all the candy we ate as kids

caramel corn

At Halloween, I always fumed when I reached the bottom of my bag and found Smarties. Ugh. Little discs of sugar in a twist-on cellophane wrapper. At least SweeTarts had a bit of tartness, but they didn’t have much pucker. Nothing but sugar. Does it make any sense to me, therefore, that I loved Pixy Stix? Paper straws filled with soft sugar in different colors and artificial flavors. Remember how the pile of falling sugar burned a hole in your tongue eventually? And the annoyance of not being able to retrieve even more because your mouth had wetted the opening of the straw, making it so damp that the sugar clumped just beyond your reach?

Maybe that’s why I liked Pixy Stix. They were playing hard to get.

I never understood the point of wax lips or the little coke bottles filled with viscous liquid. They both tasted like brittle Silly Putty, with a smudge of sweetness along the edges. Eating wax lips was like collecting the drips of a pillar candle at the end of one of my parents’ parties and holding it over a flame to melt them into a ball, and then dipping it in sugar. No thanks.

But Pop Rocks? Oh yeah. Like a science experiment in my mouth.

Dots stuck to my teeth, with a far more muted taste than Jujyfruits. Red Hots made me open my mouth to air it out like a dog eating peanut butter. Boston Baked Beans were entirely useless, as far as I could see. And Sugar Daddies just frustrated the hell out of me, either because they shattered under my teeth, if they had been stored in a cool place, or they stretched out as long as my arm and still wouldn’t let me take a bite.

Willy Wonka Bottle Caps? I could eat those little coca-cola discs all day.

I never once was able to eat a Candy Button without a thin tail of the paper stuck to it. Mike and Ike’s tasted like Hi-C, to me, which was a good thing, believe it or not. My mother used to buy packages of Whoppers the size of milk cartons. I loved turning them over and rattling them out, listening to the sound to gauge how many were left.

Fireballs were horrible. Astro Pops helped me through many a long car trip. Necco Wafers tasted like dust compressed and sweated with chalk.

The Chef loved Kit-Kats and Twix, both of which he ate by nibbling along the top layers of chocolate and caramel like he was playing the harmonica, leaving the cookie part, which he crunched up at the end. He often chose Whatchamacallits. And he loved Bubble Yum gum.

(So did I. From the age of 7 until I was about 15, I always had a giant pliable mass of Bubble Yum, sometimes Watermelon, sometimes plain, going in my mouth. I like to think of the two of us blowing bubbles simultaneously, two years apart and several states away from each other.)

Milk Duds made movie popcorn more exciting. Reese’s peanut butter cups were the king of candy, the triumphant grab of Halloween night. And no matter how many times I ate them, I never, ever grew tired of Abba Zabba bars.

Until I was an adult, and my parents sent a box of them to me and Sharon for one of our fall weekend trips to Vermont, as a gift. We eagerly wrapped the black and yellow ziz-zag packages and bit in. The nougat was too sweet, the peanut butter paste was stuck in clumps to our tongue, and we wanted to gag after three bites. We didn’t have the heart to tell my parents that we threw them all away on the second day.

I couldn’t eat most of these candies now, even if some of them are gluten-free. Some of them don’t exist anymore. The others I wouldn’t touch. (Okay, I’d still eat a Reese’s peanut butter cup, but that’s about it.) My tastes have changed so much since I was a kid.

I wonder what Little Bean will eat with delight that later she will find horrifying?

caramel corn II

Caramel Corn Baked in the Oven, adapted from 1,000 Gluten-Free Recipes

There is one treat I will always eat this time of the year, when the sun stretches out longer into the evening, and the grass is starting to be splendidly green, and the first pitchers and catchers have stepped onto the field.

Cracker Jacks are gluten-free.

However, it’s even more fun to make your own caramel corn, sweet and crunchy at the same time, and far easier than you think. (And this has no trans fats or weird preservatives.) I like dark corn syrup here, rather than the light corn syrup the original recipe called for, because I like a more nuanced sweetness. And I start the caramel corn at a low heat, to bake it slowly, and then raise the heat to give the treat more crunch.

All I need is a baseball game (the Kid is back in Seattle!) and a long afternoon with the Chef and the Bean to make another tray of this. Or maybe just tomorrow.

5 cups popped corn
6 tablespoons butter or non-dairy substitute
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup dark corn syrup
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon baking soda

Preparing to bake. Preheat the oven to 200°. Place all the popcorn in a bowl big enough that you can stir and shake and still not have it spill over the sides. Put a silpat down on a sheet tray.

Heating the ingredients. Put the butter, brown sugar, corn syrup, and salt in a medium saucepan. Set it on medium heat. Bring to a boil and reduce the heat to low. Cook the mixture, stirring occasionally, about 3 minutes, or until the caramel sauce has reduced and thickened a bit. Remove the pan from heat and pour in the vanilla, cinnamon, and baking soda. The caramel sauce will foam, so don’t let it foam over the sides of the saucepan.

