Although much of my early childhood is forever lost to the mists of time, I can still go right back to the old-fashioned drugstore at the corner of Eighth and Rock streets in Sioux City, Iowa, about a block from my grandparents’ house.
By KIMBERLY WINTER STERN
The era was the 1960s, but the memory of the door’s bell tinkling upon entry is startlingly vivid.
My cousins and I would push the heavy door open quickly, causing the rush of air from inside the store to circulate the familiar scent of a tumble of candies merchandised in a tempting, glorious buffet that was any 6-year-old’s dream.
We each clutched quarters in our sweaty palms, a financial bonanza from grandma that none of us had to earn by doing chores or any sort of manual labor. Merely being grandkids who loved visiting was enough to trigger her generosity.
And 25 cents back in those days bought a sugary lot at this tiny drugstore. Candy necklaces, Chiclets chewing gum, Good and Plenty, Bit-O-Honey, bubble gum cigars, and conversation hearts — even if Valentine’s Day wasn’t casting a shadow on the calendar.
I was a kid who probably heard chocolate’s siren call from the womb, so I gravitated toward the five-cent Bing candy bar, leaving my cousins to suck on sourballs and smoke candy cigarettes.
Made in Sioux City — not far from my grandparents’ house, by the Palmer Candy Company — the Bing was a round, chewy, cherry-flavored nougat covered by a mixture of peanuts and chocolate.
To the uneducated eye the Bing appeared disgusting, but to my palate the alluring sweet in a bright, red wrapper with a neon-pink center was sublimely perfect.
The Bing candy bar made cameo appearances throughout my elementary and junior high school years, showing up in bulging Halloween trick-or-treat bags; innocently mixed in with chocolate bunnies and marshmallow chicks at Easter; and temptingly stocked in after-school snack jars at friends’ houses.
Somewhere around college I lost track of the Bing bar and didn’t meet up with it again until last year in a hotel snack shop at 3 a.m. in Omaha, Neb. Writing into the wee hours of the morning and needing a pick-me-up, I wandered down to the front desk, seeking chocolate.
The ruckus that ensued when I spied Twin Bing candy bars — Palmer started producing the double delight in 1973 — for sale shattered the night clerk’s serenity. I bought three and scurried back to my room, marveling at my good luck while consuming two on the elevator ride to the sixth floor of the Element Omaha Midtown Crossing.
Historically the Bing candy bar is the successor of the original Cherry Mash produced by the Chase Candy Company in St. Joseph, beginning in 1918.
Known simultaneously as America’s favorite cherry candy bar, the country’s third oldest candy bar and a world-famous candy bar, Cherry Mash is an old-time memory maker. Unlike the Bing, Chase’s bar uses real, crushed maraschino cherries.
Chase still manufactures Cherry Mash — the modern, upgraded equipment can churn out 72,000 bars each day. The company’s website even has a GPS locator to discover where the candy is sold across the United States.
My dormant cherry mash craving rumbled from hibernation a year ago with a vengeance.
I started buying and stashing Chase Cherry Mash bars for deadline emergencies — or, let’s be honest, any other type of non-emergency. Granted, my grown-up taste buds preferred spectacular artisan chocolates like Christopher Elbow or Andrés, but there was a nagging voice inside, demanding old-fashioned treats.
Enter Smart Cookies Bakery owned by Shari Weyrauch of Overland Park. An aficionado of grandma-endorsed sweets, Weyrauch launched her brand in 2009 with — you guessed it — classic candies like English toffee, peanut butter balls and Cherry Smash, her version of the Cherry Mash.
A from-scratch baker since she was old enough to break an egg, Weyrauch now peddles her divine goodies to an adoring crowd.
“I love baking’s process of measuring and precision,” says Weyrauch, who spent 20 years in corporate sales.
“I think I was the only college kid to ever send their parents care packages. I baked my dad’s favorite chocolate chip cookies and mailed them home.”
Weyrauch bakes brownies and cookies of all varieties — her chocolate chunk is a customer fave — and sells more than 500 pounds annually of melt-in-your-mouth English toffee.
Smart Cookies Bakery doesn’t have a storefront, but Weyrauch makes her products by the dozens, packages them in nifty purple-and-yellow-stickered bags and sells them at seasonal gift marts and select stores around town.
Lucky for me, Weyrauch does a huge custom order business. I’m headed to a family reunion in Iowa the end of September and Smart Cookies Cherry Smash is my potluck contribution.
Because it’s a long drive from Kansas City to Buffalo Center, Iowa, and snacks are as much a requirement as gas, I’m adding on a couple pounds of English toffee. And some peanut butter balls. Maybe some candied pecans.
Along the way will be a stop in St. Joseph to snag Chase Cherry Mash bars. Once the Iowa border is in the rearview mirror, I’ll scour convenience stores for Twin Bings.
I know, I know.
I’m like a kid in an old-fashioned candy store, having a cherry mash-up showdown.
For more information on ordering old-fashioned candies and baked goods from Smart Cookies Bakery, visit smartcookiesbakery.com .
Kimberly Winter Stern — also known as Kim Dishes — is an award-winning freelance writer and national blogger from Overland Park and co-host with Chef Jasper Mirabile on LIVE! From Jasper’s Kitchen each Saturday on KCMO 710/103.7FM. She is inspired by the passion, creativity and innovation of chefs, restaurateurs and food artisans who make Kansas City a vibrant center of locavore cuisine.