Halloween Candy: an idle personal overview

by Diane Duane
Candy Corn

It was seeing this thing that got me thinking about the subject.

What surprised me after the fact was that the very sight of a “candy corn bar” provoked such a strong reaction from me (“EWWWWWWWWW”) despite my being long past trick-or-treating age.

This response poked me in the curiosity nerve, a little, so I went looking for evidence of whether other people shared anything like it — this idea that some Halloween candies were “right” and others “wrong”.

And a little research suggests there seems to be a bone-deep conservatism on this issue, combined with some regional implications, as various Worst Halloween Candy lists seem to have areas where they agree and then others where they diverge or disagree strongly. (As an example: lists at BC Living, HuffPo (in fact they have a few of these), TopTenz, Serious Eats, Complex, Nooga…) Google will guide you to more if you feel the need for a broader statistical sample.

I always took Halloween very seriously while I was still of participating age, as my family wasn’t particularly well off and there wasn’t that much candy in my lifestyle except at chocolate-heavy holidays like Easter and Christmas. (Fortunately I slipped out of this stage just barely before the OMG BAD PEOPLE ARE PUTTING RAZOR BLADES IN THE APPLES thing got started.* I didn’t mind the apples. I knew they were traditional.) (As they still are in Ireland, which is after all where it all began. Apples and peanuts have been the trick-or-treat staple here for many years: only now are the candies starting to creep into the Irish tradition.)

So for what it’s worth: looking over these lists, I find some common ground, but not complete agreement.

Stuff I liked:

  • Candy cornlegit candy corn. (And still do.)
  • Those marshmallow peanuts. (Don’t ask me why.)
  • Tootsie Rolls. (In the 60s they were better than they are now. There seems to be so much wax in them now that you could stick wicks in them and light them as candles in emergency situations.)
  • Full size candy bars. I was never a Snickers person: I prefer my peanuts separate from candy, as a rule. (Also, no Reese’s Cups for me: you can keep your peanut butter OUT of my chocolate, thank you very much. If I want peanut butter I’ll go make a sandwich.) …Three Musketeers was (and when in the US still is) my preferred bar. I had a brief flirtation with Baby Ruths but it never came to anything. The US Mars bar was and is different from the UK one, but I like them both. (And steal Peter’s occasionally.)
  • Licorice, especially the long “licorice whips.” Preferably the red ones, though I didn’t mind the black. I may be the only kid I knew at that period who actually liked licorice. (But then I liked spinach, and liver. Even from a young age I felt that normalcy was boring / for other people: it’s probably no surprise in retrospect that I should have become a Sherlock Holmes fan.)
  • Nonpareils. Those used to turn up in little boxes in my part of the NY metropolitan area. God, but I loved those things. (And if you handed me a bag of them now you’d get it back empty.)
  • M&Ms. Chocolate, not peanut. The same as the nonpareils. Then and now I could go through a bag of M&Ms with terrifying speed.
  • Candy cigarettes. My one attempt to become a smoker failed miserably — how could anyone do that, I thought at the time, it tasted awful!! — but there was just something about the texture of these things, the crunch, that I adored. Suck it until it was gone? You must be joking. Gone in three crunches.
  • Pixy Stix. Oh God I loved those. Strong sweet/sour contrasts have always been a draw for me.
  • Space Food Sticks! The chocolate ones. Wow I loved those too. Rare to get them in a Halloween haul, but when they turned up they were memorable.

Stuff I had no time for (and would swap with others who liked them):

  • Those Necco wafers. Not enough flavor.
  • Mary Janes. Boring.
  • Good and Plenty. Something about the candy shells always put me off. (Maybe they were distracting me from the licorice.)
  • Taffy candies generally, the exception being Bit O Honeys. Those were all right.
  • Lollipops in general. Normally too much work, not enough taste. Some Tootsie Pops made it over the bar, depending on the flavor.
  • Gum. Bubble, plain, whatever. Boring again.

Seasonal considerations: There were things I had no time for at Halloween because they were readily available at other times from the store up around the corner on Park Avenue:

  • The candy buttons.
  • The wax bottles containing dubious sweet liquids.
  • The wax lips.
  • Candy necklaces, bracelets, etc.
  • Those little wafer “flying saucers” with some kind of tiny hard candy inside them.