Baking the popcorn.
Pour the caramel sauce over the popcorn and stir it immediately, and evenly. When all the kernels are darkened and sticky, spread the popcorn out on the prepared sheet tray. Bake for 15 minutes, and then stir the popcorn. Repeat this twice more, for a total of 45 minutes of baking.

At this point, there will probably be so much liquid that you won’t believe I have written this recipe correctly. Ah, but here is where you turn up the heat. Change the temperature to 375°. Watch the popcorn carefully, to make sure it does not burn. Stir it occasionally. After about 15 minutes, the liquid should have tightened into the kernels of the popcorn, which will be crunchier than before. Bake until the popcorn has reached the texture you desire.

Remove the sheet tray from the oven. Spread the caramel corn over a piece of parchment paper and allow it to cool. Try not to eat it all the first day.

Makes 5 cups of caramel corn.

26 comments on “all the candy we ate as kids

  1. Tori

    Oh Pop Rocks. I was always a little afraid of Pop Rocks.

    Recently, a friend who is also a rep for a natural food company brought over some Chuao chocolate bars. I looked through the pile seeing the Chocolate pods flavored like banana and passion fruit and the Spicy Mayan bar hot with chilies but then I saw The Firecracker.

    A 60% dark chocolate with chipotle chili, salt and popping candy. If you place it on your tongue and let the piece melt you’ll experience something wonderful. First is the taste of chocolate; slightly sweet, then the slight burn of the chipotle along with the smoky taste that comes with it and then the salt. When the chocolate is nearly gone the popping candies start to explode bringing the entire experience to a close.

    It is not a chocolate bar you just bite into it’s certainly something to be savored.

  2. Julialuli

    I used to go to the dime store…oh, my, that makes me sound old…really, nothing was a dime in my time:)…and get this UFO looking sucker that we called Lollies. They were yellow on the top and pink on the bottom, or blue and pink, etc, and at the time, thought they tasted like a big Smartie. I loved them. A couple of years ago, I scored some at a retro candy store and was so excited to share them with my kids. They hated them…and so did I! And we don’t like Smarties, either! But, big Chewy Sweet Tarts and Laffy Taffy still make me feel like a kid and bring back memories of walking to the store after elementary school!

  3. Kelly Greenfield

    Hi Shauna. My name is Kelly Greenfield, I am 46 and was diagnosed with celiac disease a year and a half ago. My 17 year old daughter was diagnosed with it as well. I believe that my 24 year old son has it too. I struggled at first with cooking and baking (something I always loved to do, and I would give baked goods as Christmas gifts). This year I decided to take matters into my own hands and started searching out recipes, especially for my daughter who feels like she can’t have anything. Don’t know if you have teenagers yet, but they love pizza and Chik-fil-a. Anyway, some of the recipes I’ve used have come from your writings, some are a combination of recipes, and I just wanted to tell you how blessed we have been because of your writings on your blog. I recently started a blog (in December) and I have put a link to your blog on my page. Thank you and keep the posts and the recipes coming. Kelly

  4. Janel

    I know we’re close in age just by reading the candies you mentioned. Man, they brought back a lot of sweet, childhood memories!

    My older daughter already shows signs of her European heritage by loving hagelslag, a sugary Dutch concoction that they eat with butter on bread. I think they look and taste like sprinkles for cakes!

    There is an aniseed version that is served on dry crackers with butter in pink or blue whenever a baby is born. I have the funniest photos of my parents who tried it when our first was born, their faces screwed up in disgust. They passed on them when our second was born 😉

  5. bleu

    I am not a cracker jacks fan, but I adore sceaming yellow zonkers and sadly, so sadly they seem to have stopped making it a few years ago. If ever you can copy that taste I will be indebted forever.

  6. beyond

    oh my. my husband would marry me all over again if i made him this.
    (but my oven is so fickle that i’m afraid my efforts would go up in smoke. i have to think about this first)

  7. Mindy

    has anyone ever tried making caramel corn without corn syrup? do you think maybe brown rice syrup would work instead?

  8. Miss Wahoo

    Zots were my absolute favorite. I’d forgotten about Bottle Caps, but I can remember exactly how they tasted! And when we went to the movies, the only candy I’d consider buying were Junior Mints.

    And the caramel corn looks wonderful, especially now. Ever since we heard the happy news that Griffey was returing to us, I’ve had a pleasant, vague feeling that something wonderful has happened.


  9. Allison the Meep

    Ohhhh caramel corn!! Much to my delight, you keep bringing up these foods that I would never think to make myself. I don’t know why, I just never eat that kind of stuff. But once in a while, a treat like that is so nice – and SO much better when it’s home made.

    When I was 18, I had perfect teeth and was so proud of them. Until my first love broke my heart, and I went on a Pixy Stix bender. I gave myself a cavity from eating too many Pixy Stix – and now I won’t touch them because of the bad memories I associate with those little sugary sticks.

  10. Debbie

    You brought back such memories Shauna. I gravitated more towards anything with chocolate in my youth. I loved Mounds and Almond joy and O’Henry bars….anything with coconut and chocolate or chocolate and nuts, yum!

    For real candy lovers out there you should read “Candy Freak” by Steve Almond. A whole book devoted to his love of candy from his childhood. He is quite amusing as well.

