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Pop Rocks on the Rocks…From the Recipe Box

Pop Rocks started as an ingredient to make carbonated water. Didn’t work. THEN it became a candy. People were too suspicious to eat it. (1950s) THEN people decided it was OK to eat and kids LOVED it only…parents suspected the Pop Rocks would explode in their kids’ stomachs if combined with soda.(1970s)  NOT TRUE – but the company was forced to take Pop Rocks off the market temporarily.

TODAY – Pop Rocks is enjoyed as an exciting and wonderful popping candy PLUS a great addition to cocktails.

Here are a few ideas:

Pop Rocks a la Margaritta: Add splash to your Margaritta with a Pop Rocks rim.

Pop Rocks with gin and lemon, gin and tonic, or plain old gin on ice…


Pop Rocks with Gin and Lemon photo from

Pop Rocks Vodka Bubbles: Take your favorite cocktail glass and rub the rim with simple syrup.  Dip the rim into a saucer filled with Pop Rocks. Add 2-ounces of your favorite vodka (they say vodka is tasteless, but don’t believe them) and 5-ounces of soda water. For extra pizazz, add a rock candy stirrer. The rock candy will add color to your drink – why not mix and match rock candy stick with colorful Pop Rocks?

This in from Pizzazzerie – Check Out their Web site for More Great Ideas…Pop Rocks Rimmed Cocktails – Pizzazzerie

Strawberry Popper Rocker

  • 1 shot Strawberry Schnapps
  • Fill with 7-Up
  • Drop Strawberry Pop Rocks on top

Malibu Pop Rocks

  • 1 oz Malibu rum
  • 1 oz Blue Curacao
  • 1 splash Pineapple juice
  • 1 splash Cranberry juice
  • Drop Fruit Punch Pop Rocks on top

Mother’s Day Presents of the Past: From Bizarre to Basic

If you want to give Mom a traditional Mother’s Day gift – get ready!! Mother’s Day gifts were as ever-changing as they were controversial. At the start, everyone from preachers to politicians protested giving Mother’s Day gifts. Gifts were too commercial. Too irreverent. No matter, Mother’s Day gift sales started surging by the early 1920s and didn’t let up. As for the kinds of gifts – flowers, maybe, but if you’re thinking chocolates (and what woman doesn’t want chocolate??) – forget it. Chocolates, as well as caramels and other edible delights were a (welcome) side note to the array of 20th century gifts.

  Mother’s Day Card 1950s

First Mother’s Day Gifts, Unexpected and a Little Strange

Early Mother’s Day gifts were more-or-less divided into selections for Mother the Elderly Saint and Mother the Sex Dynamo. The elderly saint got comfortable shoes. One ad in 1925 demanded: “See that Mother Gets a Pair of Good, Comfortable Shoes, for This Day.” Got it? Other options included knitted shawls, “Matron’s Hats,” and umbrellas that protect Mom from both sun and rain. The sexy Mom got the finest rayon or Italian silk underpants, silk hosiery, and “delectable” silk negligees. Definitely not for my mother.

           Mother’s Day Gifts, 1927


Mother’s Day Gifts – What Every Kid Wants Mother to Have

By the 1930s, Mother’s Day Gifts started to change. Some gave a nod and wink to the flapper-Moms, more likely found in Speakeasies than PTA meetings.                                                Said one ad for “Boneless

Mother’s Day Ad, 1935

corselettes”: “You don’t have to wear a harness to achieve the new silhouette…” No matter, gift selections for Mom became more unsexy and distressingly utilitarian. Standard among them bedspreads, tumblers, casserole dishes, enamel kettles, baking dishes, and berry sets.

Not that anyone actually believed Mom enjoyed the rigors of homemaking. Says one ad from 1935: “Mothers Save Your Youth and Charm with electrical appliances – Change your hours of drudgery into hours of freedom…” The appliances were as imaginative as they were unnecessary: Electric roasters, ventilator fans, sandwich toasters, “Beconomical” refrigerators (whatever that is), and “Premier” vacuum cleaners. All advertised with this proclamation: Makes a Wonderful Mother’s Day Gift. Should Mom be exhausted from all that work and in danger of losing her youthful charm, ads offered something mothers actually did want – face cream, perfume, and a day at the hair salon for a “permanent wave,” which, by the way, wasn’t.

From War to Post War Presents for Mom

The 1940s stood out in annals of Mother’s Day gifts as being the most meaningful. As World War II disrupted the sanctity of family life, many in the commercial world pitched in to help. They offered commemorative “War Stamp Corsages,” costume jewelry to “perk up her dresses…and HER spirits, too!”, services to help servicemen find the best and most affordable gifts for Mom, and should money be a problem, low-interest loans. Some stores in 1945 featured gifts such as “Liberation blouses,” printed with scenes of the liberated cities in Europe.

Mother’s Day Card 1960s

After the War, the usual household gifts returned…with a vengeance. Into the 1950s and 1960s, we do find perfumes and nylon hose, but also sponges and mops, dishcloths, pillowcases, waffle irons, and wastepaper baskets no mother could resist. We find Bibles, Presto pressure cookers, and steel steak knife sets. What we don’t find for Mom, although advertised for everyone else, is badminton sets, ping pong tables, and swimming pools.

By the late 1960s many gifts had become practical to a fault featuring transistor radios, bank savings accounts stuffed with $25.00, and even discounts at the dry cleaner. Advertisers proclaimed “For her happiness…” about the gift of all gifts – a colander – and the “UNBELIEVABLE BUT TRUE” cast iron Dutch oven.

