Candy is a big favourite around the holidays. We stuff it in stockings, give it as gifts, put it on our dessert tables, and set it out for Christmas parties.
I remember when hard candy mixes were standard fare in most homes at Christmas and my aunt’s best china or crystal dishes were filled with candy and set on tables in the living room for guests to enjoy. As a child, it was hard to imagine going to grandma’s house without picking through the fruity, minty assortment of candy in all shapes and sizes.
Years ago, I was introduced by a work colleague from New Brunswick to the “chicken bone” candy. Apparently this was a traditional holiday favourite enjoyed across the entire Canadian east coast, invented by the Ganong candy factory in St. Stephen, New Brunswick. The candy is known for its famous pink spicy cinnamon outer shell and chocolate centre, still hand crafted more than 100 years after it was invented. It was quite tasty indeed.
The Candy Cane
Without doubt, the candy cane is easily the most common sweet you will come across at Christmas time. The classic red and white curved shape stick adorns Christmas trees, accompanies gifts, and is given out as a free treat just about anywhere you go.
Legend has it that the candy cane dates back more than 350 years ago when the choirmaster at the Cologne Cathedral in Germany handed out sugar sticks among his young singers to keep them quiet during the Living Creche ceremony.
During the 18th century, candies were medicine meaning that your local apothecary was also your candy maker. That’s because the medicinal ingredients that were prescribed were usually unpalatable concoctions of herbs and the chemist would add sugar to help get the patient to consume the unpleasant medicine. Peppermint was often added to these sugar mixtures because its cooling taste helped to mask the flavour of awful-tasting drugs.
According to the National Candy Association, candy canes today are the No. 1-selling non-chocolate candy during the month of December, with 90 percent of the red and white striped treats sold between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Red and white twists and peppermint have become synonymous with the Christmas holiday probably because its cooling flavour is associated with snow and ice. No longer does just make its appearance in candy, but extending into desserts and festive decor and merchandise as well.
Spiced pumpkin and sweet maple may each have their own time to be featured on the coffee menus of our favourite coffee hubs and take-outs, but when November and December come around, its all things peppermint at the drive-up window as the fall flavours are unceremoniously bumped off the seasonal menu to make way for the peppermint-flavoured mocha lattes, signature hot chocolate and festive baked goods for the holidays.
Peppermint is believed to have calming effects on the body and is actually widely used to add flavour or fragrance to foods, toothpastes and mouthwashes, soaps and a variety of products. The plant is a hybrid between a watermint and spearmint, and its leaf and oil make it one of the world’s oldest medicinal herbs used to treat stomach-related illnesses such as indigestion and nausea, as well as anxiety, muscle pain and even the common cold.