One year when I was very young, my mother took me to see Santa Claus at Miller's department store in Knoxville. They had a candy cane factory set up in the middle of the sales floor! While we kids waited in line to see Santa, we could watch through the glass windows and see the candy being cooked, pulled, twisted, and wrapped. After we spoke to Santa, each child would get a fresh cane, still slightly warm. That's a memory I will always treasure. But where did the tradition of Christmas candy canes come from?
No one knows exactly how long candy has been a part of Christmas celebrations. Sugar has been used since antiquity as a preservative and a source of quick energy, which made it very useful in winter weather when fresh food was not available. Image by Flickr user Great Beyond.
During the Christmas of 1670, Cologne Cathedral in Germany was staging a living nativity. The choir director gave out white sugar sticks to children as a reward for good behavior. This is the earliest documented use of candy canes for Christmas. Some sources say the choir director had the canes bent to resemble a shepherd's crook before giving them out. The bent shape made the candy just right for hanging on a tree. The Christmas tree shown is from the early 1800s, decorated with candy and cookies.
German immigrant August Imgard of Wooster, Ohio was the first recorded American to decorate a Christmas tree in 1847. It was adorned with paper chains and cookies as well as candy canes, and people came from miles around to see it. He became famous for that pioneering tree.
Bob McCormack founded McCormack's Famous Candy Company of Albany, Georgia in 1919. Later the company became Bob's Candies, now a division of Farley & Sathers Candy Company. McCormack is credited as the first candymaker to add red stripes to candy canes. The company was also the first to use cellophane to wrap candy, making it last much longer on store shelves. McCormack's brother-in-law, Father Gregory Keller invented the Keller Machine in 1950. This machine automated the process of making uniform-sized candy sticks with much less breakage than the made-by-hand method. In 1958, the final stage of automation was added to candy cane manufacture when employees developed a machine that put the crook into the end of the cane, a job that was done by hand until then. Take a look at how candy canes are manufactured today.
This is a great setup if you need to make thousands of candy canes in batches weighing hundreds of pounds, but you can make your own candy canes. After you are finished with the candy making, you might want to try Emiril Lagasse's recipe.