Mother’s Day Gift – A Bikini 1977

Into the 1970s, we find more of the same including one item for Mom saying: “Give Mom a Fun Gift for Mother’s Day” with an illustration of a young women in tiny bikinis, bellies curvaceous yet flat, nary a suggestion of budge. For mother? A women who birthed four. Five children.  Or even just one child? In a bikini looking like that? Not a chance.

Anyway, modern gifts have changed. The #1 best-selling gift on one list is hair removal set. That aside an array of candles, journals, and even hand warmers present themselves as favorites.

As for gifts most women love most? Think chocolates. Caramels. Teas.  Aside from you, Mom still loves them most of all.



The Ultimate Illustrated Satellite Wafer Q&A

Satellite Wafers AKA “Flying Saucers” and “Those Things” as in “OH – I remember those things…”  are an enigma. What are they? Who made them? Are they REALLY supposed to look like flying saucers?  Here’s a quick Q&A telling you all you need to know!


Who Invented Satellite Wafers?

Satellite Wafers were invented in Belgium in the 1950s by – of all things! – a communion wafer maker. Sales were down for unknown reasons, and he needed to do something new and exciting to sell his product. So, he put two communion wafers together, filled them with nonpareils (the little sprinkles on ice cream and chocolates), and created a candy shaped like a flying saucer.

But Why Make a Flying Saucer Candy?

The 1950s, when Satellite Wafers were invented, were significant for many things – beatniks, bobby socks, the Cold War, and with it…the space age. The Cold War was scary, on the one hand. Kids had to practice dropping under their seats at school should they need to hide in the event of a nuclear attack (an unlikely solution), and UFO sightings and reported kidnappings were on the rise. On the other hand, as usually happens, candy was on the rescue, providing fun renditions of serious matters…with all the necessary bang and pop! Think: Pop Rocks, made in the ’50s by a scientist; Astro Pops, made in the early 60s by two former NASA rocket scientists; fizzy candies such as Zotz; and more! Fun, tasty, and uplifting! Like a rocket ship or flying saucer.

 CIA Drawing of Satellite Above Trees, Date Unknown


NASA Picture of Rocket Taking Off, 1969


True Treats Depiction of Satellite Wafer Spotted on Unnamed Countertop, 2024

What is the Difference Between Flying Saucers and Satellite Wafers?


What Do Satellite Wafers Taste Like?

Perhaps the most difficult and, yes, perplexing question to address is what do Satellite Wafers taste like? Because these ever-popular candies aren’t actually about flavor – they’re about TEXTURE. Imagine a soft, melt-in-your-mouth satin yielding to tiny, sweet morsels with satisfying crunch. Or, should you have had one, imagine communion wafers that, in mere mortal moments, become candy. OR, even better, experience what it’s like to be living during the Cold War…with all the FUN and none of the worry.

AS FOR FLAVOR: they’re light and sugary with a soft undertone of fruit. The nonpareils inside are pure sugar, too small to be cloying.

Are Satellite Wafers Still Popular?

In the U.S. Satellite Wafers are considered a popular retro candy, albeit hard-to-find (except at True Treats). In England, as well as Belgium and Ireland, their popularity is among the top 12 favorites.

 Box of Satellite Wafers

Are Satellite Wafers good for you?

Good for you? Not in the health-style of feeling good. And definitely not in the Communion Wafer sense of feeling good.  More like Satellite Wafers are fun. And fun makes you feel good. Right? There you go!

The Strange Yet Tasteful Existence of Raspberry Leaf Tea

Raspberry leaf tea has a strange and somewhat convoluted past. The tea itself is not made from the raspberry plant’s fruit, as some would expect, but the leaf. The flavor resembles a somewhat tangy green or black tea, not a sprightly raspberry flavor.  As for the color: brown-ish, not red. No matter – add a little sweetener, a touch of cream, and you have a tasty and reasonably familiar flavored drink.


Raspberry Leaf Tea: From Native Americans to the Civil War

             Raspberry Leaf Tea

Native Americans of the Eastern U.S. were the first to appreciate raspberry leaf tea. They simply boiled the leaves, as they did with wintergreen,

spruce, sassafras, and snowberry leaves, for a healthful and medicinal drink. Eighteenth-century colonists joined in, using raspberry leaf tea as a weapon in their boycott of British tea. According to the Boston Tea Party Museum, the Revolutionaries positioned British tea as poisonous, capable of triggering the “most frightful nervous disorders.” As for raspberry leaf tea, one Revolutionary stated: “…It’s as good as any other tea and much more wholesome in the end.”

Other sources proclaiming the use of 18th-century tea were less eliable. A 1931 newspaper ad from Sterchi’s, a furniture company, claimed that their Early American Poster Bed “commemorates the high-born South Carolina lady who put Raspberry Leaf Tea into Colonial society.”

While the link between bedposts and botanical tea is hazy, the Southern roots are not. In an interview in 1901, an elderly Georgia woman recalled putting “yellow sugar” into Red Raspberry Tea” during the Civil War. “It made raspberry leaf tea taste almost as good as Yang Hyson [sic],” she said.     Likewise, a speaker at a United Daughters of the Confederacy luncheon in 1965 proclaimed the “resourcefulness” of Southern women who drank raspberry leaf tea during the war when little else was available. With that much raspberry leaf tea in the South, it was certainly made by enslaved workers, as well.