…Anyway. Enough of this: I haven’t even had all my breakfast yet.

(Meanwhile, for those of you who’re feeling nostalgic: have a look at OldTimeCandy.com. They have the stuff arranged by decades.)

*Has anyone ever actually found a razor blade in an apple? I mean, verifiably? With pictures? Or is this one of those Urban Myth Coinciding With Early TV/Mass Media Attention Causes Hospital X-Ray Departments Nationwide To Waste Millions Of Person-Hours On One Day Each Year things?

(See also People Being Gassed In Sleeper Compartments of European Trains And All Their Stuff Stolen. I went hunting for non-anecdotal data on this some years back and couldn’t find anything. My firm belief is that back in the day, numerous weary and stressed-out travelers were careless / clueless about making sure their sleeper compartments’ doors were actually locked before they went to sleep, and then desperately needed a face-saving excuse the morning after opportunistic thieves, or in some cases their fellow sleeper compartment occupiers, had ripped them off while they slept through it like the dead. “I mean, I’m a light sleeper, I would’ve heard anybody come in unless something else was going on. It must have been gas! Gas!” …But I digress.)

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Isabel C. September 17, 2014 - 11:31 am

Snopes is all “sometimes razor blades, never poison, just cut the apple before you eat it* FFS”, I believe.

I will allow peanuts and apples, because tradition, but there’s a special place in Hell for people who hand out raisins or toothbrushes. Yes, yes, we know that candy is not healthy, you insufferable Puritan scolds , but it’s one night and we have parents, now shut up and let us have a good time. HAAAAATE.

I have strong feelings about that, having grown up in a particularly hippie-intensive part of California. There was one woman who handed out CAROB MUFFINS, and she better be rescuing orphaned puppies these days to make up the karmic balance. Carob. Muffins. I do not even.

I’m glad someone else in the universe likes circus peanuts. I was suspecting I was the only person keeping that industry going.

*Which I always did/do anyhow, because I have a paralyzing fear of worms. Ew.

P J Evans September 22, 2014 - 3:54 am

Carob muffins are at least people food. One year there was someone in my neighborhood handing out dog biscuits. Which, if they had been the home-made kind that are close to teething biscuits (see, for example, the recipe in the Fanny Farmer Baking Book), would have been fine….

Tehanu September 20, 2014 - 1:46 am

I loved those little wax bottles with the (I guess) sugar water inside, because I never got candy except at Halloween. Otherwise your list is very close to my list. I still loathe Necco wafers; who convinced themselves that those things were sweet? Yuck.

I also agree wholeheartedly with Isabel C. about insufferable Puritan scolds. If it’s that important to you, sugar-free candies are still candy.

Christina Shuy September 20, 2014 - 1:24 pm

I’m left thinking of the early half of “Not on My Patch”… 🙂 The discussion and eating of the Halloween candy there always makes me ROFLMAO. 🙂

dianeduane September 21, 2014 - 8:54 am

Obviously everybody else’s mileage will vary, but those post-T-or-T debriefs over the candy were always SRS BSNS in my part of the world. 🙂

P J Evans September 22, 2014 - 3:52 am

Ah, candy corn.
Cherry ropes, especially the twisted ones. The licorice ones were left in the bowl until they were dry, hard, and covered with dust. (The bowl got put in the cupboard with whatever candy was left.)

Candy bars. Reese’s are okay – I don’t have a problem with peanut butter and chocolate together. Sandwiches are PB and honey (which mix) or PB and brown sugar (which will pull apart into two slices of bread with PB and brown sugar).
Candy cigarettes. (I’ve never had any desire to smoke, despite enjoying these.)
Pixy Stix. Along with SweeTarts.

Angie Penrose September 24, 2014 - 2:42 pm

I remember reading somewhere that the only confirmed case of a kid being poisoned by Halloween candy turned out to be a situation where a stepfather took advantage of the urban legend of poisoned Halloween candy to get rid of an unwanted small stepson. 🙁 The cops caught him, though, so the score is still:

Strangers randomly poisoning kids’ Halloween candy — 0
Gullible hysterics ruining kids’ fun by not letting them go trick-or-treating– bazillions

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