October 18, 2010
Kit Kats & Candy Corn
By Martha J. Miller
In my family, candy is strictly a private matter. We all eat it, but don’t want to admit it.
It is something to be consumed alone, preferably in the home and ideally with the curtains drawn. (In a pinch, the car will do.) Candy is our ne’er-do-well cousin that drinks too much or spent a few nights in the town jail. It’s our creepy uncle and our eccentric aunt with the 50 house cats. Candy is the skeleton in our closet—the sour, gummy skeleton.
Which is strange, since we are also a family that believes food is best enjoyed in the company of others. We shamelessly plan entire vacations and holidays around the perfect meal, and spend hours laughing and telling stories in the kitchen together. I adore food so much that I consider recipes and cooking to be the building blocks of my heritage. It is all I know of some of my ancestors. It’s how I finally emotionally connected with my sister, and how I pull family stories out of my mom.
So, why is candy our forbidden fruit?
Maybe it started when I was a kid. My older sister Ashley and I didn’t get our hands on much candy back then. In the 1980s, our dad was a bit of a health nut. My mom nicknamed him “Mr. Nuts and Berries” because he regularly cooked lentils, brown rice and whole wheat pasta for our family dinners. For breakfast, the other neighborhood kids ate big bowls of brightly colored sugary cereal while we ate Cream of Wheat with a few raisins or plain Cheerios and skim milk. Ultimately, I know he did right by us: we grew up healthy, with well-rounded senses of taste, nutrition and cooking skills. I will always be thankful for that.
Fortunately for Ashley and me, our childhood was not totally candy-less. But getting our hands on it did require a certain level of discretion. We spent most of our after-school and summer afternoons at Mrs. Supler’s house across the street. Mrs. Supler was like a surrogate grandmother to the neighborhood children, and I believe she thought it her duty to love us all, keep her front door open, and preach the Gospel of Candy, which she had spent years practicing.
She kept bowls piled with Kit Kats, Reese’s and Twix all over her house and when those ran low, she sent one of us to the wooden buffet in the dining room for refills. I remember opening the buffet doors to a sea of vibrant orange, gold, and red and the sound of crinkling plastic. The woman knew how to buy in bulk.
Kit Kats were my personal favorite. I always saved them for last, first nibbling off the chocolate around the edges and sides, then splitting the cookie layers apart and letting each one dissolve on my tongue. Later, when Ashley and I would return home for dinner, we kept our candy play-dates a secret and tried to disguise our full bellies over those bowls of lentil soup.
But maybe the secrecy didn’t start with Mrs. Supler. Perhaps it goes back even further, to what is known in my family as the infamous “Candy Corn Story.”
I don’t know where we were going or why, but I was a baby, strapped in a car seat in the back of my mom’s 1985 Oldsmobile station wagon, with the classic wood panel siding and red vinyl seats. My mom, presumably feeling stressed and in need of a seasonally appropriate sugar high, sat in the driver’s seat with an open bag of candy corn in her lap.
Suddenly, she became utterly disgusted with herself and the quantity of candy corn she was eating. I am not a fan of the stuff myself, but I’ve been told by others that this is a common occurrence with candy corn—that it has a strangely addictive quality, wherein you feel the need to keep eating until you feel sick, and the only way to stop to physically remove it from your immediate area.
So, in a fit of novelty-candy rage, my mother chucked the bag’s contents out of the open car window at a stoplight.
As the kernels took flight, she noticed a lady in a nearby car watching her, judging. They made eye contact and it was in that moment that I—her innocent, drooling and probably napping baby—became the scapegoat. Through the car’s open window she fed the lady an excuse that implicated me. (Side note: my mom gave me permission to tell this story publicly only if I added that she is 1. very wise; 2. the best mom in the world; and 3. has flawless skin. So there’s that.)
In the end, I’m not really sure why my family behaves so bizarrely in the presence of candy. It could be because we are some of the best home cooks I know and candy, with its heavy-handed sweetness and processed ingredients, represents everything we should hate…but just can’t resist. Candy forces us to let go, lose control for a moment, and become that carefree kid again.
And maybe such moments are best savored alone, in the quiet comfort of home, with a thin piece of Kit Kat melting slowly on your tongue.
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