A Short and Sweet History of the Whitman's Sampler

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From 1942 to 1945, the factory workers of the Whitman candy empire in Philadelphia helped ship well over 6 million pounds of free chocolate to soldiers stationed overseas. Tucked inside their Whitman’s Sampler boxes—a rectangular package of assorted chocolate treats—were handwritten notes of support from the women working the factory’s conveyor belts.

To get a stash of candy was one thing, but to know someone back home was wishing you well was another. When the soldiers returned home and caught sight of the familiar cross-stitched packaging, a sale was almost guaranteed.

Patriotism was just one of the ways the Whitman’s Sampler became virtually as iconic a candy presence as the Hershey bar. From its debut in 1912, the Sampler has been the leading candy gift item, taking up residence on tables during the holidays, on Valentine’s Day, and on virtually any occasion that could use a stash of coconut or cherries dripping in chocolate. And thanks to some very deliberate marketing, that’s no accident.

Whitman’s was the brainchild of Stephen F. Whitman, a Quaker who opened a confectionary store in Philadelphia in 1842 [PDF]. Sensing demand by sailors for candies that stood up to the expensive European treats they were accustomed to, Whitman introduced a line of gourmet chocolates. Through changes in leadership—to his son, Horace, and eventually to president Walter Sharp in the early 1900s—Whitman’s soon arrived on the Sampler, which was packaged using a design inspired by a cross-stitching sampler that hung in Sharp’s house. (In needlework, samplers are made to show off a stitcher's skills.)

Whether consumers were amused by the double meaning or not, Whitman’s Sampler quickly became the company’s signature product. The boxes were wrapped in cellophane, a means of keeping the treats fresh that also made for a distinctive store presence. (For years, Whitman’s was the largest user of cellophane in America.) In 1945, the company developed a “French edge,” extending the lines of the cover and bottom outside the lines of the box.

Thanks to its unique packaging and wartime support, Whitman’s was ubiquitous in stores. But the company didn’t stop there. Beginning in the 1950s, they struck deals with popular film stars of the era to endorse the candy in ads for The Saturday Evening Post.

A Whitman's Sampler magazine advertisement
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Actors like Jimmy Stewart, John Wayne, and Elizabeth Taylor were depicted with Whitman’s Samplers in hand. In exchange, the spots would plug whatever current movie the star wanted to promote. It was an ideal arrangement, and one that further embroidered Whitman’s into the American consciousness. In the ads, Whitman’s would play up the idea of gifting someone with the chocolates as a romantic gesture. “A Woman Never Forgets the Man Who Remembers,” read one slogan.

Whitman’s enthusiasts may have been enticed by the ads, but it was the product that impressed them. Unlike many boxed chocolates of the era, the company printed an index on the underside of the lid so people wouldn’t have to stick their fingers into the candy, or take a bite, to determine what was inside.

While it comes in a variety of sizes and assortments, today the Sampler is largely unchanged from its 20th century roots. The company, now owned by Russell-Stover, has reported that roughly a billion boxes have been sold since 1912. It also seems more than deserving of its romantic reputation: Those wartime messages to troops resulted in many long-term friendships and more than a few marriages.

3 Delicious Mac and Cheese Dishes You Need to Try

A mac and cheese burger
A mac and cheese burger
Mental Floss Video

Is there a more comforting comfort food than macaroni and cheese? If you love mac and cheese—and wish you could include it in every meal—these recipes are for you. Chef Frank Proto, Director of Culinary Operations at the Institute of Culinary Education, has cooked up three creative recipes that use macaroni and cheese as their main ingredient. For a cheesier cookout, try Chef Frank’s fried mac and cheese burger buns; for more upscale dinners, try the mac and cheese stuffed peppers; and for a perfect party appetizer, we recommend the bacon-wrapped mac and cheese. These recipes transform the classic comfort food in surprising ways—and they’re perfect for revitalizing leftover mac and cheese.

Chef Frank's Classic Mac & Cheese Recipe

Ingredients:

1 Box Elbow Pasta
4 ounces (8 tablespoons) butter
3-4 tablespoons flour
4-5 cups milk
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 pound American cheese
1 pound cheddar cheese, shredded
Salt and black pepper, to taste

Instructions:

  1. Cook elbow pasta to desired doneness.
  2. Heat butter in a sauce pot over medium heat.  Add the flour until you get a wet sand consistency. 
  3. Cook over low for 3-4 minutes stirring frequently. 
  4. Add the milk and the garlic and let come to a simmer. 
  5. Lower the heart and let cook for 15-20 minutes.
  6. Add the both cheeses and whisk until combined.
  7. Add the cooked pasta and coat well. 

