Monday, October 19, 2009

Stick Up Yer Dukes, Jeffrey Steingarten; Winner Gets a Skybar

For some strange reason, the October issue of Vogue showed up in my mailbox the other day. This is quite a mystery, since I'm so not fashionable. In fact, I'm negative fashion. No doubt if I had a daughter she'd be mortified by some of my choices of dress, most often a sweatshirt and jeans. (As I'm writing this, I decided to check the mailing label. Aha! It would appear that this magazine belongs to No-Nuts. It all makes sense now.)
Well, I thought the arrival of the magazine was some sort of karmic message, because it turns out that this month's food article was called, "Dream Sweets" with the sub-head "With Halloween treats on his mind, Jeffrey Steingarten investigates America's enduring appetite for candy."
Let me begin by saying that I have a love begrudging appreciation/hate relationship with Jeffrey Steingarten. I met him once at a press conference and he was very rude and snide and pompous. (Unlike some of the other more well-known food writers at the table who were friendly and very nice.) However, I do have to say that I appreciate his research skills (although this could arguably be accredited to his assistant) and the information he includes in his articles.
(As an aside, let me comment about the art that goes with the article. There is a photograph of three little girls dressed as witches (quite creepy, actually), eating green Frankenstein cake, with the title "dream sweets" in a thin, sans serif font. What?? The title is much too crafty to be of any use. Obviously it's a play on "sweet dreams," but it just doesn't jive with the photograph. I never would've thought this was an article on candy; I would've assumed it was all about cake.) Anyhow.
So what did I learn from Mr. Steingarten's masterpiece this month?
He points out that the U.S. Census Bureau counts candy as well as people. Huh. I didn't know that. According to the article, the Census Bureau divides non-chocolate confections into six categories: hard candy, chewy candy, soft candy, iced or coated candy, panned candy and licorice. That in itself is an interesting fact and something I'll explore at a later date, when I have more time.
Next in the article he goes on to talk about some of New York's candy shops, beginning with Dylan's Candy Bar. He says, and I quote, "Dylans ... is the most perfect American candy store in existence, all three airy floors designed and decorated in the happiest possible manner, each clever colorful detail conveying the deepest candy love imaginable."
Oh, how I disagree.
Here's my take on it. Dylan's is the Disney World of candy stores. It's all glitz and glitter. It's larger than life. Everything is candy, candy, candy, from the stairs (embedded with gummies) to the music ("sweet" themed songs, like "Sugar, Sugar," played at full volume). It is an atrocity. You could almost imagine a giant talking candy bar welcoming visitors to the store with an enormous fake smile on its face. Or perhaps a snappy, scary old lady saying, "This is candy! You WILL have fun!"
His description of Economy Candy was more on-target. Here he says, "The shop is clean and happy, well organized (but neither modernized nor gentrified), and packed from floor to ceiling with candy."
He then goes on to ask, "Did you know that a cup of candy corn has fewer calories than a cup of raisins?"
No, I didn't. Very interesting, that.
And he continues. "Standing in Economy Candy, I was immersed in the sweets of my boyhood, a thousand madeleines each triggering a five-volume novel giving way to the involuntary memories released by the next candy bar. It was exhausting. There were Skybars; chocolate Ice Cubes; French Chew Taffy in chocolate, vanilla, strawberry, and banana; Adams Black Jack and Clove chewing gum ..." and so-on and so-forth. Yes, this is exactly what most people seemed to be experiencing when I was at Economy Candy. I stood by the door for a few minutes and listened to the comments from people as they walked in. "It smells so good!" "Remember these?" "I haven't seen these in years!" I watched as a little girl grabbed handfuls of Jelly Bellies while her mother was otherwise entranced by rock candy. I saw a little boy's eyes light up while his mother bought him a swirly lollipop. I listened in as a woman inquired about the different types of licorice behind the counter.
See, that's the thing about candy and the one thing Mr. Steingarten got right in this article: candy involuntarily triggers memories for all of us. That's what makes it so wonderful. You just don't have the same onslaught of nostalgia when you walk into a green grocer or a butcher. There's something particularly wonderful about candy and the way a single wrapper or a whiff of chocolate can bring you back in time to that day on the playground when you fell off the swing and hit your head; or the Christmas Eve you ate so many candy canes that you ended up with a serious tummy ache; or the time you were able to spell your name out from the letters in your vegetable soup and were given a Hershey bar as a prize. That's just the magic of candy.

1 comment:

CandyProfessor said...

I love your description of Dylans, there has always been something about that store that turned me off and you totally put your finger on it. Scruffy Economy Candy works for me, too!