Bar­ley sug­ars

Country Life Every Week - - In The Garden -

WHICH­EVER way your po­lit­i­cal com­pass points, there’s no deny­ing we’re liv­ing through in­ter­est­ing times. The world stage has be­come a topsy-turvy Won­der­land in which im­pos­si­ble things rou­tinely hap­pen be­fore break­fast. How nice it would be, we might be for­given for think­ing, to go back to a gen­tler, sun­nier time when things were straight­for­ward— child­hood, in other words. And noth­ing sem­a­phores a re­turn to in­no­cence like a bag of sweets.

Other coun­tries have a tra­di­tion of so­phis­ti­cated con­fec­tionery (think of baklava, with its 1,001 lay­ers of honey-drenched filo pas­try), but ours has al­ways been about sim­ple plea­sures, swirled and striped like cir­cus tents or deckchairs. It’s cheer­fully un­com­pli­cated stuff. When you pop a boiled sweet into your mouth, you can switch off your crit­i­cal fac­ul­ties com­pletely for 10 min­utes and that, we can all agree, is a good thing.

In spite of sugar get­ting the thumbs down from suc­ces­sive gov­ern­ments, sales of con­fec­tionery are ris­ing. In 2015, the Bri­tish bought £1.157 bil­lion worth of the stuff, which is the equiv­a­lent of each of us spend­ing £18. We’re re­dis­cov­er­ing our sweet tooth and the clas­sics—house­hold names such as Bas­sett’s All­sorts—are more pop­u­lar than they’ve ever been.

In Sweets: A His­tory of Temp­ta­tion, Tim Richardson sug­gests that the con­tin­u­ing suc­cess of these big hit­ters is a tes­ta­ment to ‘a cu­ri­ous cou­pling of hard-headed busi­ness sense and a high re­gard for the va­garies of hu­man psy­chol­ogy, that of both chil­dren and adults’. And he’s right: most of them have a gen­er­ous sprin­kling of whimsy, fluke or hap­pen­stance in the mix.

Take All­sorts. The Bas­sett firm’s founder, a lav­ishly be­whiskered Sh­effield en­tre­pre­neur named Ge­orge Bas­sett, made the news in 1856 af­ter he baked a gi­ant cake to mark the end of the Crimean War. That might have been as

❍ One of the most tra­di­tional Bri­tish boiled sweets: sun­shineyel­low and made with ex­tract of bar­ley wa­ter (be­low) and still the best an­ti­dote

to car sick­ness

Army and Navy

These punchy liquorice-and-herbflavoured lozenges were handed out to ser­vice­men dur­ing the First World War, hence the name. Sup­pos­edly, they used to con­tain tinc­ture of opium far as his legacy ex­tended had it not been for a clumsy sales­man called Charlie Thomp­son.

In 1899, Thomp­son was show­ing off Bas­sett’s wares to a prospec­tive buyer when he knocked his trays full of sam­ple sweets onto the floor, jum­bling the con­tents. Mor­ti­fied, he started pick­ing them up, but the buyer was so de­lighted by the ef­fect that he com­mis­sioned an iden­ti­cal mix on the spot. The blun­der was the mak­ing of the firm: Bas­sett’s now pro­duces tens of mil­lions of sweets each day and ships them all over the world.

Not all pocket-money pur­chases have quite such a whole­some vibe. Con­sider pear drops: looks-wise, they’re the pin-ups of the con­fec­tionery world, with their blush­ing un­der­sides and Mar­i­lyn-es­que sil­hou­ettes. In terms of taste, they’re a gate­way drug to cock­tails, petrol and Chanel No. 5.

No won­der Roald Dahl, poet lau­re­ate of for­bid­den plea­sures, was drawn to them from the word go. ‘Pear drops were ex­cit­ing be­cause they had a dan­ger­ous taste,’ he wrote in his first au­to­bi­og­ra­phy, Boy. ‘They smelled of nail var­nish and they froze the back of your throat.’

Hun­gry for big­ger thrills, he ended up drop­ping a dead mouse into hated lo­cal sweet­shop owner Mrs Pratch­ett’s gob­stop­per jar. To­day, pear-drop devo­tees make pil­grim­ages to the Wonka-like set-up at Stock­leys Sweets in Black­burn, Lan­cashire, where the world’s largest ex­am­ple is kept un­der lock and key in a glass case next to the more con­ven­tion

ally sized of­fer­ings.

‘We’re re­dis­cov­er­ing our sweet tooth and the clas­sics are more pop­u­lar than ever

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