Now and Then ...
Article Author: By Ben Harris McClary
“Ah, Candy. . .”
As I have previously noted in this column, the two topics that seem to excite my readers are “olden-times” candy and tomatoes. At this point I have nothing to write about tomatoes, but my candy references a few weeks back did stir some comments from readers. For PCHS and elementary students and anyone who lived on the School House Hill in Benton in the 1930s and early 40s, their candy source was apt to be the J. N. Johnson Bargain Store—the building still stands as a monument to what it once was, a typical small country store with a generous assortment of aging “dry goods,” canned food, and a big candy counter. Potatoes and onions were the freshest food on sale, and fat back sliced off with a butcher knife was the only meat. He also sold much coal oil, useful for starting fires to keep warm in cold weather and for cooking purposes all year long. The bulk of the year’s profit came during the school months when—in those days before school lunchrooms—many students snacked from Mr. Johnson’s offerings, mainly sweets.
Mr. Johnson was—no doubt—a good man, but he was by trade a merchant in the business to make his livelihood. Expiration dates and changing fashions did not exist in his world, and so his merchandise--food, clothing, whatever—unless it was sold aged among his stock to a state to ultimate decay. His candy selection, however, after the summer’s debris had been bought out by hapless or over-eager youngsters during the first few days of school in September, could be expected to be in good shape for the remainder of the academic year since there was such a steady turnover of that merchandise. But, then, when the crowd of buyers disappeared in May and a few hot summer days worked their mischief, the candy situation went into a decline, a fact Mr. Johnson never chose to admit as he sold melted, wormy candy to anyone willing to buy.
Determined to have some candy from the only source easily available to me, I admit that in my lust for the stuff I was repeatedly one of those willing-to-buy patrons! Time after time I put down a nickel for a candy bar only to be grossly disappointed by the melted glob stuck inside the wrapper or—worse still—by encountering worms. The “melted glob” I had to be content with, but after some discussion Mr. Johnson would usually be moved by the worms to refund my money or offer a replacement. The hot weather deterioration of chocolate candy in those days before modern cooling was a fact of life as anyone who ever purchased a summer or early fall Whitman’s Sampler at the Benton Drug Store knows only too well!
Today most of the popular chocolate bars of the 1930s remain true to their original recipes, the only changes being in their size and price. Originally a nice eating size at five cents, the bars have been steadily enlarged in both bulk and cost until nowadays I feel that buying a candy bar is a major investment in both calories and money.
Sadly, I muse, my absolute favorite from the 1930s has undergone a transformation making it unrecognizable in its current form. My reference is to a 3 Musketeers. Appearing in 1932 and taking its name from a popular movie dramatization of Alexander Dumas’s classic novel, 3 Musketeers candy bars were packaged as three (hence the name) mini bars, one each of vanilla, strawberry, and chocolate nougat. This rather luxurious presentation lasted until 1942 when World War II forced the Mars Company to simply its product into a single bar of chocolate nougat, which it remains today. Within the last decade the Mars Company has issued several special limited seasonal offerings of other flavored nougats in a single bar format, but they do not appear to have created the hoped-for interest among the candy-eating public. The original 3 Musketeers remains a pleasant memory from the past, not soon to be revisited.
Polk County News | P.O.
Box 129 | 3 Main Street | Benton TN 37307
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