A couple of years ago in this space I lamented about the loss of a childhood favorite candy: Brach’s French Burnt Peanuts. That blog post has gone on to make me an internet phenom. Well, not really, but it has been my most widely read musing to date.
Which made me wonder – is there another candy I am as passionate about that could justify taking up just a bit more of your time? The answer is yes; Goldenberg’s Peanut Chews.
My father grew up in Philadelphia and every year or two we would travel there to visit his family. In those visits I was introduced to foods that are uniquely Philadelphia. Dad’s favorites were TastyKakes, particularly the chocolate cupcakes and the butterscotch krimpets. In the complete opposite direction, I also picked up a taste for scrapple, a breakfast meat product (its name says it all) which my father detested.
For some reason I do not remember from those early visits that one of his favorite candies was Goldenberg’s Peanut Chews. Perhaps they did not match well with my childish tastes in candy, or perhaps this was just another detail of Dad’s early life that I had not paid attention to. He could not possibly have just hidden them from me. Fathers never do that. Do they?
But years later, after he lamented that he wished he could find some, I located some of them and gave them to him as a gift. I still remember the way his eyes lit up as he said “Peanut Chews” in a kind of “Oooooooohhhhhhhh!” sort of way. He did share them, in case you are curious.
This is a candy that was a Philadelphia institution, going back to 1917. The Goldenberg family emigrated from Hungary in the 1890s and began making candy in Philadelphia soon thereafter. Peanut Chews consist of a peanut and molasses center dipped in dark chocolate. (Chaaaklat, as they would say in Philly). Due to their high protein content, these were included in soldiers’ ration kits during the First World War and developed a retail following as well. Although they began as a full candy bar, the movie theater trade prevailed upon the company to offer a package with bite sized pieces, which has been the standard way to buy these since the 1930s or 40s.
Like so many old-fashioned consumer products, they eventually found their way to new ownership. But unlike so many old fashioned consumer products, the new ownership seems interested in keeping them going.
Just Born, Inc. (a Bethlehem, PA company known for Marshmallow Peeps and Mike & Ikes) bought the Peanut Chew business and the northeast Philadelphia manufacturing plant in 2003. Other than an ill-fated package re-design (since jettisoned) and the expansion of the line to include a milk chocolate version (a pale imitation of the original), it is the same old Peanut Chew made in the same old place.
I suppose that I am lucky to have experienced these, as it appears that 90% of the company’s peanutty production is chewed up in the Philadelphia and New York City markets. The rest go to some national distribution channels and even a few in Europe and Asia. The most reliable supplier in central Indiana seems to be Cracker Barrel, whose “Old Country Store” features many old fashioned candies that are not found in most retail candy aisles.
Let me discuss major store retail candy aisles for a moment. What is with the small selections these days? OK, wide selection of sizes and assortments, but a small selection nonetheless. Unless you want something that is all sugar and no chocolate, then the selection is virtually limitless. Which seems to be OK with today’s kids. What are Sour Patch Kids, anyway? But then I am on record as disliking Smarties.
I suppose that it is a good thing that Goldenberg’s Peanut Chews are not that widely available, or I would be more widely built. They are chewy, loaded with peanuts and not too sweet due to the molasses-based sweetening. In other words, I could eat a lot more of these than I actually do.
Make no mistake, Peanut Chews are not essential to my general well-being in the way that French Burnt Peanuts are. But they are a treasured occasional treat just the same. I suppose that taking a bite of the peanut/molasses/dark chocolate combination makes me think of an earlier era, one where Lucky Strikes and Studebakers were commonly found. I came along a little bit after that era but there has always been something about it that appeals to me. Perhaps there was an honesty about that time which contrasts with the manipulative consumerism that we see today. Or perhaps that manipulative consumerism was always there, only with a wider variety of products.
I guess Peanut Chews also remind me of my father in much the same way as a Manhattan on the rocks reminds me of him. Which is a good thing.
Anyway, I am reminded of that list that we should all be keeping nearby. You know, that list of things which we should appreciate more than we do. There are big things on that list, like the family members who are still with us and the ability to live in a country whose institutions are built to survive temporary thunderstorms. But there are also the small things that make life better in little, barely noticeable ways. As a one hundred year old confection that is still around and just as good as ever, Goldenberg’s Peanut Chews are on that list for me. I feel a Cracker Barrel run coming on.