Last night I finished re-reading Candyfreak, by Steve Almond.
I had this big plan of going to the library to pick up several books on hold and to drop off old ones, but it rained all day, so that plan was kind of foiled. I think the holds may have actually expired, which is a bit irritating since I guess that means I need to reorder them. And then I will feel guilty, because I know that interlibrary loans cost money and are a hassle. But my books aren’t overdue, at least. Yet. Not having overdue books is actually a matter of pride for me; in all my years of library card ownership, I have not returned a book late, and I would like to keep it that way. Not because I care about the fees, but because of the symbolic value.
At any rate, Steve Almond is an interesting guy. He’s also written a bunch of stuff for Nerve, a site I used to read a lot before it started going downhill. The book is ostensibly about small candy producers, but really it’s about Almond’s personal “freak,” as he puts it; his obsession with candy is a strong theme throughout the book.
I happen to be a big fan of candy, and much like Almond, I have a candy holy grail. It’s called Sarotti, and it’s German, and it is the best marzipan ever made. Every marzipan I try pales in comparison with Sarotti. For a brief, glorious period in my life, Down Home Foods carried Sarotti, and then they abruptly stopped. I would like to note, for the record, that the decision to stop stocking Sarotti coincided with my downhill slump into depression and bitterness in high school, and I suspect that these two things are in fact related. For the record, if a German reader sends me Sarotti, I will be their slave forever.
I am also very picky about candy. For one thing, I don’t like most American candy. I like Milky Way Midnights now and then, and sometimes a mini Crunch bar. Mounds is pretty good. But the rest of the line I can largely do without. I like inky black dark chocolate, rich and creamy Swiss and German chocolate, complex Italian candies. I blame my European upbringing for this, although Greek chocolate is actually awful, for the record, as it tends to be excruciatingly sweet. The American chocolates I do make are made by random regional producers and they can be frustratingly hard to find.
Candyfreak talks about the rise of the Big Three in American candy (Mars, Hershey, and Nestle). If you want to read more about the history of candy consolidation in America, incidentally, I highly recommend Emperors of Chocolate, which also talks about candy espionage and other exciting topics. Candyfreak also talks about the fall of small-time candy producers, who cannot afford to distribute their product and pay slotting fees, making it very difficult for them to compete with the major candy producers.
Every region of America has its own special candies that you can’t find everywhere else, and Almond toured some factories where these candies are made and wrote about the experience. One of the realizations he came to was that these candies really cannot be produced on the Hershey, Nestle, and Mars scale; their small batches and regional available are what make them great. But he does point out that American candy does not have to suck, and that major markets could open up and become more diverse, catering to Americans who like a little variety in their candy and showcasing regional specialties.
I have read this book many times before, so I can’t say that there was anything new and astounding in this read, but it did remind me that American candy has the potential to be awesome, and that candy is delicious. So now I’m going to go eat a German candy bar. (A Ritter Sport Dark Chocolate and Hazelnuts, to be precise.)
Candyfreak, by Steve Almond. Published 2004, 254 pages. Gastronomy.