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Local entrepreneur teaches community about Civil War candy

By Staff | Dec 24, 2010

(Chronicle photo by Jennifer Wabnitz) Sydney Butler, 10, turns up her nose as she samples a throat lozenger, but brother Ethan Butler, 5, and Sarah Wabnitz, 10, enjoy their Civil War candy samples. Susan Benjamin combines civil war history lessons with candy sales in a most delightful way.

Cheryl Gallery, owner of Grapes and Grains, hosts a wine tasting every Saturday at her wine store at 110 W. German St. But, this past Saturday, not only wine was shared.

Susan Benjamin, a local entrepreneur, was on hand to teach guests about Civil War era candy.

“Our area is so rich in history. I wanted to have a company that shared one more aspect,” Benjamin said.

Several years ago Benjamin started researching candy from the Civil War. She researched recipes and ingredients.

“Most candy started as a form of medicine, like peppermints, for sore throats,” she said.

Benjamin was also pleased to find that several of the original candy suppliers are still in business making the same candy.

The candies were bundled together in glass jars with a brief history lesson attached. An assortment of treasures can be found, vanilla sticks, crystallized ginger, peppermints, rock candy and more.

The rock candy comes in little bags, not like the modern rock candy on a stick because the lollipop stick did not arrive until the 1900s. Even the little bags have an old fashioned feeling. They are secured with baling twine.

Benjamin recounts historical events that influenced the production and availability of candy.

Slaves were used to produce cane sugar. In order to boycott slavery, companies from the north chose not to use cane sugar. That gave their candy a different flavor.

“Another influence on flavor were the vegetables that they used as dyes. Beet juice for red would certainly add flavor,” Benjamin said.

The elegance of the Victorian era influenced candy making. Benjamin has secured some original molds of toy trains, teddy bears and other toys of the day. A vanilla-flavored hard candy is poured into the mold and congeals.

“They have an exquisite appearance and delicious flavor which make them best sellers,” she said.

Another history lesson is about Gibralters Peppermints. The Spencer family was shipwrecked off the coast of Massachusetts in the early 1800s. They lost everything. Their new Salem neighbors offered them some assistance. They found out that Mrs. Spencer knew how to make candy, so they gave her a barrel of sugar. She made Salem Gibralters, which became popular.

Her son took over the business and decided to sell them in England, also. A man named Mr. Pepper bought the company and continue to make the candy, becoming America’s oldest candy company, 1806 Ye Olde Pepper Companie Ltd.

Benjamin is available to do her history lessons for large or small groups, 304-876-8488 or www.coolconfectionaries.com.

For Shepherdstown Chronicle readers, Benjamin will prepare a special package of treats, just mention this article.

Her candy is available at Grapes and Grains or O’Hurleys General Store, 205 E. Washington St. in Shepherdstown.