Christmas Candy Near and Far

Just 10 days and an entire box arrived, carefully wrapped, from Le Bonbon au Palais in Paris.

The smell was impossibly good as I opened the package to reveal cellophane-wrapped Christmas candies, poppy-scented Coquelicot de Nemours, sugared Perles du midi, fairy-green coins of barley sugar and anise from Vichy, stripe-wrappered trifles from Valenciennes in violet, rose, lemon — it was magical.

Aggies, alleys, oilies, commies and catseyes – every marble you might have played or pocketed at one time, however modest, had a secret history of sorts passed down imperfectly, child to child, a pecking order calculus of use, pleasure, rarity and attraction – ducks and shooters.

And it was exactly the same with Christmas candy, a cut glass jar of boiled sweets, in more or less fanciful shapes and patterns – banded berlingots, hard-shelled Napoléons giving way to a sweet-tart center, soft-centered bonbons from Vichy – I doubt any of us actually realized that each and every candy we favored or passed over (however bastardized in their American incarnations) had a lineage, a town, a maker.

Days later a box arrived from Regennas Candy Shop in Myerstown, PA, one of the last great makers of “clear toy candy” — which a century and more ago populated holiday plateaus – boiled sugar carefully molded into Scotties, squirrels, boots, swans and crocodiles.

Part confection, part toy and decoration, these Christmas candies are hand-poured into the same century-old metal molds by the same family that started the business in 1894.  Perfect for stocking stuffers, holiday favors and for stringing on a tree.

Closer at hand, we visited Lina’s Place, a tiny grocery in Hamden that stocks a wide selection of classic Russian and Ukrainian sweets, fancifully wrapped to decorate a tree and sold in bulk.

There was Clumsy Bear, dark chocolate covered wafer cookies filled with praline, cinnamon-spiced Kara-Kum, wide-eyed milk chocolate Alyonka bars — we couldn’t help but purchase a dozen or so varieties to try.

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