but since the sugar was boiled, flavored, and poured into molds, I’m thinking the tablets were like our hard candies. Flavors were ginger, orange, vanilla, clove, rose, and fruits like currants, strawberries, cherries, and raspberries, cooked and pressed through a sieve for their juice.

Housewives made their own chewing gum with balsam of tulu, sugar and oatmeal, soaked, mixed, and rolled in powdered sugar, then shaped into sticks.

Caramels were a favorite and poured into 1 inch molds. Caramels came in intriguing flavors like lemon, orange and lime, coffee, chocolate, and orange cream and vanilla. Yum!

Popcorn balls were made with molasses. I bet they were pretty good, too!

Soda Water and Soda ‘Sirups’ were popular, and while it wasn’t impossible to make one’s own for their families, the process was much easier while living near a big city for obvious reasons.  Flavors, however, were quite numerous and ranged from Nectar, Sarsaparilla, Walnut, Wild Cherry, Crabapple, and Lemon, to name a few.

Confectioners in the city generally offered “Ice Cream Saloons” to their stores. Adding a saloon was inexpensive and very profitable.  The cookbook provided a recipe that made a large quantity. However, other than the traditional flavor of vanilla, only Coffee or Chocolate flavor appeared to be available.

Well, there you have it.  A glimpse into an 1800’s homemaker’s candy kitchen!

Do you have a sweet tooth? 

Do you enjoy making candy or ice cream?

What is your favorite?


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Pam has written 30 romances, most of them historical westerns, but her newest releases are contemporary sweet romances featuring the Blackstone Ranch series published by Tule Publishing. Stay up on the latest at

40 thoughts on “Satisfying That Old-Time Craving for “Sweeties” – Part 1 by Pam Crooks”

  1. Good morning Pam- This was an amazing blog, it’s so amazing how they developed things back then out of staples around the house.
    I do know that if you take a can of condensed milk and boil the can (unopened) in water for an hour, you get creamy caramel.
    My 96 year old neighbor taught me this.
    I hope you have a Sweetie day and enjoy some tasty sweetness.

    • Fascinating about the condensed milk, Tonya! Have you ever tried it? I’m so tempted. What an easy way to make caramel, and I have numerous recipes that call for it. When I do try it, I’ll let you know!

      You have a Sweetie day, too!!

      • I’ve always known about doing this with condensed milk but for some reason I thought it was in a pressure cooker. Maybe just the instructions I’ve seen were that way. I know that you have to be careful when doing it though.

      • I googled making caramel from sweetened condensed milk by putting the unopened can submerged in the crock pot, cook for 8 hours. Sounds good.

  2. What a fascinating subject, Pam! My dad liked Horehounds, and we kids hated them. He admitted once that he didn’t like them much either, but at least we wouldn’t be stealing them!

    My dad was born on a family farm in Saskatchewan, Canada. His family moved to Detroit , but he was sent to ‘the farm’ in the summer. One summer day, he asked his grandmother for gum. She went out to the smoke shed, cut off a pig’s ear, and made him chew it. Showed what the tough old lady thought about her grandson becoming a city kid!

    Thanks for the great blog!

    • Good morning, anxious58. I heard that really dark chocolate is actually good for you, and a small amount goes a long way in satisfying a craving. Must be that lack of sweetness, eh?

      Thanks for stopping by so early today!

  3. I enjoy making turtles, carmel, peanut brittle. So reading your blog, reminds me how easy i have when making my treats. I learned a few things I never knew. And it makes me want to find an old cookbook for more cool information.

    • Good morning, Veda! Oh, yes, we have it so easy!! The best example is almond bark. Just melt it, pour some peanuts in (or pretzels or whatever) and you’re done. Even better, it’s GOOD! I make peanut clusters every year for Christmas.

      Did you read Tonya Lucas’s comment above about how to make caramel from boiling a can of condensed milk? Easy, peasy.

      Now peanut brittle takes some skill, I think. I admire anyone who can make it without scorching it.

      Wish you lived right next door – I’d lend you my cookbook (I have three!) for you to enjoy. It really does make for fun reading.

    • That is one of my fondest memories, too, Debra Guyette. We had a tiny neighborhood store three blocks away, and us kids loved, loved, going there with literally only a few pennies to spend. The grocer had a huge array (to us) of candy, and it was a deliciously sweet decision we had to make every time.

      I often think what a patient man that old grocer was. I’m convinced he loved children so much to provide them the opportunity to shop for our own “sweeties.”

  4. I remember making all kinds of candy for the holiday season with my grandma – but when she added the flavorings to the rock candy – the cinnamon would really clear the kitchen out!! Loved it though and the sassafras too!

    • Interesting, Teresa Fordice. I’ve never made rock candy and not sure many folks do, anymore. I imagine that cinnamon made the eyes sting, eh? Sassafras is a unfamiliar to me, though it has been around a long, long time.

      Thanks for stopping by, dear!

  5. I am afraid I do have a sweet tooth which is a bad thing for me. The past few years I made homemade candy to give away at Christmas, not sure I will this year. The problem is if you make you know you have to taste it to see if its good. Covid has been bad enough on the weight much less adding candy in there. I guess peanut butter fudge and chocolate fudge in my favorite.

    • Boo-hoo, I agree, quiltlady. I don’t know what Christmas will bring for us, either. My husband doesn’t have a sweet tooth, so most sweets get eaten by, um, me. Which is so not good because I can eat them all day long.