Mac & Cheese Burger Buns Recipe

Ingredients:

Macaroni and Cheese
2 Eggs
1 Cup Flour
1 Cup Bread Crumbs
Burger Patty
Lettuce
Tomatoes
Condiments (ketchup or mustard)
Vegetable Oil

Instructions:

  1. Refrigerate mac & cheese for two hours.
  2. Use a ramekin or a cup to cut out burger bun shape.
  3. Add flour, egg (beaten), and breadcrumbs to separate bowls.
  4. Dip mac and cheese buns in flour, egg, and breadcrumbs consecutively, covering on both sides.
  5. Turn stove on medium high heat and add oil to pan.
  6. Fry mac and cheese buns until golden brown on both sides (about 30 seconds to a minute).
  7. In a separate pan on medium high heat, grill burger patty until it reaches desired doneness.
  8. Build your burger: Add burger patty, lettuce, tomatoes, and your favorite condiments to your mac and cheese burger patties, then dig in!

Bacon-Wrapped Mac and Cheese Recipe

Bacon wrapped macaroni and cheese.

Ingredients:

Macaroni and Cheese
Bacon
Bread Crumbs

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350.
  2. In a pan with oil, cook bacon until cooked through but not yet crisp.
  3. Grab a muffin or cupcake tin. Line tin with bacon, using one piece per cup.
  4. Pour mac & cheese into tin.
  5. Sprinkle breadcrumbs on top.
  6. Bake bacon-wrapped mac & cheese in oven for 10-15 minutes or until bacon is crispy.
  7. Let bacon-wrapped mac & cheese cool before removing from tin.
  8. Carefully remove each piece of bacon-wrapped mac & cheese from tin, using a knife to separate any stuck edges.

Mac and Cheese Stuffed Peppers Recipe

Macaroni and cheese stuffed peppers.

Ingredients:

Macaroni and Cheese
Cooked chorizo
3 Bell Peppers
Bread Crumbs
Shredded cheddar cheese

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350.
  2. Add cooked chorizo to macaroni and cheese, stirring in with sauce.
  3. Cut tops off of bell peppers and remove seeds.
  4. If bell peppers cannot stand upright on their own, slice bottom to level.
  5. Pour macaroni and cheese into bell peppers.
  6. Top with bread crumbs and shredded cheese.
  7. Place on baking sheet and bake in oven for 10-15 minutes until peppers are soft.
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Cheese Made from Celebrities' Microbes Is On View at London’s Victoria & Albert Museum

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iStock/bhofack2

London's Victoria & Albert Museum is home to such artifacts as ancient Chinese ceramics, notebooks belonging to Leonardo da Vinci, and Alexander McQueen's evening dresses—all objects you might expect to see in a world-famous museum. However, the cultural significance of the selection of cheeses now on display at the museum is less obvious. The edible items, part of a new exhibition called FOOD: Bigger than the Plate, were cultured from human bacteria swabbed from celebrities.

Though most diners may prefer not to think about it, bacteria is an essential ingredient in many popular foods. Beer, bread, chocolate, and cheese all depend on microbes for their signature flavors. Scientists took this ick factor one step further by sourcing bacteria from the human body to make cheese for the new exhibit.

Smell researcher Sissel Tolaas and biologist/artist Christina Agapakis first conceived their human bacteria cheese project, titled Selfmade, in 2013. When a chef and team of scientists recreated it for the Victoria & Albert Museum, they found famous figures to donate their germs. Blur bassist Alex James, chef Heston Blumenthal, rapper Professor Green, Madness frontman Suggs, and The Great British Baking Show contestant Ruby Tandoh all signed up for the project.

A display of the human-microbe cheese at Victoria & Albert museum
The Victoria & Albert Museum

Once the celebrities' noses, armpits, and belly buttons were swabbed, their microbiome samples were used to separate milk into curds and whey. The curds were then pressed into a variety of cheeses: James's swab was used to make Cheshire cheese; Blumenthal's, comté; Professor Green's, mozzarella; Suggs's, cheddar; Tandoh's, stilton.

The cheeses are being sequenced in the lab to determine if they're safe for human consumption. But even if they don't contain any harmful bacteria, they won't be served on anyone's cheese plates. Instead. they're being kept in a refrigerated display at the Victoria & Albert Museum.

Museum-goers can catch the cheeses and the rest of the items spotlighted in FOOD: Bigger Than the Plate from now through October 20, 2019.

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