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Circus Peanuts: Marshmallows, Marbits, and the Big Ring

(From Susan’s upcoming book “Fun Foods of America” Summer, 2024)

More than any other candy, Circus Peanuts are loved and loathed and overall perplexing. The texture is soft as a sponge, spongy as a marshmallow, flavored like a banana, and shaped like a peanut. The name is “peanut” but is peanut-less. This curious candy originated in the late 1800s, made for spectators at traveling circuses. The reasoning went like this: circuses had elephants and elephants eat peanuts. So why not enjoy peanut-shaped candy that doesn’t contain peanuts? Logic aside, Circus Peanuts also took off in penny candy stores, general stores, and cereal bowls where they became the prototype for Lucky Charm cereal.

Circus Peanuts: Formally Known as Peanuts for Circuses 


Circus Peanuts: From the Big Ring to Cereal Bowls

In the early 1960s, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, home to the Mall of America, Mary Tyler Moore, Jesse Ventura, and the Artist Formerly Known as Prince, came a star of its own, Lucky the Leprechaun. Lucky’s very existence rested on the controversial circus peanut and an event that occurred yes, right there, not only in Minnesota but at the General Mills’ campus, on the street named for another product mascot, as unreal as the cartoon Leprechaun, Betty Crocker Drive. It was there that General Mills’ managers instructed their product developers to come up with a new cereal using either the company-made Wheaties or Cheerios. The cereal had to be unique, and marketable, and kids had to love them.

Hard at work, product developer John Holahan got an idea. He took some of his favorite candies, Brach’s circus peanuts, chopped them into pieces, and put them into a bowl of Cheerios. Eureka. They were amazing. Or anyway, kids would think they were amazing. And they had their own tagline: “Magically delicious.” Whatever they were, the company gave them shapes, colors, and an abbreviated name, going from “marshmallow bits” to “marbits.”

Lucky Charm Cereal Magically Delicious Marbits


Circus Peanuts: The Controversy. The Irony.

The irony of circus peanuts is that they reign up there with candy corn as one of the most controversial candies around. The controversy is generational: people over 60 seem to like circus peanuts because of its high nostalgic factor. Their parents and, especially, grandparents loved them, and each ultra-sugary mouthful returns them to happy moments of the past. Younger people:  they don’t know what circus peanuts are and, if they do, don’t like them.  They’re too sweet. Too mushy. As for the irony: they don’t like circus peanuts, but they LOVE marbits. In fact, marbits lunged Lucky Charms to fun foods stardom, now popular in “cereal bars” i.e. candy bars, popcorn, and solo as actual marshmallows and marbits, to name just a few.

Does the popularity of marbits guarantee the longevity of circus peanuts? Certainly not. But it does ensure their legacy.

            Marbits – Circus Peanuts’ Legacy Lives On!

URL for Lucky Charms Cereal: Lucky Charms. (2023, October 7). In Wikipedia.

The Creative Life of S’mores

Love S’mores? Then you’ll really love creative ideas brought to you by The Girl Scouts of the 1940s and our Facebook Friends. But First – A Bit of History!

S’mores Today…

S’mores are everywhere. There’s S’mores ice cream, S’mores ice cream toppings, and (God help me) S’mores cereal which should be labeled as a dessert but is not. Go to upscale restaurants and you find upscale S’mores, delivered to your table with a little jet stove for roasting. Got it? I don’t, not exactly, but they still taste good.

                                 Ready-to-Roast Upscale Style

S’mores In the Beginning…

Regardless of its evolution, S’mores were the product of food traditions that started in the early 20th century. Two of the most influential were Combination Candy Bars and Sandwich cookies.

Tradition 1: Combination candy bars. Flat candy bars were invented by the British in the mid-1800s and adopted by Americans. Combination candy bars are different. They’re stuffed with nuts, raisins, nougats, marshmallows, and other toothsome sweets. More than delicious treats (which they were!) candy bars, including the Peanut Chew, were in the first rations during World War I; used as an “energy bar” and “inexpensive meal in a bar” in the Great Depression; and a vital source of nutrients and sugar in World War II.

