The Origins of 15 Delightful Snacks

ThinkStock
ThinkStock

Knowing the origins of these tasty treats is pretty sweet.

1. S'MORES

It's a s'mystery who invented this chocolate-marshmallow-graham cracker treat. The first published recipe appears in the 1927 scouting handbook, and "s'more" made the cut to join the dictionary in 1974.

2. CANDY CORN

Love it or hate it, candy corn might be the most famous Halloween candy of all time. A Philadelphia confectioner introduced the sugary kernels in the 1880s, cooking the ingredients into a slurry and pouring the three individually colored sections into a mold by hand. No wonder it was a seasonal treat! Now machines do all the work, so you can find candy corn in various color combinations all year long.

3. SNOW CONES

Children discovered the crunchy-cold refreshment of snow cones when ice became commercially available in the 1850s and their moms added eggs, vanilla, and sugar to sweeten it. By the 1870s, theater patrons could order hand-shaved ice in a variety of flavors. The treat went mainstream when ice shavers took their melting blocks to the streets and messily served snow cones in newspapers. Various electric ice shavers were patented in the 1890s, making snow cone production quick and easy during the Great Depression, when the inexpensive dessert was called the Hard Times Sundae.

4. NEAPOLITAN ICE CREAM

Italian immigrants did us all a favor when they brought their delicious recipes to America. No surprise, Neapolitan ice cream is named after the city of Naples, though it was originally introduced as spumoni. Written references to the layered block of ice cream —a sweet homage to the Italian flag—first appeared in the 1870s. The flavors weren't always chocolate, strawberry, and vanilla, but those were so popular that they became the standard.

5. CUPCAKES

New York's boutique bakeries have fueled the cupcake craze that's gripped the nation since the late '90s. But the tiny, frosted cakes go further back, all the way to the 1796 American Cookery cookbook by one Amelia Simmons. She called her recipe "cake to be baked in small cups." The more succinct "cupcake" first appeared in an 1828 Receipts cookbook by Eliza Leslie.

6. CARAMEL APPLES

The sugar-coated candy apple is said to have originated in a Newark, New Jersey candy shop in 1908. But the softer, gooier caramel version is credited to a salesman in the 1950s. Of course, many people claim that the salesman didn't invent the treat himself. He just made it stick.

7. WHOPPIE PIE

A number of U.S. states have whooped and hollered over who gets credit for this soft cookie sandwich. According to Pennsylvania legend, an Amish woman made the first whoopie pies with leftover cake batter and icing and served them to her farmer husband and children, who all exclaimed, "Whoopie!" Residents of Maine tell the same story—except they credit the creation to an unnamed Bangor bakery owner. In Boston, some people claim a defunct local bakery invented the treat in 1931. Let's just all agree to eat whoopie pie.

8. COTTON CANDY

Spun sugar was a rare—and very labor-intensive—treat when it was first introduced in the 18th century. Cotton candy couldn't have been introduced to the masses at the 1904 World's Fair without the mechanical help of a dentist. That's right, Dr. William Morrison teamed up with confectioner John C. Wharton in 1897 to invent the first cotton candy machine. Then, in 1921, another dentist patented his own machine, along with the term "cotton candy." Did these dentists think cotton candy was better than other confections, because it's mostly air? Or did they anticipate that cavity-causing snacks would ultimately lead to more business? We'll never know for sure.

9. JAWBREAKERS

The word "jawbreaker" first appeared in a dictionary in 1839. By the 1850s, hundreds of companies produced the large round candy. The selling point wasn't necessarily layers of changing flavors, as in gobstoppers. Even single-flavored jawbreakers lasted longer than other candies—some took weeks to finish!

10. FRENCH TOAST

The French have called it pain perdu or "lost bread" since the 15th century, but French toast isn't necessarily from France. The earliest French toast recipe—albeit one that calls for soaking bread in milk, not eggs—dates back to a collection of Latin recipes from the fourth or fifth century. Germans in the 14th century called it Arme Ritter, or "poor knights." Austrians use the term Pavese. Whatever you or your ancestors want to call French toast, we recommend topping it with some fresh fruit.

11. MACARONS

The meringue-based macaron has come to epitomize French charm, but there's talk that it might not be French either. Some sources that macarons were created in 791 in a convent near the commune of Cormery. Others speculate that the first macarons were whipped up by the Italian pastry chefs who served Henry II of France after he married Catherine de' Medici.

12. MACAROONS

Yes, it looks like the word "macaron," due to the same Italian word origin maccarone, meaning "paste." But this meringue-like cookie is a treat all its own, and it also has a connection to Catherine de' Medici. The first macaroon, baked in a ninth century Italian monastery, was a small almond cake similar to amaretti. The monks later went to France with the same Italian pastry chefs who may have invented the macaron. The first macaroon recipe was printed in 1725.

13. JELLY BEANS

Long before incredibly precise modern flavors debuted, Boston confectioner William Schrafft sold jelly beans and encouraged customers to send them to soldiers fighting in the Civil War. But jelly beans weren't mentioned in print until 1905. By 1920, the slang term "jellybean" referred to dandies who attracted the ladies by dressing well and offering little else. Of course, you couldn't have the jelly bean without its confectionery predecessor, the Middle Eastern Turkish Delight. It's said to have originated in Istanbul in 1776.

