You might say that candy canes are a Christmas gift from heaven. Two food science scholars at Ryerson University in Toronto, Ontario, Canada have traced the beginnings of candy canes to the Cologne Cathedral in Germany.
“One well-regarded story suggests that in 1670, a Catholic choirmaster in Cologne gave out pure white sugar sticks to the children as a way to soothe them during the long nativity ceremony,” wrote Veronica Ann Hislop and Dérick Rousseau.
“The choirmaster asked a local candy maker for each sugar stick to be turned into a hook to resemble the shape of a shepherd’s staff,” the researchers wrote. “Shepherds are common symbols in the Christian faith and can be seen in the Christian story of the birth of Christ.”
“An alternative theory suggests the hook was invented simply to make the candy sticks easier to hang on Christmas trees,” said Hislop and Rousseau.
That leads us to Wooster, Ohio, which occupies a short-but-sweet chapter in candy cane legend and lore.
August Imgard was just 19 when he came to America in 1847 from Wetzlar, Germany. Living with an older brother named Frederick Imgard in Wooster, August decorated a small blue spruce tree with white candy canes that he made from his mother’s recipe.
To this day, the National Confectioners Association, based in Washington, D.C., recognizes August Imgard as the first person to hang candy canes on a Christmas tree in the U.S.A.
Canadians Hislop and Rousseau said: “Peppermint is one of the world’s oldest medicinal herbs. During the 18th century, your local apothecary was also your candy maker.”
“That’s because the medicinal ingredients that were prescribed were usually unpalatable concoctions. To help get the patient to consume the unpleasant medicine, peppermint was often added because its cooling taste helped to mask the flavour of awful-tasting drugs.”
“It wasn’t until the 19th century that the apothecary and candy maker started to become separate professions.”
Freelance journalist Kate Miller-Wilson found an 1844 recipe for “peppermint sticks that were striped with color” in a cookbook authored by Eleanor Parkinson of Philadelphia. She ran a confectionary shop located next door to her husband’s tavern.
Parkinson “gives detailed instructions for leaving most of the candy white and dying a small amount another color, and then rolling the two colors together to create a twisted, striped pattern,” Miller-Wilson wrote.
The 20th century was the new frontier for the manufacturing of candy canes in a factory setting.
Bob McCormack became the “candy cane man” in 1919, when he started his business in Albany, Ga. McCormack had his ducks in a row. He had worked with a large bakery in Tennessee and lined up investors from Alabama in advance of launching McCormack’s Famous Candy Company.
Yet, the ultimate success of this family business was due to the prayers...and inventions...offered by the family Catholic priest. He was the Rev. Gregory Harding Keller, whose sister was married to Bob McCormack.
Father Keller invented the machine to twist the soft candy into spirals and cut the stick candy in 1952 and another machine to put the crook in the candy cane in 1957.
His candy twisting/cutting/bending machinery became known as the “Keller Candy Cane Forming Machine.”
Afterward, the familiar peppermint-flavored, red-and-white swirled candy canes began to roll off McCormack’s production line lickety-split, and the company vaulted into a market leadership position.
Today, the brand is known as Bobs Candies, a unit of Ferrara Candy Company.