The (Unexpected) Medicinal Powers of Raspberry Leaf Tea

Regardless of who was drinking it, raspberry leaf tea was considered a cure. A cure for what depends on who you ask. Today, the tea is thought to help women cope with everything from menstruation to menopause not to mention getting pregnant, being pregnant, and giving birth. Proving the point goes back decades. One article in 1956, entitled “Raspberry Leaf Tea Subject of Big Test” confirms that a group of British researchers were testing the tea on a subject group of expectant mothers. Today, articles boldly tout the women-raspberry leaf tea connection, quoting scientific studies and chemical breakdowns.

That hasn’t always been the case. Raspberry leaf tea was a more-or-less panacea for a cast of ailments, although women’s health was not among them. In the 1850s it was considered a mild astringent good, used internally and externally, a treatment for inflammation of the bowels, fever, and diarrhea… in horses a remedy for upset stomach, aka “summer complaint,” in infants. One publication of 1912, a nurse proclaimed that raspberry leaf tea was a general remedy – i.e. good for everything. As for the flavor: “Raspberry leaf tea with half cream is excellent…”

Raspberry Leaf Tea on mid-1900s cup and saucer with True Treats Jar

By the mid-1900s, the interest in raspberry leaf tea all but petered out only to rise again in the 1960s with the natural foods/hippie/anti-establishment movement. Now raspberry leaf tea, the medicine, the beverage of war, the Southern sipping tea, was a protector of women’s health and a stalwart of healthy food. Raspberry leaf tea was recommended to cap a tasty dinner of “wild foods” such as buttered cattail shoots, acorn bread, and marsh marigold flower pickles, along with gum made of spruce resin. Similarly, it was the closing drink at a  1960s “survival meal” where nine men feasted on goats’ beard, wild and prickly lettuce, and goose foot.  The men were actually Boy Scout Leaders whose mission was to teach boys (not in attendance) how to use their initiative and be resourceful. Sound familiar?

 Raspberry Leaf Tea Today

Raspberry leaf tea was then – as it remains today – an old-time tea. This can be good news or bad news, depending. Most shops selling tinctures, herbal remedies, and botanicals seem to have raspberry leaf tea on hand. Native American tea companies carry it, as well, advertising it as “traditional.”  A variety of medical Websites and whole foods advisors tout the tea for its culinary and curative value. Occasionally, a voice of descent rises from the crowd, but not because of the tea itself. One, in the 1960s, was in response to the suggestion that raspberry leaf tea was “an idea” for maiden aunts. The objection came from an actual “maiden aunt” stating that she was a “swinger” who much preferred “turquoise bracelets and Swedish glass to raspberry leaf tea.”


Want to taste for yourself? Just follow the recipes right here – with serving suggestions!

Love Raspberries? Try our pure raspberry sugar -just raspberries and sugar sprinkled on ice cream, toast, cookies, name it.   A Native American fruit with a European American Sugar. Two cultures. One sprinkle.







From the True Treats Recipe Box: How to Make Raspberry Leaf Tea

Raspberry Leaf Tea?  

An unexpected pleasure known to cure everything from stomach aches to painful pregnancies. Tastes a lot like black or green tea, with a brownish hue. Making raspberry leaf tea is the same as most other botanical teas. Here’s what you do:

  • Add one tea bag – or a teaspoon-tablespoon of raspberry leaves to taste
  • Pour in boiling water
  • Let steep for up to 15 minutes. The longer, the stronger.

Yes – you can refrigerate the tea and drink it later over ice. Blends perfectly with iced mint tea.



Whether you love raspberry leaf tea as is or want to dress up the taste, here are some popular add-ons.

  • Mint Tea
  • Honey with or without lemon
  • Lemon with or without honey
  • Coconut milk (About ¼ cup per serving)
  • Light cream or milk to taste
  • Amber Beet Sugar Crystals
  • White or Brown Sugar Chunks
  • Fresh orange juice
Amber Beet Sugar
Perfect Sweetener for Raspberry Leaf Tea


In the mood for something a little stronger? Raspberry Leaf Tea Could Be a Must at Your Next Cocktail Party!

Add to mint juleps, tequila sunrise, screwdrivers, or anything else that deserves a bit more folly in the fun.



           Cocktail Dress, 1937 


Make Your Own Alice in Wonderland MAD Tea Party

At any rate I’ll never go THERE again!’ said Alice as she picked her way through the wood. ‘It’s the stupidest tea–party I ever was at in all my life!’ – “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.”

Original Title Page                                               Alice’s Adventure in Wonderland,1865



The Mad Tea Party in Lewis Carroll’s book, “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” was perplexing. Alice was offered wine although they had none. The tea party was “stupid” (that’s what Alice called it) but it became a popular tea party theme. And, stupid as it was, The Mad Tea Party spurned Disney’s basically unrelated recreation in its theme parks and movies.

Why a Tea Party? 

19th Century Afternoon Tea for the Wealthy – Frédéric Soulacroix

 The Madhatter Tea Party, 1924

The stage was set for tea parties in 1840. It seems Anna Maria Russell, the Duchess of Bedford, England was getting peckish in the long, food-less span between early breakfast and 8:00 dinner, as was the custom at the time. So, she started taking tea and light fare in her boudoir mid-afternoon. Before you knew it, Anna was inviting friends to her house for afternoon tea. The event took off among others in high society, set in elegant rooms, with fine China, hot tea, and small sandwiches.