Goo Goo Clusters: An Early Combination Candy Bar Tradition

Tradition 2: Soft sandwich cookies. From Victorians in England to Americans north and south, soft and squishy sandwich cookies were the rage in the first part of the 20th century and remain so today. Composed of a cookie shell and a soft cream or marshmallow center, iterations included Moon Pies, Whoopie Pies, Mallomars, Marshmallow Sandwiches (aka Fluffernutters), and, of course, S’mores. A second generation followed in the mid-1900s, with such classics as Scooter Pies.

                  Double Decker Moon Pies, Parent of S’mores

Put Them Together and You Get… THE Girl Scouts                                                                                                                      Did the Girl Scouts REALLY invent S’mores? Yes. The Girl Scouts invented a campfire-esque cookie called “Some Mores” which appeared in the Girl Scouts of America’s 1927 book Tramping and Trailing with the Girl Scouts. The early version and the one we enjoy today (at cookouts – not in cereal) are the same.  


Girl Scouts – Inventors of S’mores, from Early Postcard


IDEAS! Jazz Up your S’mores – Quick and Easy Recipe Adjustments

The 1940 Girl Scout Handbook has a similar recipe for “Some Mores” that offers interesting alternatives, as well. Here are a few of them, with additional alternatives thrown in.

  • Apple slices cut crosswise in place of graham crackers
  • Ice cream sandwich cookies instead of Graham crackers
  • Pineapple slices or peanut butter instead of chocolate
  • Marshmallow fluff instead of marshmallows (Great for indoor S’mores)
  • Caramel marshmallows instead of vanilla

More creative S’more Ideas from our Facebook Friends

Our Question: What Extras Do You Like to Put in S’mores?

Facebook Friends’ Answers:

  • Chocolate covered Graham Crackers
  • Toasted coconut marshmallow
  • Pop Tarts
  • Honey
  • Peanut Butter
  • Strawberries
  • Cookies and cream
  • White chocolate
  • Salt
  • Reese cups
  • Chocolate chip
  • Hershey bars
  • Fudge ripple cookies
  • Caramel
  • Oreos




The Story of Salt Water Taffy that Wasn’t


(Adapted from: Susan’s Book: “Sweet as Sin”)

Salt water taffy joined the ranks of caramel, toffee, and other American iconic candies in the late 1800s. But salt water taffy was undoubtedly the strangest all – essentially an American favorite that wasn’t.

The story begins in Atlantic City where taffy-makers John Ross Edmiston, Joseph Fralinger, and Enoch James were busily creating a taffy industry. In those days, boardwalk shops were built right by the sea – a bad idea given the certainty of storms and floods. But no one seemed to notice.

Then one dark night, a storm swept up from the sea, flooding shops along the boardwalk. One belonged to John Ross Edminston, a postcard and taffy merchant. Legend has it, Edminston was cleaning up the next morning when a little girl stopped by asking for taffy. Looking at the taffy floating in the debris, Edminston shook his head and said these immortal words: “I only have ‘salt water’ taffy.” Then, he thought, the name sounds right. So, beach-like and fun. But add salt water? To taffy? Not so right.

So Edminston kept the name but left the salt water out. In other words, his hallmark salt water taffy had no saltwater in it. Never did. Still  doesn’t. But the plot thickens.  So popular was this saltless, salt water taffy that Edminston filed for a trademark on the name. He thought of it. It should be his. In the 1920s, the Federal Government agreed. Clearly emboldened by his victory, Edminston went on to demand millions of dollars in back pay from all who had been using it.

     Ad for Fralingers, 1925

His fellow taffy-makers would have none of it. In fact, two were instrumental in creating the salt water taffy craze in the firstplace.  One was Edminston’s neighbor, Joseph Fralinger,  who put saltwater taffy on beachgoers’ maps with his boundless marketing campaigns. He started as a glassblower, fish merchant, and bricklayer until, in 1884, he took over a taffy concession stand on the boardwalk. Soon, he added favorites like the molasses pulls and his one store became six.