  11. Alisa - Frugal Foodie

    Thanks for the candy memories. I definitely loved those Willy Wonka Bottle Caps, but these days I am a Runts lover 🙂

    That caramel corn looks great!

  12. jacobithegreat

    Fabulous- I can’t wait to try it!

    I remember fun dip- I tried it recently and it was soso sweet! I guess my taste buds have grown up a little.

  13. Sho

    I just love Baby Ruth and Oh Henry bars, and they are both gluten free! I used to make something with Rice Krispies, peanut butter, melted chocolate and corn syrup. I would cut it into squares. I could probably make it again with GF crisped rice.

    Speaking of candy that is not around anymore, I seem to remember Sugar Mamas. It was something like the Sugar Daddys but softer and with chocolate outside. I remember the Tootsie Roll Factory toy that made whistles out of Tootsie Rolls.

    Sometimes for a trip down memory lane, we go to the Cracker Barrel restaurant general store. They have all the old fashioned candy.

    Now that I am 47, my excuse for eating dark chocolate is that it is now considered health food.

    I love this post!!!!!!!!!!!

    Take care,


  14. Ricki

    Great recipe–it is so much better to make one’s own candy, I think! And I’m sorry to tell you, but I think you wouldn’t like Reese’s PB cups any more, either. . .I tried them again recently, and the filling was too sweet, the chocolate cup tasted waxy and fake. . .seem to be the fate of all mass-produced candy these days!

  15. Cathi

    I loved the smell of caramel corn in the candy shop when I was a kid, but somehow it would never taste as good as it smells.

    This caramel corn looks wonderful and I think I will give it a go today while watching some movies and the Oscars.

    I can’t say it enough – I love your blog and can’t wait for your book to come out!

  16. Tori

    @mindy You should be able to use Lyle’s Golden Syrup. It comes in a can and is available at Whole Foods. It’s a British product and can be used in the same quantities as corn syrup without issue.

  17. La Niña

    I tried to buy my stepsons root beer barrels and they wouldn’t touch them. Starburst, yes. That still has the sweet and sour pucker to it.

    Growing up in Queens, there was a candy store around the corner, and you truly could get a full bag of penny candy for about a quarter. Many things were a couple of cents each. (and I’m 47…)

    Now, being a gluten-free home, hubby Booth’s big disappointment is “no more red vines.” He really misses licorice.

    But Jelly Belly’s rule.

  18. kerrie

    My mouth is watering just thinking of this! My boyfriend and I are going to the cottage in a couple weekends and we usually take along a cannister of Poppycocks. I think it’ll be more fun to make this instead!

  19. MARIE

    I am so shocked and pleased to find someone who has shockingly similar candy preferences to my own. When I was I kid, and had my paltry allowance money in pocket, I'd walk the 3/4 mile on up to the candy & convenience store. Eschewing chocolate, I opted for Lemonheads – really loved them. Also another candy that was sour, came in various flavors like apple and watermelon. It was in a cellophane wrapper, about an inch by 6 inches, and flat. Always sour. I think the name started with an "R". Used to suck on these down at the Flemington, NJ Roller Rink.

    Now I live in Paris, and feel bad that I've lost my sweet tooth – here it is a patisserie paradise


  20. Angela

    Good and Plenty! That was and still is my favorite candy. Does anyone remember the TV advert with the little cartoon character with a train engineer hat, saying “Choo-choo” or was it Good n plenty repeated as he shook the box? Yum. At 53, I still get the craving for them but next to those its, candy corn – the original orange-yellow-and white and then later on in life gummy bears. Oh, and those valentine neccos during valentine celebrations? Remember those…they still sell those. Anyway, nostalgia is wonderful…Angela

  21. Janessa Goodfellow

    I’m sorry because I keep commenting accidentally using my husbands ID. Here’s my message again using my ID 🙂
    I was very excited to find this recipe! I absolutely love popcorn snacks, and this one looks exquisite in your photo 🙂 I live in an asian country where I can’t always find the same gf ingredients as in North America so I really like how you used simple, easy to find ingredients. I can’t wait to try it out!

  22. GFE--gluten free easily

    Other candy I thought of was candy cigarettes, French Burnt Peanuts, Circus Peanuts, Junior Mints, Nonpareils … I am sure I could come up with more if I thought a bit. Like you said, now almost all “mainstream” candy is too sweet or too fake to me. Have you seen the size of a Cracker Jack box lately? Tiny! A cost-saving move for sure, but probably a good thing for those of us who indulge occasionally. LOL BTW, my husband has the same faves as the Chef. Anyway, this recipe looks wonderful. I love that you can make it in the oven!


  23. Anonymous

    Instead of corn syrup we always used molasses, gave it the right flavor and color. I don’t know if that is a new england thing or not but it tastes great. I hope the poster who asked about corn syrup sees this. Thanks Shauna–great post.

  24. Michelle

    Made it….ate it ALL. Loved it! Not bad for a first attempt at making caramel corn…think that I need to bake just a bit longer at 375 for that extra crunch…but I was to nervous to have to burn because I would have been devastated 🙁

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