Among the highest of society was Anna’s good friend Queen Victoria, who enjoyed the tea parties so much, she started holding her own. Victoria, ever the trendsetter, instantly made tea a tradition. The middle class soon joined in with their own tea parties – inexpensive, easy to prepare, and a great way to create a social gathering with relatively little mess to clean up in the end.

Here’s another possibility: Common folk, aka workers, no longer went home for lunch. Industry was chugging along and they worked in factories and other industrial settings for long hours, often without breaks. So, these workers carried small lunches, often leftovers from dinner, they could eat by hand. Did Anna and Victoria follow the lead of the “lower classes”? Who knows? But the upper crust and the masses who supported them were eating at the same time and for the same reason. They were hungry mid-day.

                     The Madhatter Tea Party, 1924

What Kind of Tea Did They Drink?

The Tea Party in Lewis Carroll’s book was certainly black tea, common throughout Great Britian. But the British did drink botanical teas, as well, such as chamomile and rose petal. Earl Grey tea is another British favorite – essentially black teas with additions such as lavender or orange peels.

Host Your Own Authentic Mad Tea Party

So, what was served at the original party? And how do you create a more-or-less accurate rendition? In the story, Lewis Carroll’s characters enjoyed tea and toast with butter, common fare, not exactly scintillating.  They also discussed treacle (although they didn’t serve it), which is a British relative of molasses, and wine, of course, which was likewise not served. Of course, that arrangement might be rather boring, not to mention unsatisfying.

So, here’s what you do:

Serve treats from the actual book “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”:

  • Buttered Toast: Sounds boring, right? But it was common tea party fare in the U.K. and the U.S. Why not butter, sprinkle on sugar and cinnamon, and cut into triangles or easy-to-hold squares. Your guests – no matter how old or old fashioned – will love it!
  • Treacle: In candy or toffee form, or use molasses, instead, such as molasses pulls or molasses drops. You may even want to serve molasses syrup to slather on toast.
  • Lemonade: This option goes particularly well in warm weather and especially for kids. Make your own or use the modern powdered variety. Some even comes with real crystalized lemon!
  • Wine: Mentioned, by not served in the book. Still, a tea party standard from the get-go. And yes, you can serve wine first then follow with tea. Perfectly appropriate.
  • Chocolate: At the time, most chocolate was gritty. In 1879, chocolatier Rudolf Lindt (of Lindt Chocolate fame) invented a “conching” machine to make chocolate silky smooth, as we know it today. As “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” was published in 1865, chocolate wasn’t actually smooth. No worries. At the time other editions appeared, chocolate was silky smooth.
  • Biscuits, cookies, or cakes: The possibilities are practically limitless. Shortbread dates back to 16th century Scotland. Use those and no one will consider you too modern.
Alice’s Tea Party Robinson Carrol,1907

Then — fill in with other pleasures of 19th century tea parties… Sandwiches? Yes! Cucumber sandwiches, buttered bread, the variety is endless.  Think the table is bare? Add mixed nuts and an assortment of olives and cheese which are filling and traditional at tea parties. But remember, afternoon tea was light and breezy so keep it simple.

To be truly loyal to the original: Dispense with adherence to all things polite and be perfectly frank and rude, if you feel like it. Then, afterward, explain to the kids that behavior is actually not ok in real life.

DON’T STRESS: Why not get a True Treats® Alice in Wonderland Edible Book? Comes with the marvelous treats Alice ate throughout the book and a keepsake card describing each item…all tucked in a closable book-shaped box.


Susan’s L.A. Museum FAVORITES!

Here’s Susan in California doing what she loves best – visiting museums (and museum gift stores!) and hanging out with family.  REMINDER: Museums can be as fun – or more fun! – than theme parks. SERIOUSLY!!

Her visit starts with Ridge Route Communities Museum… a one-room journey into the past from Native Americans to Hollywood celebs in the rural enclave of Frazier Park, CA.  Reminder: When you visit these small museums, talk to the attendants, aka docents! They’re the best sources for local histories – fascinating and unexplored. They’re typically volunteers who do the job because they LOVE it!

Then there’s the amazing Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena with jaw-dropping art, including familiar names such as Picasso and Rembrandt – his self-portrait (below!) is a definite favorite! The grounds are just as amazing. Linger outside? Wander within? Good either way!

Also, on her must-visit list from the LA area – the Getty Museum. The best part is walking the grounds, which include a garden and voluptuous spaces loaded with art. A favorite for many is the European art of the 1200s-1700s.  Below: Susan posing in the Getty Courtyard. The PRICE: Free.

OH – and don’t forget the incredible Huntington Gardens, in San Marino, just outside LA. Even if you don’t like gardens, you’ll love this!! Individual vistas rich with plants – the cactus “garden” (it’s huge!) Susan’s favorite! PLUS – an indoor museum, should you be so inclined.  Botanical Gardens | The Huntington

The history behind vicious, Victorian-era ‘vinegar valentines’

Listen to Susan in this article from NRP affiliate
Three 19th century vinegar valentines are anything but sweet. (First image public domain, center and right Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Three 19th century vinegar valentines are anything but sweet. (First image public domain, center and right Hulton Archive/Getty Images)


Love it or loathe it, Valentines Day is upon us. The big business, “Hallmark” holiday brings its annual run on mushy, sentimental cards of the “sugar is sweet, and so are you” variety. But there was a time when people made, sent and received some pretty vicious “vinegar” valentines.

