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New England by Heart

The Sweet History of Candy Corn

Photo of candy corn

Sweet, irresistible candy corn – what would fall be without it? 

The origin of this little confection goes all the way back to the 1880’s, when confection companies began producing all manner of mellow cream, a concoction of sugar, corn syrup and other ingredients cooked into a slurry then poured into molds to make various shapes. These were invariably agricultural themed like pumpkins and turnips. After all, America was still all about farming back then.

Over at the Wunderle Candy Company in Philadelphia, employee George Renninger was purportedly experimenting with mellow cream to create that little tri-colored kernel we know as candy corn –  a revolutionary breakthrough in mellow cream candies, which had been up to this point single-colored.

Nobody knows for sure if George really did invent the candy corn, but we do know that the second generation owners of the Goelitz Candy Company (started by Gustav Goelitz in 1869) recognised a good thing. They picked up the recipe in 1898 and marketed it under the somewhat unappetizing name “Chicken Feed”, with packages by the 1920’s featuring a rooster and the slogan “King of the Candy Corn Fields”. 

Photo of early candy corn packaging
Early packaging of candy corn by Goelitz Candy Company: Csavvj, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Since corn at that time was used as animal feed and not for human consumption, this no doubt had kids strutting around cocka-a-doodling while scarfing up the sweets. You can see this, can’t you? Brilliant.

The making of the little sweets has changed surprisingly little over time. The sugar and corn syrup are cooked in large kettles to make the slurry, thin enough to pour, but thick enough to stay separate when pouring the different colors. Fondant and marshmallow is added to smooth the texture, and coloring is added. Back in the day, the slurry was poured into buckets called ‘runners’, and men called ‘stringers’ poured it into cornstarch trays with kernel shaped imprints, using three passes to make the layers of color. This is now a mechanized and automated process, as you can imagine, but it’s still basically the same method (and recipe), and there are still humans involved. Watch this great little video clip from the Food Network to get a peek at the production.

Interestingly, candy corn and the other mellow creams were initially a year-round sweet. But with the popularity of trick-or-treating in the growing suburbs after World War II, the candies became a popular hand-out as part of the little bags of treats, and thus became very much associated with Halloween. 

Photo of Jelly Belly candy corn package
Jelly Belly Candy Corn

Let’s get back to the Goelitz Candy Company, though, a company you may not recognize. That would be due to a name change following another very popular candy that the company perfected and that you will readily recognise – Jelly Belly. Yes, the very company that brought you candy corn, changed its name to the Jelly Belly Candy Company following the outrageous success of that beloved confection. 

Don’t let that gloss over their claim to fame with candy corn. While Brach’s now sells far more of the confection than any other company, if you want the original, you need to go for the Jelly Belly brand. Because yes, they are still making those sweet little kernels, and have been since 1898.

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