Of all the treats associated with the holidays, nothing comes more readily to mind than the humble candy cane. Candy canes have been the definitive Christmas candy since at least the 17th century, and though they have perhaps been surpassed in popularity by chocolate, candy canes remain the holiday icon. Children draw pictures of them. Christmas trees are adorned with them. On Christmas Eve, bedspreads are covered in them and stockings are filled with them. Whether for consumption or just decoration, it is hard to find a house during the holidays without them.
According to legend, sugar canes, without peppermint, made their first appearance in the Rhine region in the 17th century. The first crook-shaped ones, representing a shepherd’s staff, showed up at Cologne Cathedral in 1670, where they were used to keep children quiet during church services. Within a century they had become a staple of the holidays. The addition of red stripes, as well as the use of the peppermint flavoring, were developments that became wide-spread around 1900. Local tradition has it that August Imgard was the first person to decorate a tree with candy canes in 1847.
Since candy canes went main stream in the United States, two companies became closely associated with their production. The oldest was Bob’s Candies, the largest candy cane manufacturer from 1920 until 2005, when they were bought out and their historic factory in Georgia closed. Spangler, their main competitor, has been a confectionary icon since 1906. In 1954 they acquired the A-Z Candy Cane company, and the rest is history. With the demise of Bob’s Candies, Spangler is now the sole banner bearer of America’s historic candy cane production tradition.
The Spangler Company is still based in Bryon, Ohio, approximately 100 miles west of Cleveland. There is a museum in addition to the candy factory tour. The museum tour is open year-round Wednesdays through Fridays from 10:00am-3:00pm (additional days and hours in the Summer). Web: www.spanglercandy.com (official website of the Spangler Candy Company)