Historian Susan Benjamin dug through vintage newspapers to share this surprisingly harsh chapter from our past. But first, she explained how in the mid-19th century, New Englanders showered all manner of gifts on their sweeties — chocolates, flowers, and — of course — valentines.

“Howland was the mother of the commercialized valentines,” Benjamin said, “But what she didn’t know, and so many others didn’t know, was something else was looming.”

That something else went by a few names, including comic valentines. “But even more to our liking, the vinegar valentine,” Benjamin said. “And it was mean, it was snarky, it was startling, it almost made you cringe — no, I take that back, it did make you cringe.”

An ironic St Valentine's Day ode, circa 1890, to a mercenary milkman who is watering down his milk. (Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
An ironic St Valentine’s Day ode, circa 1890, to a mercenary milkman who is watering down his milk. (Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

I am not attracted by your glitter, For well I know how very bitter. My life would be if I should take You for my spouse, rattlesnake. Oh no! I’d not accept the ring, Or evermore t’would prove a sting.

Kiss-offs like the one above weren’t the only type of vinegar valentine. “It was about people who wanted to get their revenge,” Benjamin said, adding the vexed usually delivered their barbed missives anonymously.

“These were sent to lawyers, and shopkeepers, and teachers, and doctors who gave you the wrong kind of syrup that made you sick,” Benjamin said. She pointed to an example she found published in the Fall River Daily Evening News.

Your pads and pills may cure our ills, but your homely face gives us the chills. 

These insulting poems were often paired with caricature-like illustrations.  Vinegar valentines also targeted braggarts, sots, dandies, rumor-mongers, bachelors, flirts and a broad spectrum of jerks.

Benjamin made clear that not all comic valentines were brutal and venomous. Plenty were simply sarcastic, witty and cheeky. Taken together, they were a wildly popular genre.  “According to the Boston Globe — and this is in 1886 — one factory alone pumped out 15 million comic valentines and a measly 5 million sentimental ones,” she said.

If you’re wondering who penned these nasty notes, Benjamin found another Globe article that attributed authorship to “long-haired poets” who needed to make some money. “By far though, the most influential illustrator of vinegar valentines was a guy named C. Howard,” she said.

Charles Howard worked in Boston and was known as, “the Valentine Man.” Benjamin said he was the artist, and possible writer, behind this cruel creation.

Pray take an honest friend’s advice,
Or you will have to pay the price.
Your idle tongue must cease to wag.
Or it will wear this warning tag.
(The tag reads: By order of the anti-gossip committee).

Women were the primary targets of most vinegar valentines, according to Benjamin. “And the insults are pretty standard,” she said, “I mean, there was plenty about the reasons why one person was an old maid, and that her nose was too big, and nobody ever wanted to talk to her. But some of it was really kind of startling.”

As an example, Benjamin pulled up this little number:

You claim you’re good at anything. 
So come on, show some proof. 
And let me see how good you are 
at jumping off the roof. 

By the turn of the century, suffragettes — those women who fought for the right to vote and to have the same freedoms as men — were pulled into the vinegar valentine fray. Benjamin found cards from haters touting:

Your vote for me, you will not get, I do not want a preaching suffragette.

Some vinegar valentines targeted suffragettes. The valentine on the left was printed in the 1840s, and the valentine on right was printed circa 1900. (Ken Florey Suffrage Collection/Gado/Getty Images)
Some vinegar valentines targeted suffragettes. The valentine on the left was printed in the 1840s, and the valentine on right was printed circa 1900. (Ken Florey Suffrage Collection/Gado/Getty Images)

Other demeaning ditties were more threatening, “where they were going to take women hostage, they were going to tie them up to chairs so that they couldn’t protest,” Benjamin said. “All sorts of things that made you think these suffragettes were dreading opening their mail.”

But the feminists rallied against their attackers, “and we wouldn’t expect any less,” Benjamin said. The women crafted their own vinegar valentines that were decidedly more high road than low. They featured poppy phrases like, “no vote, no kiss.” The women also created one with a little girl sitting on a heart that read, “I’m a little suffragette, and I don’t care who knows it.”

Throughout their history, people took moral offense to vinegar valentines. Many believed joking on Valentines Day was not a laughing matter because, for them, love was serious.

Benjamin explained how, in its own way, the New England card-making universe helped to eventually take down the vinegar valentine. She invoked Esther Howland again, a single woman who lived with her family in the 1850s and designed romantic, red cards with lace that really took off. They were doing so well that eventually George C. Whitney (also of Worcester) bought her company, and about nine others, Benjamin said. “It’s not really clear how many of those actually were making the vinegar valentines, but what we do know is that his motto was ‘industry, punctuality, and Christianity,’ and the vinegar valentines had to go. “

During their century-long lifespan, newspapers reported vinegar valentines were on their way out, even into the 1950s. “But all through this time,” Benjamin said, “they never went away.”

Here’s one from the 1940s.

You’ve got more curves than a roller-coaster
Your clothes fit like a glove
There’s one thing wrong — Glamour puss
You’ve a face —
Only a mother could love!

Benjamin said today we still have vestiges of vinegar valentines, but their mean-spiritedness evolved, “in that great big envelope that we call social media.”

She hopes no matter how you get your Valentine’s Day messages, that all of them are sweet.

Andrea Shea produced the audio postcard. Susan Benjamin is a food and candy historian who owns True Treats, a history-based candy shop, in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia.

