Book Review: Candy Freak by Steve Almond, And My Newfangled Understanding of the Mystical World of Candy Bars

I used to scorn candy as food for the fat. There was no culinary expertise to it – it was merely the gluttony of America realized. When I would see someone impulsively grabbing for a Snickers bar in the checkout lane at Wal-Mart, I’d think to myself, Wow. I wonder if he realizes he’s just eating a bunch of junk.

My eyes, however, have been opened to the delicacies of the candy world, the intricacies, the complexities, the awe-inspiring delectability…Candy Freak by Steve Almond is one of those books that changes you. Yes, it’s about candy, and maybe you think it beneath you (like I did at first), but the simple fact is that candy is more than just fat and sugar combined.

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Have you ever taken a moment to consider the major candy companies of today? There are three of them, all most likely very familiar to you – Nestle, Hersheys, and Mars. Essentially every candy bar you see in the grocery store is from one of those three candy companies. But this book dredges up the long lost days when the candy market was not monopolized by these power houses – when each area of the country had it’s own unique brand of candy. It’s sweets like these (the few that still exist) that are the kind to eat.

Almond makes it his mission in this book to tour as many of the small, family-owned candy companies as possible. And this added up to about five. So he tours the companies and he eats the candy and he describes the candy and oh….how hungry I was the entire time I went to read! He details the most obscure and delicious sounding candies from all over the country: the Valomilks of Kansas, the Idaho Spuds of Idaho, the Big Hunk, Rocky Road, and Abba-Zabba of California, and (to my utmost delight and excitement) the Twin Bings of Sioux City, Iowa, the very part of the country my husband is from!

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Apparently around here everyone knows about the Twin Bings. I, of course, a Southern girl at heart, had never heard of such a thing. When Almond described it it sounded kind of gross, too.

Imagine, if you will, two brown lumps, about the size of golf balls, roughly textured, and stuck to one another like Siamese twins. The lumps are composed of crushed peanuts  and a chocolate compound. Inside each of the lumps is a bright pink, cherry flavored filling.

I never have liked the fruit and chocolate combo. Fruit is such a natural, delicious, healthy thing that to smother it in chocolate just seems wrong. And the melding of the flavors never sat quite right with me. Along with the crushed peanuts, I just didn’t know what to think. My inner child was screaming in horror, but the new me, the one who likes to experiment with food, wanted secretly to find this candy bar and snarf it down.

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Lucky for me, I happened upon it while grocery shopping at Fareway yesterday. There it was, sitting on the bottom shelf of the candy rack in primordial glory, a beacon of hope for the unconventional amidst all the obvious bars –  Snickers and Milky Ways and 3 Musketeers. So I grabbed it, my first impulsive candy bar buy since…well, ever, actually. And I decided to conduct my own experiment, like Steve Almond did in his book.

(I must say I was still slightly affronted when the cashier asked me if I wanted it left out, as if I was some candy-obsessed gourmand. I haven’t gone so far, lady. Of course you can put it in the bag. Geez.)

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So here it was, the Twin Bing, in my very living room. Healthy by no means, against my deepest beliefs about eating only what the body needs…I stared at the package for a while. It was pretty. Then I opened it and it wasn’t pretty.

But I took one bite and was hooked. It’s like Steve Almond says: “I had begun to relish (secretly) the salty zest of the peanuts, the sugary bite of the cream center, which called to mind cherry bubble gum…” There’s just something about it that is so different from your typical candy bar.

This is the type of candy I can justify eating, because at least people like Marty Palmer of Palmer’s Candy Factory in Sioux City, Iowa are real people, not chocolate making robots (which is how I picture Nestle, Hersheys, and Mars in my head, somehow). So you should definitely read Candy Freak, especially if you’re not too concerned about gaining weight in the week or so it will take to finish. I mean, now that I’m done with the book I’m no longer thinking about candy 24/7, so I’ve gotten back to my regular healthy routine 😉

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5 thoughts on “Book Review: Candy Freak by Steve Almond, And My Newfangled Understanding of the Mystical World of Candy Bars

  1. We drive through Sioux City at least once if not twice a year, and as soon as all the construction mess is done we will go back to stopping in. On our first stop we were lucky enough to get 2 boxes of “seconds” from the line, for a very good price. Ten pounds of goodness, even if it wasn’t exactly pretty.

  2. Nice blog! I am glad you liked the Twin Bing! If you are ever in Sioux City, I hope you come check our candy shoppe which holds a myriad of edible things. We are very proud to be one of the oldest family candy companies in the U.S.

    Thanks,
    Claire Palmer(6th generation of Palmer Candy)

    1. The Old Fashion candy shop is a favorite mine and use the excuse to visit it even more when we have company and they love it , too

      Cathleen

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