Friday, October 26, 2007

Visions of Sugar Plums...Oops, Wrong Holiday

Well, okay. Maybe the young lady in this amazing costume wasn't planning on trick or treating--she was actually on her way to a fancy dress or costume ball in this 1839 print--but wouldn't she have fit right in with the Halloween crowd? Thinking about Halloween got me thinking about what was always my favorite part of it: candy. What kind of candy would an early nineteenth century teen eat?

Hint: it wasn't Nerd Ropes, Sour Skittles, or anything with a Hershey's label on it. And no petit fours either, at least not yet.

Most candy (called "sweetmeats" or just "sweets") eaten in the earlier decades of the nineteenth century wasn't all that different from the sweets eaten in medieval times. They were primarily fruit or nut based, like candied flower petals (violets and rose petals) or candied fruit (sugar plums, anyone?), pralines (sugared almonds), boiled sweets (like what we call hard candies--think Jolly Ranchers), marchpane (marzipan, or almond paste), caramels, nougat, peppermints... you get the picture. No least not that you ate. Drank, maybe.

Yes, for the first three hundred or so years that Europeans knew about chocolate, they knew it as something you drank. The first chocolate house in England opened in London in 1657 and became sort of a Starbuck's to the elite, for chocolate was not cheap. Over the decades, as supplies becamse more reliable, the price dropped and drinking chocolate became widespread. It wasn't until 1830 that English chocolate maker J.S. Fry and Sons came up with an edible chocolate...and from most accounts it wasn't something you particularly wanted to eat, being grainy and coarse (hmm, maybe like eating hot chocolate powder?) They worked on it, though, and after a Dutch inventor created a process to smooth the texture of chocolate by removing some of the cocoa butter (you still see "dutch-process" cocoa and chocolate today) came up in 1847 with something a lot more like what we're used to--a chocolate paste that could be molded into bars.

Later in the century the Swiss became the leaders in the field of chocolate confectionary, but as well as inventing the chocolate bar the English introduced in 1861 the first heart-shaped box of candy for Valentine's Day...but that's another holiday.


Sarah Prineas said...

Ooh, speaking of costumes, could you do a post on the domino? I've read about these costume balls and the characters wearing dominos, but don't know what they are. Not rectangular ivory tiles with dots on them, I assume....

Marissa Doyle said...

Sure! Give us a couple weeks to do some research and find some good pictures (I don't have one in my collection). But in a nutshell, a domino is a cloak-y hood-y mask-y sort of combination that did a bang-up job of concealing the identity of the wearer. They were very popular at Vauxhall gardens, where people went to indulge in illicit flirtation.