Most longtime readers know that old, nearly forgotten confections have a friend in me. After all, I have waxed eloquently on Goldenberg’s Peanut Chews and have spent even more time with a longtime favorite of mine – French Burnt Peanuts (which I have examined here, here and also here.) But as much as I would love another high-calorie dive into the delicious world of “old man candy”, I feel compelled to turn a different direction today. In which I will delve into a contender for the title of Worst. Candy. Ever.
OK, I will admit that the title of Worst. Candy. Ever. is a singularly high (or low, if you prefer) (dis)honor, so perhaps more thought needs to go into those concoctions which could be in the running. What does not need more thought is that Circus Peanuts belong high on that list.
Maybe there are some of you lucky enough to not know what Circus Peanuts are. Actually, I think this would include all of us – does anyone really know what Circus Peanuts are? Are they marshmallow? Xanthum gum and corn sweetener? Cardboard and recycled gym shoes? Let’s have a look so that we can get a better understanding. Know thy enemy is some wisdom we will not disregard here.
A little research reveals that nobody actually knows where Circus Peanuts come from. There are a few of us who are convinced that they come from the depths of Hell, but there is no mention of them by scripture, Dante or by the Catholic Church (which is in the business of exorcisms, so it should know). Therefore, we need to move along to a theory with more proof. Well, I guess there aren’t any. So maybe we should just go with some company that needed a use for sawdust, glue and some other by-products of furniture manufacturing and leave theology out of it.
Really, how did someone decide to make a candy that was the color of an orange, the shape of a peanut and the flavor of a banana? Opium was once legal to consume in the U.S., so perhaps this was a factor. Banana can be a perfectly fine flavor (if difficult to reproduce well in cheap candy) but what could it possibly have to do with a peanut? Especially an orange peanut. Shouldn’t something associated with a circus taste more like popcorn or cotton candy? Make them tan, give them a peanut butter flavor and we could have an entirely different blog post on our hands.
Skipping over their murky beginnings in the cauldron of some Salem witches in the mid 18th century, It is generally agreed that they began as a seasonal kind of “penny candy” that was sold in 5 and 10 cent stores. The advent of cellophane packaging in the 1940’s allowed Big Candy to manufacture and sell them year around. Lucky us – do you feel the need to prove that not everything about capitalism is progress? Forget about things like income inequality and go with the Circus Peanuts. Even the most ardent free-market conservative will have nothing to say in reply.
It turns out that the things are actually quite tricky to make. They are mostly sugar, corn syrup, gelatin, pectin and some other stuff, which results in – well, you know. They are highly sensitive to temperature and humidity and confectioners have to be quite careful to keep them from getting a hard crust or from collapsing in on themselves. Then they get put in little bags and sent to – who actually knows where they all go?
Do they sit around in stores until they go stale enough that the stores pitch the 96% of them that go unsold? Or are they actually purchased and consumed by people who won’t admit to buying and eating them? Sort of like the people who bought Duran Duran records in the 80s while never admitting it to their friends or family? If I were to slink silently through my office on a Sunday, would I come upon stashes of Circus Peanuts in the bottom desk drawers of some co-workers? Oh, the shame of it.
Or maybe they are actually just recycled over and over – in the way fruitcakes are reputed to be. Although here, I suppose it would be necessary to set up recycling centers so that the things could be repackaged. Is there any way to tell the difference between a Circus Peanut packaged in 2021 and one from, say, 1958?
And what about that name? They have nothing to do with a circus and nothing to do with peanuts. Peanuts are certainly associated with the circus, which is probably why there are (or at least were) actual peanuts sold under a Circus brand. If all of the Circus Peanuts in the world were like these, the world would be a better place.
One little bit of trivia I came up with is a story that Lucky Charms cereal was the result after some guy cut up Circus Peanuts and put them in his Cheerios. I knew I never liked Lucky Charms that much, and now I know why. And there – how do the rest of you like your Lucky Charms NOW? Maybe they’re not so magically delicious after all?
Really, I am not that hard to please. I am all in for obsolete candies like those gummy, sugar coated Orange Slices that everyone’s grandma used to keep on hand. Lemon drops? Cinnamon discs? Necco wafers? Heck, I’ll polish off a bag of horehound drops like nobody’s business. But lines must be drawn sometimes, and it is at Circus Peanuts that one will be drawn here.
And finally, lest you think that a candy rant has had some kind of theraputic effect on me, you could not be further from the truth. I am, in actuality, a bit traumatized right now. Just the thought of the stiff foam texture and the horrid imitation banana flavor have me feeling a bit unsettled. I think maybe what I need is a big bag of French Burnt Peanuts. You know, the ones that practice truth in advertising and actually give you peanuts in the bag which contains the word on the label. Yes, that and perhaps a nap. Ranting about old man candy is hard work.
Opening photo – via Wikipedia, in the public domain.
All other photos are of commercial packaging or publicly displayed advertising.