                                      Molasses Pulls – A Taffy Favorite


                                                                                       Old Time Pull Machine, Rockport, MA

Fralinger loved taffy but he didn’t love his neighbor, Enoch James. James started out in the Midwest, then opened a taffy shop in Atlantic City where his two innovations made salt water taffy history. One was bite-size pieces that fit comfortably in the vacationer’s mouth. No more half-eaten gobs of taffy. No more sticky pieces covered with sand.  And what better place to put these self-reliant morsels than in James’ second invention, the festive taffy satchel, still in candy stores today.

Fralinger, James, and most likely other taffy-makers challenged Edminston’s right to the name “salt water taffy.” The case went all the way to the Supreme Court who took their side, making the sea salt-less “salt water taffy” fair game for everyone.

Susan at Taffy Store in Nag’s Head, NC

As for Fralinger and James’ companies? The two remained rivals until they were bought out by another company in the mid-1900s.  Today they join the legends of salt water taffy makers everywhere, sharing one roof.

Almonds – From Ancient to Retro. More than a Drupe.

From Susan’s Books, Sweet as Sin (2016) and upcoming Fun Foods of America (Summer, 2024)

The value of sweets is more than flavor and fun. They played a huge part in the symbols that punctuated rituals and gave shape to important events. Almond-based candies are one of them. In the ancient Middle East and Mediterranean, the almond tree was the first tree to flower in spring. So, almonds became a symbol of good beginnings.  And that is why, thousands of years later, we eat Jordan almonds at weddings and almond-rich Marzipan at Easter.

What IS an Almond?

Almonds are nuts, right? Not so fast… This popular food, with its pleasant taste and pop-in-your-mouth size, is so at home, you’d think the tree was native. But, as the peanut isn’t truly a nut, it’s a pea, the almond isn’t exactly a nut, either. It’s a drupe, which is a type of fruit.  Its cousins are the peach, cherry, apricot, and plum among many others. Regardless, people have been enjoying the almond for thousands of years – samples eaten in 10,000 BCE were found in the Franchthi Cave of Greece.

So valued is the almond tree that it’s been a symbol of sweetness and fragility since pre-history. In the Bible, Aaron’s rod blossomed and produced almonds, while the Romans threw almonds at weddings as a fertility charm. The symbol reflects the almond’s flowering cycle: the tree is the first to flower, which announces sweet beginnings.  The almond tree arrived in the U.S. with Spanish Franciscan Padres on the California coast in the mid-1700s. It wasn’t for a hundred years or so that the almond began to flourish.

What about Almond Candy?

Given its ageless popularity, the almond was embedded in ancient candies such as nougats, described by one tenth-century text as being as soft and sweet as lips. It was also central to the almond-based marzipan, used in “subtleties,” shaped as men, animals, trees, castles, and more as part of medieval feasts. Today they appear as fruits, flowers, and other shapes, with exuberant colors.


Two other almond-based candies are classics. One is the Jordan Almond, also known as the Italian “confetti” or the French “dragees.” These almonds were thrown in Roman weddings and are still served at American weddings today.

Another is chocolate bars with almonds. It’s not exactly ancient, but it is old, dating back to the turn-of-the-century when Hershey created one of the first non-all-chocolate candy bars by dropping in an almond. The almond was cheap, gave the bar heft, and sold well.

Others include a favorite at fairs and festivals cinnamon and sugar- coated almonds. These ingredients were around in the ancient Middle East and Mediterranean and later 18th century North America. Who knew? AND – don’t forget chocolate covered almonds – part of the Retro “Bridge Mix” set popular at card games from the 1920s through the 1960s.



Why Love Almonds?

No matter what you like or love when it comes to food…Almonds are so versatile, so CRUNCHY, and so delicious…how can you not? Thousands of years of human history proves the point

Mixed Almonds