Thanks to everyone who joined us for Episode 22 of the Food History Happy Hour! This was a very special Halloween themed episode! We made the early 19th century Stone Fence cocktail, and talked about all sorts of historic Halloween traditions and foods, including the Celtic and Catholic origins of Halloween, Halloween games and divination, including Snap Apple (as illustrated above), donuts, party foods including gingerbread, grapes and grape juice, apples, pumpkins, color themed parties, decorations, including Dennison's Bogie Books, the history of trick-or-treating, and more!
Stone Fence Cocktail (19th Century - 1946)
There's all kinds of versions of this - I was first introduced to the Stone Fence in the Roving Bartender (1946), and of course it's in Jerry Thomas' "How to Make Mixed Drinks" (1862) also has a version, which is largely how it gets popularized in bars across the country. But mixing hard cider with brown liquor dates to much earlier, and the type of brown liquor depends on the region. Both of these recipes call for Whiskey/Bourbon, but I decided to go with spiced rum. Other versions also call for Angostura bitters or cinnamon, which is unnecessary if you use spiced rum, like I did.
You'll note that the Jerry Thomas recipe actually calls for the use of sweet cider, which is unusual. Here's the original recipe:
(209) Stone Fence.
(use a large bar glass)
1 wine glass of whickey (bourbon).
2 or 3 small lumps of ice.
Fill up the glass with sweet cider.
I like the Bill Kelly recipe from the Roving Bartender a bit better. Here's the original:
1 oz. whiskey in a high ball glass
Fill with hard cider.
And of course, there's my own version!
1 oz. spiced rum
Fill with hard cider (I used Strongbow Artisanal Blend)
I did not use ice, because I was lazy, but if you don't make sure your hard cider is chilled for the best version. You could also turn this into a sort of flip by heating the hard cider (don't boil unless you want to lose the fizz and the alcohol content) and adding the spiced rum at the last minute.
I love Halloween and had a bunch of fun putting this together.
That's all for tonight! I hope everyone has a very Happy Halloween tomorrow and we'll see you in November for the next episode of Food History Happy Hour!
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You may have seen this meme floating around the interwebs lately. You know the familiar, often hard, taffy wrapped in black and orange waxed paper.
The meme reads "These rock-hard candies taste like a mixture of molasses and child abuse. Their manufacturer is so ashamed of them that nobody is even sure what they're called, and rumor has it they're only made in the dead of night in a hidden factory operated by the souls of the damned. Every adult who gives them out turns into a bat and vanishes the next day. The moment a kid eats one is the moment their childhood ends."
Well, I hate to burst the meme-maker's bubble, but these candies DO have a name - Mary Jane Peanut Butter Kisses - and a rather long and storied history.
The oft-maligned candies are a molasses taffy stuffed with a bit of peanut butter. And there are two versions, actually - the original Mary Janes, which were rectangular; and the Mary Janes Peanut Butter Kisses - the more familiar, roundish shape that resembles salt water taffy.
Originally invented in 1914 by the Charles. N. Miller Candy Company, Mary Janes were supposedly named after his aunt, but the mascot was - and still is - a precocious little girl.
Charles H. Miller opened a confectionary shop in Boston, MA in 1884. His son, Charles N. Miller, was the one who invented Mary Janes - a molasses taffy made just at the soft ball stage, with peanut butter folded in the center.
Molasses taffy dates back to the mid-19th century. Molasses is boiled until thickened, then when partially cool, it is pulled to incorporate air into the cooked sugar mixture and give it lightness and chew.
Mary Janes are softer than many types of taffy, in part because the cooking process is halted earlier. Peanut butter was also being popularized at the turn of the 20th century, and many Halloween candies from that era incorporate peanut butter into the mix.
At some point, the small rectangular candies wrapped in an iconic yellow and red printed paper were succeeded by the "kisses" - the rough rounds wrapped in black or orange waxed paper. It's unclear whether the black and orange wrappers were to part of a marketing scheme to associate the candies with Halloween, or if they became associated with Halloween because of the wrappers. Either way, they are a staple old-time candy that still finds its way into candy jars and trick-or-treat bags from time to time.
Some of their endurance is likely because they are so inexpensive. Even in the period, they were inexpensive, and one of the advertising slogans the Charles H. Miller Company came up with was, "spend your change on Mary Janes." They're still sold in "penny candy" stores today.
Wrapped in waxed paper, both the original Mary Janes and the Peanut Butter Kisses do tend to dry out and harden after a time, which is probably what makes them the bane of childhood.
Mary Janes were in danger of disappearing from store shelves on several occasions. In 1989, Miller's was sold to Stark's Candy Company, which in turn was acquired by Necco (New England Candy Company) in 1990. Throughout the mid-2000s, Necco underwent a series of sales to various investment firms until it finally declared bankruptcy in 2018. It was purchased by the Spangler Candy Company (famous for Dum-Dums, candy canes, and Circus Peanuts) and the rights to produce Mary Janes was licensed to the Atkinson's Candy Company in 2019. Located in Texas, Atkinson's is most famous for "Chick-o-Stick" candy, and makes a variety of other, old-fashioned, peanut-butter-based and taffy candies including Peanut Butter Bars (a type of peanut brittle layered with peanut butter which I adore) and Slo Poke.
The history of Mary Janes reads like a miniature summary of candy company history in general - old, family companies are "gobbled" up by larger ones. But some of the originals, including Spangler, which was founded in 1904, and Atkinson's, which was founded in 1932, seem to hang on. Nostalgia likely plays a leading role in their continued success, as does the inexpensive nature of their offerings. You'll notice that neither company has much in the way of chocolate (which is more perishable and difficult to work than pure sugar) as part of their offerings. Hard candies, caramels, and chewy taffy-based treats are the name of the game.
As for whether or not Mary Janes constitute child abuse? Perhaps if all you've ever had were hard, stale ones, you might agree. But now that Atkinson's is producing them again, I encourage you to buy yourself a fresh bag and give them a try. And if you really can't stomach them and end up with a bag you're loathe to throw away, you can always turn them into a peanut buttery caramel sauce.
What do you think? Do you have a favorite candy that other people hate? Tell us in the comments!
The Food Historian blog is supported by patrons on Patreon! Join us for awesome members-only content like free digitized cookbooks from my personal collection, e-newsletter, and even snail mail from time to time!
Sarah Wassberg Johnson has an MA in Public History from the University at Albany and studies early 20th century food history.