Tuesday, 20 January 2015

... and very OLD sweets.

Recently I commented on facebook that after not tasted smarties for a long, long time I was disappointed to find they did not taste as I remembered. A tiny box of smarties was a treat we were given as children - often by guilt driven parents. The box could barely take two fingers and the number of smarties inside was not many, less than 25. The shell colours were as bright and shiny as new toys and children were tempted to line them up and sort into colours and swap with others to make patterns and let the colours stain their fingers and tongues.

Smarties, referred to in the industry as 'hard tablet sweets' apparently began life, in England, as Rowntree's Chocolate Beans in ... 1882! and were renamed as Smarties in 1937, so kids have been enjoying them for over 130 years!

Back in the days when Rowntree's made Smarties they had a thin candy coating that melted in the mouth allowing the sweet chocolate centre to flow over the tongue. Sweet and creamy. It was possible to eat them one at a time and really enjoy each one and as kids we were convinced that the colours had different flavours. 

Then Nestle took over Rowntree's and, not content to leave yummy enough alone, they changed the recipe in 2009. The motivation may have been to make them healthier - if any  sugar coated chocolate thing can be healthy - but the colours faded to almost pastel and the chocolate changed texture and tasted stale.
The Smarties web site explains there are eight colours, pink, red, orange, yellow, blue, violet, green and brown AND the orange Smartie is flavoured with natural orange oil.  Hmmm, so what are the other seven colours flavoured with?  

The other little treat we had from time to time, in our house, was a two bar Kit Kat, also a creation of Rowntree's. An interesting little story is - the chocolate bar we know today was developed in 1935, after a suggestion by a worker in the York factory, to make a snack that 'a man could take to work in his pack'.

The Kit Kat is composed of a block of two or four fingers that can be snapped apart. Each finger is made with three layers of wafer and cream covered in an outer layer of chocolate.  
Kit Kat has been enjoyed all over the world since 1940 and everyone knows the 1958  advertising line, 'Have a break, have a Kit Kat'.

And as above, Nestle bought Rowntree's in 1988 (but not in the US where it is owned by Hershey). So, what did they do to Kit Kat?  Well, they added a flavour range from orange, caramel to almond flavours, and a choice of dark, milk or white chocolate coating. There are chunky versions, snack pack sizes and Kit Kat easter eggs as well as 'Pop Choc' pieces, square 'Kubes', praline-filled 'Senses' and Kit Kat pieces in yoghurt or iceceam cones.  In Japan a Bake 'N Tasty mini Kit Kats Custard Pudding Flavour was launched in 2014  - you bake that in the oven and the outside caramelizes. O M G

So, apart from ONE SINGLE EASTER EGG per year, and the occasional very small block of Cadburys chocolate or a coconut rough in a show bag, and the occasional half-penny's worth of mixed lollies at the corner shop, the above treats were just about all we had in those good old, healthy days when everyone was a size medium. That might be difficult to understand in the 21st century.

We had cake of course, and they were always homemade, using real butter and actual sugar and locally milled flour and real cream and often homemade jam or lemon curd - all good stuff and you could almost live on Aunty Mab's jam and cream filled sponge with a beaker of homemade fruit cordial or a cuppa, and a few homemade sausage rolls, dipped in sauce cooked up from Uncle Harry's tomatoes - add a stick of celery and you've got all the food groups covered.  No tortes or mud cakes back then.

My life in the outer suburbs, without TV, limited my early experience of sweets. I can actually remember the day when, at the age of 21, I took a short cut through Sydney Central Station on my way to an Art Class, and stopped at a mobile newsagent (it was a tiny cream caravan) to buy a magazine and I bought a Polly Waffle.  I'd never had one before but I liked the name and so I bought it and ate it over two days.  And no, I did not repeat this often, it wasn't until years later, after having babies, that I discovered we need a daily hit of chocolate.

Google tells me the inventor of the Polly Waffle, in the year I was born, was Abel Hoadley of Hoadley's Chocolates in Melbourne.  Polly was a waffle wafer tube, filled with marshmallow (yummy) and coated in compound chocolate (Yuk, I didn't know that).  Compound chocolate is made of cocoa, sweeteners and  cheap vegetable fats that are not cocoa butter. And back then a Polly Waffle had a sugar content of over 50% !!! Wow.

Eventually Hoadleys was acquired by Rowntree's and in 1988 - one guess - by Nestle.  Nestle managed to change the waffle wafer to a more sugary, and probably cheaper, brittle wafer in 2009 and sales dropped off.  I wonder why? It also developed a flat bottom where it had once been round.  Polly Waffle was discontinued at the end of that year.  Poor Polly.

Sadly the Polly Waffle legacy is the use of the name for something similar in looks that might be unwelcome when found floating in a swimming pool. Again, poor Polly.

Cover art work by Barry Rockwell

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