      My daughters have grown into great cooks and bakers, so if I would make a lot of sweeties, I can’t really share with the granddarlings because their mothers already have some at home for them.

      Have a great Sweeties’ day!

  6. What a fascinating blog. I had no idea they had this many candies way back then. I did know what they had were made from spices and fruits they had available. I like to make pecan pralines and cinnamon rock candy. Those are the only candies I can think of I’ve ever made unless fudge is considered candy too.

    • Good morning, Steph! I agree – they had a much bigger variety than I ever imagined, which is why I just had to blog about my cookbook.

      Pecan pralines are divine! I had to smile that you made cinnamon rock candy (see Teresa Fordice’s comment above). I think you are one of not many who makes them, so be sure to keep that tradition alive for your family!

      And OF COURSE fudge is candy. Ohmigosh, it’s near the top of my list! Yum, yum.

  7. I have a terrible sweet with tooth with dark chocolate and red licorice my favorite treats. My favorite candy to make is called church windows. You melt chocolate chips (probably add some butter, but I’d have to look) and mix this with mini colored marshmallows. You roll the mixture up in a log and sprinkle coconut on the outside. Once it’s cooled, cut the log into slices so the end treat looks like round stained glass church windows. My mom made this treat every year as part of her Christmas baking.

    • Carrie, besides chocolate, I have to say licorice is my favorite candy, but black is best! There are many things besides candy that has that licorice flavor (anything anise-flavored is good, too.)

      I checked out your church candy on Pinterest and even watched a video. It looks super easy and festive! I’ve pinned the recipe to my Christmas board. Thank you so much for sharing!!

  8. At Christmastime, our family would pull a sled to the lake, chop out a bunch of ice, put the ice in gunny sacks, bring home and crush the ice. Those of us in the kitchen would be mixing ice cream. We would crank it by hand for as long as it took for the ice and rock salt to firm the ice cream mixture. When ready and the dasher remove, we would each have a teaspoon to enjoy. I still have that old ice cream maker. Memories of making ice cream together warms my heart. Like you Pam, I have a sweet tooth. I love baking period. Any kind of sweetie! Love baking bread too. Loved your blog today and reading the comments of others. So fun!

    • Oh, Kathy, you bring back memories for me. We didn’t chop ice for homemade ice cream, but we did our share of cranking! Now we have an electric ice cream maker, and it’s much faster, of course.

      I’m so glad you still have the old ice cream maker. Hang onto that as long as you can. Even better, make ice cream soon!

      Thanks for stopping by, dear.

  9. I’ve made chocolates in molds, peanut butter cups, old-fashioned coconut bonbons, chocolate covered caramels, chocolate-covered cherry cordials, and a few others. I went to a candy-making class with my mom decades ago.

    I also bake cookies, brownies, cakes, pies, cake pops, etc…

    I can make homemade ice cream.

    I also make homemade rolls for holidays and my breakfast treat is monkey bread, though I cheat on that one and use Pillsbury biscuits. I tried it with yeast rolls, and I had a problem. The biscuits are fool-proof.


    • Whoa, Denise! You are amazing! Wish you lived next door to me!!!

      I agree about the Pillsbury biscuits, and now you’re making me crave monkey bread!! I haven’t made it in ages. Yum, yum.

  10. Hi, I enjoyed this post, so very interesting. I remember my grandmother would make us ice cream with condensed milk, a long time ago I tried it and it was good, not at all as good as my grandmother used to make it for us though. I also used to make chocolate candies but again I haven’t made them for a long time. I need to get back to making them though, maybe for Christmas like I used to.

    • I agree – I think you should go back to making them. Who knows what our holidays will be like this year? Maybe making more treats than usual and sharing them with family and friends will be a way to celebrate.

      Sheesh! I don’t even know what Halloween is going to be like this year. Positive Covids are climbing and climbing here.

  11. We have made molasses taffy which is fun to pull. As a child we made snow candy – boil maple syrup to a medium ball stage and pour it over snow. It gives you a sticky candy. After I pulled out a filling eating it, we never made it again. I do chocolate fudge, usually with walnuts. I prefer to drop it on wax paper for patties rather than pour into a pan for squares. I do the same with a brown sugar and pecan fudge. I don’t use a recipe, just throw what I think is the right amount in a pan for a small batch. I have done soft mints in molds and molded chocolates. I have done hard candy lollipops. I discovered peanut brittle and pecan brittle are very easy to make in the microwave and take no time at all. Now that the children are grown, I do not make as much as I used to. If I make it, I will eat it.
    We have an old style White Mountain ice cream churn which works beautifully. It is work, so we usually only make ice cream when we have a big get together so people can take turns doing the work. The cooked custard style of ice cream is very rich and delicious.

    • Oh, Patricia B. You’ve taught me some things today! Fudge dropped on wax paper is a new one for me. And snow candy? So tempting to try that with the granddarlings. They’d get a kick out of it.

      Thanks for sharing your memories and candy talents – oh, they sound so good!

  12. Great post, Pam. I used to make confectionery as a kid. I made toffee, caramels, and marshmallow. (Perhaps more, but I can’t remember what. lol) But I was lucky enough to have modern day utensils to do it with!

  13. Hi Pam! When I was little, I remember eating horehound candy! My Mother always had some in her purse. I have gotten away from making my own candy, but you have inspired me to do this again! Thank you!

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