What says about True Treats… and Susan


Here’s what said about True Treats and Susan and their recent article: True Treats Candy Store In West Virginia Is Like A Walk Through Confectionery History:

From light-hearted childhood memories of Halloween to the sweet echoes of fleeting romance in the form of heart-shaped chocolate boxes, candy has long represented far more than a tasty confection. For Susan Benjamin of True Treats Historical Candy in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, it’s a tangible chord to history. “Today, we love [candy], we fear it, and with it, we connect to our past,” Benjamin explains to Tasting Table.

Founded in 2010, True Treats is the only historical candy store in the United States that provides customers with a research-based educational confectionery experience. “Our web and brick-and-mortar stores are in chronological order, from prehistory to around the 1970s,” says Benjamin. “The story of each selection is on the label, and most of the images are also from the period of the product.” People travel far and wide to check out the shop — which is as much a history museum as it is a candy store. It was even featured as an answer to a question on “Jeopardy.”

So, what will you find in Benjamin’s store? Begin your journey in ancient times, witnessing everything from mastic resin — the first-ever chewing gum — to snacks eaten by Biblical figures and Native American barks. Fast-forwarding to the 17th and 18th centuries, treats like candied peels and petals make an appearance. The Industrial Revolution introduces mass-produced goodies before the 20th century concludes with the chocolate bar takeover. But these examples are just a drop in the bucket — Benjamin’s shop has over 600 products.

A quest inspired by women

Susan Benjamin’s historical candy career began with a passion for writing and research. Hailing from Massachusetts, she was a written communications professor in Boston before becoming an entrepreneur. After working on a writing-based initiative at the White House under Bill Clinton and, later, George W. Bush, she published nine books with a strong focus on business. “This led me to be interested in the relationship between language and women — especially the hidden messages depowering of women, so pervasive still today. And this led me to food, of course, and women’s honorable role in preparing and providing it.”

Eventually, upon hearing of her culinary studies, someone asked Benjamin about women’s historical connection to candy. Unfamiliar with the subject but a true researcher at heart, Benjamin got to work. She unearthed a world more extensive than what she had imagined. “I discovered the most amazing universe around, all about everything that matters — food, medicine, women at home, African American history, Biblical history, Native American foodways, business, immigration, and industrialization,” she details.

From there, Benjamin began selling her historical discoveries at museums and specialty shops, which led to the 2010 opening of her brick-and-mortar and online stores. When inquired about the type of research that goes into each product, she explained that she uses a combination of original sourcing, old cookbooks, historic context, and first-hand travel. Her original role of writing and research continues to fuel her fondness for educating on topics that matter to her.

The evolution of society’s relationship with candy

Naturally, when looking at True Treats’ candy collection of days gone by, we have to wonder how sugar’s role in the world has changed over time. According to Susan Benjamin, a lot of confections were originally medicines. For example, she informs us that Turkish delight was “made around the 10th century in the Arabic apothecaries as a medicine for sore throats, [and] it became the basis of the jelly bean and gummy candy.”

In the United States, the first commercial candy store was opened in 1800 by a woman named Mrs. Spencer — a single mother who was shipwrecked from England in Salem, Massachusetts. Her candy was sold from a horse-and-buggy, where she would hide escaped slaves and transport them to their destinations of freedom. Of course, The Gibraltar, as Mrs. Spencer’s candy was called, is now sold at True Treats.

Since its history involving everything from apothecaries to horse-drawn buggies, candy now plays a different part in our society. Benjamin contends that it has become a “corporate” thing, without many regional distinctions. Regardless of candy’s role in the modern day, True Treats is here to remind us that oftentimes, candy means much more than what meets the eye. Aside from learning about the origins of the treats, Benjamin remarks: “Above all, the products trigger memories of those who loved them when they were young, of special occasions, of friends from the past, and some of the happiest moments today.”

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What Exactly Are ‘Sugar Plums’ Anyway?

What Exactly Are ‘Sugar Plums’ Anyway?

Every Christmas Eve when I was a child, my family would read Clement Clark Moore’s famous 1823 poem, “A Visit from St. Nicholas,” aka “’Twas the Night Before Christmas.” With each reading, one line in particular always captivated me:

The children were nestled all snug in their beds;

While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads

Maybe it was my sweet tooth or my love for the “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy” in “The Nutcracker,” but the line always made me extra exhilarated around the holiday season. I also remember wondering, “What’s a sugar plum?”Sugar Plums

It turns out, the term does not refer to some magical fruit invention for a fictional Christmas story, but actually refers to sweet treats in the real world.

Sugar plum was a sort of general name for candy,” Susan Benjamin, a candy historian and president of True Treats Candy, told HuffPost. “It was first used in Europe, going back to the 17th century.”

Indeed, the Oxford English Dictionary notes that sugar plum was used interchangeably with “comfit,” so it could refer to any sweet involving a seed, nut, piece of spice or other edible bit coated in hard sugar.

Panning was a labor-intensive endeavor that required skilled workers to stir with one hand while moving the pan with the other in an attempt to create even layers.

“Once the candy was coated, the confectioner set it aside where it dried for a day or two, then began the process again, stirring and moving, adding layer upon layer,” Benjamin said. “In the last stage, the sugar coating smooth as glass, he often added a flourish of color, mulberry juice or cochineal for red, indigo stone for blue, spinach for green and saffron for yellow.”

The whole process could take days or weeks. Thus, sugar plums were a pricey indulgence generally reserved for those with money and status.

