Author: Nick Marsden
Nostalgia is always with us; like an ocean wave that keeps coming back. Like a prized keepsake, it’s passed down from one generation to the next. Think of it like the gift in a family game of pass the parcel. It goes through so many hands and there are so many layers to unwrap. And, all too often, the anticipation rarely matches up to the final product.
At the core of nostalgia is the compulsion to relive and then share our childhood memories with our children and the next generation; ‘this is what it was like for us, son!”. Safe in the knowledge that they’ll do exactly the same when the time comes with their children. So, like traditional sweets, nostalgia is about all sharing. Sharing the memory, sharing the moment, sharing the bag of barley sugars. Like that game of pass the parcel, it needs to be passed round and handed down.
As a child growing up in the 1970’s, I can remember a sweet shop just round the corner, next to the greengrocers and the butchers. It had a big bay window filled with an array of large jars of confectionary each individually labelled by hand. Pocket money meant filling our pockets with strange bright shapes and our mouths with fizzing sensations. ‘Look, has my tongue gone a funny colour?’
Well, we can still find places to ride on horses and steam trains, but the wave of nostalgia has firmly brought back traditional sweets to the high street of our memories buds. There are bay windows beckoning us with jars brimming with our childhood favourites traditional sweets on every Broadway. Woolworths may be gone but the picknmix in our minds and in our mouths is still very much flavour of the month.
In the spirit of sharing, here is a brief background (call it a sweet synopsis) of ten well known traditional sweets.
Whether the memory is as sweet as the taste, I’ll leave up to you.
Jelly Babies were first launched by British sweetmakers' Bassett's as "Peace Babies" in 1918, to commemorate the end of the First World War, and were re-launched with a new name in the 1950s. Fans of the Beatles used to apparently pelt the band with them, after it was revealed that they were a favourite snack of George Harrison.
Another Bassett's creation, Liquorice Allsorts are said to have been invented in 1899 when salesman Charlie Thomson accidentally dropped a tray of samples he was showing a client. The client loved the mishmash of colours and shapes, and the sweets soon went into production. Bertie Bassett, the Allsorts' mascot, dates back to 1929.
British confectioners Swizzels-Matlow first produced Lovehearts as a novelty Christmas cracker filler in the 1950s. Diana, Princess of Wales, was one of few people to ever be honoured with personalised Lovehearts when she visited the factory in 1990, receiving a pack with royal names including "Prince William" and "Prince Harry" stamped on each sweet.
Although generations of children have been convinced otherwise, wine gums have never actually contained wine. British company Maynard's claims to have invented them in the early 1900s, when Charles Gordon Maynard decided to create a sweet that would appeal specifically to adults, but not upset his teetotal father.
Gobstoppers are round very hard balls of layered candy. Each layer is a different colour and sometimes a different flavour. Although the traditional gobstopper is usually 1cm-3cm across, giant versions are also available that can take days to dissolve in the mouth. The sweet was a favourite among British schoolboys in the interwar years, with many a broken tooth to show for it. Roald Dahl featured Everlasting Gobstoppers among many other delights in his children's book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
The Drumstick lolly is said to have been invented by accident in the 1950s, when Trevor Matlow, the son of one of Swizzels-Matlow's founders, was experimenting with a new machine and discovered it was possible to create a lollipop with two flavours. Milk and raspberry were chosen, though there have been many variants since, including strawberry and banana and cherry and apple
Barley sugars were originally made by boiling down refined cane sugar with barley water, cream of tartar, and water. Despite being a favourite British sweet, credit for the original recipe must go to Benedictine monks of Moret-sur-Loing, France, who came up with the idea in 1638. There’s even a Barley Sugar Museum in the town. Many modern versions of the sweet do not contain barley, and rely on artificial flavourings.
A Barratt’s Sherbet Fountain consists of sherbet and a stick made from liquorice to dip in it. It’s been sold since 1925 but in 2009, the traditional paper packaging was replaced by a plastic tube with a twist-off lid.
Everton mints are also striped black and white, but have the delicious addition of a toffee centre. They were first produced by a Liverpudlian woman named Mother Noblett who ran a sweet shop close to the Everton football club ground. The sweets proved popular with fans. These days they’re made by Bassetts.
The pear drop probably dates back to the Victoria era, as do other boiled favourites like sherbet lemons, rhubarb and custards, and aniseed twists. Perhaps unsurprisingly, there's usually no pear involved: the artificial flavour isoamyl acetate is where that distinctive taste comes from.
All these traditional sweets can be bought in small shops and supermarkets across the country. But why buy traditional sweets when you can learn how to make them, yourselves? For more information on boiling your own, check out our very own step by step guide to making traditional sweets. And why not treat yourself to special 1-1 course where we will take you through the art of sweet making – traditional style?
And, yes, just like nostalgia, homemade always does taste better. Ask your granny!