❍ An acquired taste—but if you like root beer, you’ll love these lobster-red pastilles
Perhaps some of the most memorable sweets, like the most memorable fairytales, are the ones that flirt with the macabre. The invention of jelly babies, for instance, is straight out of the Brothers Grimm. In 1864, a worker at the Fryer’s sweet factory in Lancashire made a mould for a new range of jelly bears. When he realised that the results looked more human than animal, he dubbed them Unclaimed Babies, after the foundlings left on church steps. Surprisingly, they sold pretty well, although it wasn’t until they were relaunched in 1953 with their present name that they really took off. Still, there’s something of the night about them—witness the joy children take in biting their heads off.
The sweets that have stuck around are the ones that broke the mould. In 1890, Halifax sweetshop proprietor John Mackintosh blended brittle English toffee (the kind that cracks your veneers) with newfangled American caramel. Displaying a bracingly un-british aptitude for self-promotion, he called his invention Mackintosh’s Celebrated Toffee. The bombast worked: less than a decade later, he had to open a brand new factory to meet demand and the press crowned him the Toffee King. That being said, we’ve never been big on American-style ‘action sweets’ such as popping candy. It makes sense that we prefer substance to style: confectionery was rationed until 1953 and when there’s only so much of something to go round, you want it to last a good while in your mouth. However, there is one form of sugar-sophistry we’re suckers for: the stick of rock. How do they get the name running through the middle? We’re still fascinated, nearly a century after they first went on sale in Morecambe—and it’s heartening. Who needs blockbusters when you have the edible equivalent of a rabbit being pulled out of a hat?