14. ICE CREAM SANDWICH

Before ice cream trucks drove through Manhattan streets, there was the hokey-pokey vendor, a peddler selling single slabs of ice cream. In 1899, one vendor sandwiched the ice cream between two water wafers to make it easier to eat and carry. Soon chocolate wafers on either side of vanilla ice cream became the norm.

15. SALT WATER TAFFY

Atlantic City's most famous treat wasn't just an accident, it was a disaster. When a candy store flooded after a storm in 1883, its entire stock of taffy was ruined ... or so the owner thought. A little girl bought the "saltwater taffy" anyway and loved the sweet and salty combination. Adults and children alike started requesting it, and eventually the taffy became a boardwalk staple. In 1923, a businessman trademarked "salt water taffy" and tried to sue other candy companies using the term. The Supreme Court ruled against him.

The Reason White Castle Slider Burgers Have Five Holes

White Castle
White Castle

While it’s not often mentioned in conversations about the best fast food burger on the menu alongside staples like Shake Shack or In-N-Out, the White Castle slider burger still holds a special place in the stomachs of those who enjoy their bite-sized convenience. In 2014, TIME even named the slider the most influential burger of all time, with its debut in 1921 helping begin our nation’s obsession with fast-service burgers.

Peel the bun off a White Castle burger and you’ll find the square meat patty has exactly five holes. Why? Thrillist writer Wil Fulton went looking for an answer to this gastronomic mystery. It turns out that the holes serve a very functional purpose.

In 1954, a Cincinnati-based White Castle employee named Earl Howell stuffed his location’s suggestion box with a note that said the patties might cook more quickly if they were pierced. The reason? The franchise steams its burgers on the grill, and the holes allow the steam to better penetrate the stacks of patties (usually 30 burgers tall) that are piled on the grill at one time. No one has to flip the burgers, and they wind up coming out of the kitchen faster. The steam also picks up the flavor of the onion acting as a bottom layer, allowing it to spread through the stack.

Howell’s idea soon spread from Ohio to White Castle restaurants nationwide. The company facilitates the creation of the holes by puncturing a “meat log” and then slicing it and sending the patties to locations.

If you enjoy their distinctive flavor, the holes have a lot to do with it. Enjoy.

[h/t Thrillist]

Why Do We Eat Candy on Halloween?

Jupiterimages/iStock via Getty Images
Jupiterimages/iStock via Getty Images

On October 31, hordes of children armed with Jack-o'-lantern-shaped buckets and pillow cases will take to the streets in search of sugar. Trick-or-treating for candy is synonymous with Halloween, but the tradition had to go through a centuries-long evolution to arrive at the place it is today. So how did the holiday become an opportunity for kids to get free sweets? You can blame pagans, Catholics, and candy companies.

Historians agree that a Celtic autumn festival called Samhain was the precursor to modern Halloween. Samhain was a time to celebrate the last harvest of the year and the approach of the winter season. It was also a festival for honoring the dead. One way Celtics may have appeased the spirits they believed still walked the Earth was by leaving treats on their doorsteps.

When Catholics infiltrated Ireland in the 1st century CE, they rebranded many pagan holidays to fit their religion. November 1 became the “feasts of All Saints and All Souls," and the day before it was dubbed "All-Hallows'-Eve." The new holidays looked a lot different from the original Celtic festival, but many traditions stuck around, including the practice of honoring the dead with food. The food of choice for Christians became "soul cakes," small pastries usually baked with expensive ingredients and spices like currants and saffron.

Instead of leaving them outside for passing ghosts, soul cakes were distributed to beggars who went door-to-door promising to pray for souls of the deceased in exchange for something to eat. Sometimes they wore costumes to honor the saints—something pagans originally did to avoid being harassed by evil spirits. The ritual, known as souling, is believed to have planted the seeds for modern-day trick-or-treating.

Souling didn't survive the holiday's migration from Europe to the United States. In America, the first Halloween celebrations were a way to mark the end-of-year harvest season, and the food that was served mainly consisted of homemade seasonal treats like caramel apples and mixed nuts. There were no soul cakes—or candies, for that matter—to be found.

It wasn't until the 1950s that trick-or-treating gained popularity in the U.S. Following the Great Depression and World War II, the suburbs were booming, and people were looking for excuses to have fun and get to know their neighbors. The old practice of souling was resurrected and made into an excuse for kids to dress up in costumes and roam their neighborhoods. Common trick-or-treat offerings included nuts, coins, and homemade baked goods ("treats" that most kids would turn their noses up at today).

That changed when the candy companies got their hands on the holiday. They had already convinced consumers that they needed candy on Christmas and Easter, and they were looking for an equally lucrative opportunity to market candy in the fall. The new practice of trick-or-treating was almost too good to be true. Manufacturers downsized candies into smaller, bite-sized packages and began marketing them as treats for Halloween. Adults were grateful to have a convenient alternative to baking, kids loved the sweet treats, and the candy companies made billions.

Today, it's hard to imagine Halloween without Skittles, chocolate bars, and the perennial candy corn debates. But when you're digging through a bag or bowl of Halloween candy this October, remember that you could have been having eating soul cakes instead.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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