“These sugar-coated bits were no gob-stoppers, but eaten with great decorum,” Benjamin noted. “In the early 1700s, they were given as gifts, particularly the sugar-coated almond with its symbol of joyous beginnings.”

Perhaps because of these high costs, the term took on a non-edible meaning as well.

“The name ‘sugar plum’ appeared in Thomas Decker’s Lanthorne and Candlelight in 1608 but had nothing to do with plums, prunes or any sort of poached fruit,” Benjamin said.

Instead, the term referred to “something very pleasing or agreeable, esp. when given as a sop or bribe,” per the OED.

“Given the cost and time involved in producing them, the sugar plum was also associated with money,” Benjamin said. “If someone was giving a bribe, they were said to be stuffing that person’s mouth with sugar plums. ‘Plum’ was also 18th-century slang for a large amount of money.”

The word “plum” also came to have a similar “pleasing” definition, which gave us phrases like a “plum job.” And to have a “mouth full of sugar plums” was to speak sweet words that were deceitful and insincere.

Read more of this article from the Huffington Post


Unfurling The History of Christmas Oysters with Susan Benjamin

When oysters were king on Christmas

Listen to this segment from NPR affiliate WBUR below


What’s the main attraction at your holiday feast? Roast turkey? Stuffed pork loin? Lasagna? How about oysters? There was a time when those briny little bivalves were the big stars on Christmas Day. Food historian Susan Benjamin dug up some old recipes to take us back to when and why oysters were so popular.

“There are a million reasons,” she explained. “One of them is they were really bountiful throughout the 1700s into the 1800s when Europeans came to the New England shores, and they were confronted with oysters.”

Northeast Native Americans had been eating the mollusks for 9,000 years. But the oysters colonists encountered along the coastline were not the relatively small ones we see today.

“They were huge! Some of them could have been a foot long,” Benjamin said. “And they were on reefs that were so high, and so spiky, that it actually threatened the arrival of the ships coming in.”


Heaps of oysters on an oyster barge in New York City, circa 1890. (Photo by Archive Photos/Getty Images)


But the oysters also enticed the settlers. Soon enough both the working class and well-to-do were gobbling down the plentiful shellfish. A popular recipe was something known as oyster ice cream. “Culinary apologists explain that it’s just like hot oyster stew,” Benjamin clarified, “only it’s chilled.”

It didn’t take long for the love of oysters to spread. “You would find them at upscale hotels, but also in taverns, where they would just have buckets of oysters that they would eat and throw the shells on the floor,” Benjamin said.

Oysters went on to become a bonafide holiday favorite in the late 19th century. “And the reason for that came with the celebration of Christmas becoming a more elaborate affair,” Benjamin said, “and how could you leave out – even for a moment – something that was so important, and so versatile, as the New England oyster?”


During the Victorian era, suppliers urged consumers to pre-order their holiday oysters, and sweetened the deal by offering free delivery and even shucking at no extra charge. The bivalves also received top billing on restaurant menus.

In the 1920s Lois and Ruth Waddell devoured 204 oysters between them, making them the winners of an oyster eating contest. (Getty Images)

“And the array of oysters was crazy,” Benjamin said of the different iterations she unearthed. “To find these recipes, I went where I always go, which was to old cookbooks, old menus, and especially to old newspapers.”

Back then, a traditional Christmas dinner likely started with oyster soup, turkey with oyster stuffing and cranberry sauce. “No surprises there,” Benjamin said, then unfurled a litany of other dishes, “Then you get into your deviled oysters – which were the prequel to deviled eggs – and then you have your scalloped oysters, you have oyster soufflé, you have oyster pâté, you have oysters served with pickles and olives and hot chips, and then you have oyster salad. This is made with oysters, plus boiled eggs, plus raw eggs, pepper, salt, mustard, all tossed with vinegar.”

A 1918 Boston Globe recipe for Oyster Toast, submitted by someone named Wee Wifie, began with, “I have read that oysters are very easily digested and make blood quicker than anything else.” Some basic directions followed.

“Make a nice slice of toast, butter well and lay 6 oysters, after slightly scalding them in their own liquor add ½ cup of milk, salt, pepper and a little butter. Pour over toast and serve.”

Benjamin also found a Prohibition-era recipe, dated Dec. 24, 1925, for a cocktail salad made with “catchup,” lemon juice, oysters and liquor (from the shell, not the bar!) that was served in cocktail glasses.

Despite the oyster’s stardom, by the 1950s Benjamin said they made nary an appearance on Christmas menus, for a perfect storm of reasons. “The dwindling down of oysters started in Prohibition when the pubs, taverns, and other popular venues where everybody was eating them, were shut down – and the oyster sales shut down with them,” she explained. Also in the 1920s, the public became increasingly aware of food safety issues. But, most importantly, the oyster population plummeted due to over-harvesting, pollution, and disease, “that basically wiped out the once huge industry,” Benjamin said.



By the 1960s, oysters found renewed status in American food culture as a nostalgic Christmas food. “One food writer referred to them as traditional oysters,” Benjamin said, “so they were so unusual that they were a throwback – until the 1970s.”

A Boston Globe reporter shared some good news in 1981: oysters were back on the menu. The writer also instructed the uninitiated on how to prepare them at home. In addition to oyster stew and scalloped oysters, the paper published a novel recipe for something called, Oyster Loaf Bake.

