June is National Candy Month, and a perfect excuse to relive your youth with a sweet treat or two. OK, so we know sugar isn’t great for us, but let’s face it, we deserve a little happiness after the strange year we’ve all had. And if it helps you feel less guilty, sweets have featured in the lives of our ancestors for thousands of years!
Cavemen made a form of toffee-like sweet with dried honey. And in fact, honey has formed the basis of many sweet treats. The Egyptians added figs, nuts, dates, and spices to make tasty honeyed snacks. While the Ancient Greeks used honey to make candied fruits. They also discovered how to make syrup out of figs and dates. And the Romans and Chinese made barley sugar confectionary with honey cooked or baked in an oven.
The development of sweets really took off in the 1800’s. The reduced price in sugar and development in mass production, meant that everyone could now enjoy confectionery. And in 1847, Joseph Fry developed the first ‘bitter-sweet’ chocolate bar. But it was Henri Nestlé—an evaporated milk manufacturer—who developed the milk chocolate bar in 1875. And in 1879, Rodolphe Lindt began to add cocoa butter back into the mix, creating a bar that would hold its shape but melt on the tongue.
The 1800’s also saw inventions including toffee, fudge and marshmallows. And we enjoyed the arrival of peanut brittle, and many of the popular sweets we have today, including sherbet lemons, fruit gums, rhubarb and custards, and Jelly Beans. But which sweets did you rush out to the shop to buy when you were a child? The days when ‘penny sweets’ were just that, or the excitement of getting several sweets for a penny. Let’s take a look back to see which were the nations top sweets of the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s.
Often quoted as being one of Britain’s best loved traditional confectionery, this classic was a popular choice in sweet shops all over the country. Whether you love it or hate it, liquorice has been a long standing favourite for as long as anyone can remember. And when Britain saw the end of sweet rationing in 1953, children all over the country emptied out their piggy-banks and headed straight for the nearest sweet shop.
Rumour has it that in 1899, a Bassett’s sales representative supposedly tripped over and dropped a tray of samples he was showing a client, mixing up the various sweets. After he scrambled to rearrange them, the client was intrigued by the new creation. Quickly the company began to mass-produce the allsorts and they became popular with children and adults alike. And they are still being produced today.
Another favourite from Bassett’s, the sweets were actually invented by an Austrian immigrant working at Fryers of Lancashire, and were originally marketed as “Unclaimed Babies”. In 1918, Bassett’s began producing them, calling them “Peace Babies”, to mark the end of World War I. Production was suspended during World War II due to wartime shortages, but they were relaunched as “Jelly Babies” in 1953.
These old school fruity treats not only taste delicious, but they’re also fun to eat. Each different flavoured sweet had its own colour, shape and name: Brilliant (red; strawberry), Bubbles (yellow; lemon), Baby Bonny (pink; raspberry), Boofuls (green; lime), Bigheart (purple; blackcurrant), and Bumper (orange).
Bassett’s Jelly Babies changed in 2007 to include only natural colours and ingredients, and they’re still extremely popular today.
Another British icon since the 1920’s, Black Jacks turned your tongue a fun shade of black! Four for a penny, this yummy “aniseed flavour chew”—wrapped in greaseproof black and white paper—has been a favourite in the old mixed-bad selection, along with their sweeter sister, the Fruit Salad.
By 1930, Woolworths was dominating the high street when it came to sweet shops and by the fun and frivolous 1950s, the term ‘pic n mix’ had been coined.
The original Black Jack labels pictured a grinning Golliwog, but seen as no longer acceptable, this was replaced by a pirate in the 1980’s, and again by a black and white swirl in the 90’s.
Rhubarb & Custards
Since the 1700’s boiled sweets, many still recognisable today, were sold as medicinal cough drops by apothecaries. But Rhubarb & Custards, Pear Drops and Barley Sugars really soared in popularity from the 1930’s, when sweets were all lined up on shelves in big jars. They were weighed by the quarter on big metal scales, before being packaged into small white paper bags.
Ironically, Rhubarb & Custards contain neither rhubarb nor custard. Apparently their history is based on a rhubarb and vanilla custard pudding that was popular at the time. Then when sweet making became popular due to the importing of sugar, this pudding was made into the delicious hard sweet we still enjoy today.
“Do you remember Spangles?” These translucent sugar squares were manufactured by Mars Ltd, right up until the early 80’s. Spangles were individually wrapped boiled sweets sold in a paper packet. And when they were introduced in 1950, sweets were still on ration in the UK. Thankfully, you only needed one point to get your hands on these sugar-filled treats, instead of the two required for other sweets and chocolates. This made them even more popular!
Over the decades, tangerine, butterscotch, ‘Old English’, cola and dozens more varieties appeared. They were briefly reintroduced in 1995, including in Woolworths stores, though only available in three flavours: orange, lime or blackcurrant. And in 2008, Spangles topped a poll of discontinued brands which British consumers would most like to see revived.
This pocket-money favourite was first produced as a novelty Christmas cracker filler in the 1950’s, but they’ve since become one of the UK’s most popular sweets. These delicious fruity delights come complete with cheeky messages such as ‘Call Me’, ‘I Love You’, and ‘Kiss Me’.
If you were a child of the 70’s, then Love Hearts sweets were the perfect tool to see if you and your crush were meant to be! Today, Love Hearts are a popular choice at weddings and parties. And many people have even proposed using these iconic little pastel coloured sweets. They also now include messages to reflect current trends, including ‘Skype Me’, ‘Tweet Me’, and ‘Take a Selfie’.
In 1957, the world’s first chewable lolly, the Drumstick, was accidentally invented. Apparently, Trevor Matlow, the son of one of Swizzels-Matlow’s founders (who also produce Love Hearts), was experimenting with a new machine and unintentionally learned that it was possible to make a sweet with two different flavours. And so the Drumstick was born!
This chewy raspberry and milk flavoured lolly has been a firm party bag favourite for decades. And since the classic Drumstick was launched, there have been various other delicious flavour combinations, including strawberry/banana, and cherry/apple.
Fizzy Flying Saucers are the most popular sweet of all time, according to a confectionary survey. These tongue-tingling sherbet-filled rice paper discs have been around since the 1960’s. An era where the space race had captured the popular imagination.
These brightly coloured pastel treats actually have roots in Belgium. In 1900, Belgica created a round, flat shell made of starch to house medicine – making it more pleasant to take. This is claimed to be the inspiration for the classic Flying Saucer sweets we know and love today.
Of course, sweets should always be regarded as an occasional treat. But there’s nothing wrong in indulging in a Liquorice Allsort once in a while to be transported back to your childhood. Sweets also make great gifts, and are a perfect way to spoil your loved ones.
Retro sweets from Amazon but don’t eat too many!
If you liked this post, take a nostalgic look back at our favourite toys from the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s.