Sarsaparilla drops

Country Life Every Week - - In The Garden -

❍ 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?

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