“Which was essentially flour dipped oysters baked in bread with garlic, pepper, hot sauce, olives and dill pickles on the top,” Benjamin said, then joked, “Really, who could resist that?”

Of course these days, oyster farms can be found up and down the New England coastline. And there are plenty ways to commune with their tender, salty, sometimes buttery flesh. Benjamin urges us to bring a dozen or two home so we can partake in the pleasure of shucking them ourselves. “That wonderful, splendid little crackling sound makes you really want them,” she said, “just pick them up, squirt a little bit of lemon, and right down they go.”



Benjamin lives in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, but grew up in Brookline, so she knows how large the oyster looms in New England. “It’s part of our DNA,” she said. Then Benjamin slurped down a local oyster, made a satisfied sound, and wished everyone a happy holiday.

Segment from NPR affiliate WBUR

The Ever-Mysterious Christmas Potato Candy

So, Here’s What We Know about Potato Candy

  • It’s made from real potatoes.
  • It doesn’t taste like potatoes.
  • It tastes like candy.
  • It’s a favorite Christmas candy in Appalachia.
  • It’s good all year.
  • Its origin is a mystery. Shrouded in false claims.

Before the Mystery of Potato Candy Came The Mystery of the Potato

Potato Seed Package

“You say the potatoe is a native of the US. I presume you speak of the Irish potatoe. I have enquired much into this question, & think I can assure you that plant is not a native of N. America. it came from Ireland” – Thomas Jefferson

The mystery of potato candy starts with the mystery of potatoes. What are they? And where ae they from?  Most people think Germany, Ireland, England…possibly? Actually, potatoes are from the Andeas where they were domesticated roughly 8,000 years ago. How did they reach North America?

This aspect of the potato story is confusing – so buckle-up! Some say the Spanish introduced potatoes to Europe in the mid-1500s. Others say Sir Walter Raleigh introduced potatoes to Ireland in 1589 where locals celebrated them, as they were easier to grow than wheat and barley.

Then, the thinking goes, the first potatoes arrived in North America with settlers in Jamestown in the 1600s, although others say the potato arrived via travelers from Bermuda. Don’t ask, especially since researchers at the Natural History Museum of Utah say potatoes originated in, yes, Utah. Only, these potatoes are not the same species of potato as the Andean potato which, all seem to agree, is the parent to all potatoes.


What about Yams? And Sweet Potatoes?

If you’re truly bold, you might be wondering about sweet potatoes which, as it happens, appear in an especially toothsome version of potato candy. Neither yams nor sweet potatoes are actually what we enjoy in, say, mashed potatoes. Here’s the difference:

Sweet Potato Plant, Mark Catesby approximately 1700s

Sweet Potatoes: A member of the morning glory family, these tubers are native to tropical South America and been eaten for 5000-plus years. Polynesian travelers carried these delicious-whatever-they-are from South America to Polynesia. Somewhere along the way, Columbus encountered them and brought them back to Spain. In 1648 or so they showed up in Virginia and have been here ever since.

Yams: Yes, these are tuber vegetables, but these are yellow, starchy, with a rough, brown exterior and can grow up to 45 feet long. Native to Africa and Asia, they arrived on ships carrying enslaved Africans during the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Most Americans working in grocery produce departments and even famers markets don’t know the yams they’re selling are, in fact, sweet potatoes.

Back to Potato Candy…

Naturally, the origin story of potato candy is as convoluted as the origin story of the potatos. Some experts say that the potato candy originated in Germany, France, Ireland, Scandinavia, Russia or any place where potatoes were popular. It was in these places, so say these experts, that where, say the experts, the potato originated.

Maybe – but according to one article, published in 1918, potato candy originated in Texas. The author states that the United States Food Administration confirmed that “candy makers have succeeded in turning the good old potato to account as a sweet meat,” which “tasted like coconut but had an additional quality not unlike brittle only more delicate than brittle.”

Other iterations appeared around that time. At some unknowable time (likely the early 1900s), peanut butter became a standard in potato candy. In Kansas, 1908, folks were adding walnuts, while, in 1905 in Pennsylvania Kenecht’s Novelty Store advertised boxes of potato candy for Easter. In Boston, in the 1920s, folks were adding coconut to their own invention -Coconut Potato Candy, so-named “Needhams” in Maine.

The Certain Conclusion

No matter – none of this mixed-up history changes the fact that potato candy is an Appalachian Christmas favorite. Residents grew and ate and cooked with potatoes for generations and most certainly preferred their readily-available, inexpensive, and oh-so-delicious potato candy?


Potato Candy: The Recipes

 Yes! You can buy potato candy from True Treats. You order – we’ll ship. But, you can always make it yourself. Either way, here are a few recipes you might enjoy:

Potato Candy – Oakland Tribune, 1937

Potato Candy Recipe – Western Herald, Kansas 1908

Oh – and don’t forget the chocolate and coconut!

“Potato Cocoanut Candy”

  • 1 medium sized potato
  • 2 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar
  • 2 cups shredded coconut
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • Chocolate.
  • Boil or bake potato until well done, and force through a coarse sieve or a potato ricer. There should be half a cup of potato. To this add sugar, cocoanut, and vanilla, working together until well mixed. Press one inch thick into small bread pan, and spread top with a thin layer of melted bitter chocolate or sweet chocolate. When chocolate is firm, cut in small squares. This can be varied by using nuts or fruits instead of cocoanut.”
    The Candy Cook Book, Alice Bradley [Little, Brown, and Company:Boston] 1929 (p. 29-30)