Chow Town

Candy canes help mark the Christmas season

It’s beginning to look a like Christmas. There is snow on the ground in Kansas City, the Country Club Plaza lights are shining and Santa is on his way. There also seems to be an abundance of candy canes everywhere I go.

This past week, I had the honor of interviewing Evan Brock from Spangler Candy Co. on LIVE From Jasper’s Kitchen Radio. Talk about interesting.

I’ve always been fascinated with candy canes and I told my co-host Kimberly Winter Stern that I would love to have a discussion with a representative from Spangler Candy Co. Within minutes, Kimberly had an interview booked. I was ready with my questions, but to be honest with you, I was overwhelmed with the history and folklore of the candy cane.

Legend has it that in 1670, the choirmaster at the Cologne Cathedral in Germany handed out sugar sticks among his young singers to keep them quiet during the long Living Crèche ceremony. In honor of the occasion, he had a candy shaped into shepherd’s crooks.

It wasn’t until 1847, that a German-Swedish immigrant named August Imgard of Wooster, Ohio, decorated a small blue spruce with paper ornaments and candy canes. Red and white stripes and peppermint flavors became the norm for all candy canes after this.

Thanks to a Catholic priest who developed an automated production machine in 1950, the candy cane has become more readily available.

In Indiana, an innovative candy maker wanted to produce a candy that could be a reminder of Jesus Christ, so he made the Christmas candy cane. He started off with stick of pure white hard candy. The white colors symbolize the virgin birth and the sinless nature of Jesus Christ, and the hard candy symbolize the solid rock which was the foundation of the church, and firmness of the promises of God.

The candy maker prepared and crafted the candy in the form of a “J” to represent the name of Jesus and the staff of the good shepherds. He then stained with three stripes which showed the scourging Jesus received and symbolize the blood shed by Christ on the cross. When you break the cane, this reminds us that Jesus’ body was broken for us.

The kitchen where candy canes are produced at Spangler Candy Co. in Bryan, Ohio, is 100 degrees at all times. Candy canes are made by mixing a large batch of 60 percent sugar and 40 percent corn syrup. It is heated and formed into a slab. Next, starch and flavoring are added and blended together into the slab, folded and then fed into a machine that shovels everything together and distributes ingredients evenly. Cold water is piped into mechanical shovels while kneading the candy.

The next step is where two automatic pullers stretch the candy and this is where air is incorporated and turns it white. But there is still more work after that. The candy is rolled into a fat log and warmed until pliable and then strips of red candy are warped around the fat log.

The candy is stretched and stretched into a rope and finally cut. The candy is then put into cellophane and is sent to a machine that firms it at the top into a crook, producing the signature shepherd-looking cane.

Today, candy canes are almost as popular as decorations and ornaments as they are for eating. Spangler makes more 2.5 million candy canes per day. Peppermint is still the most popular flavor.

Here’s some more interesting candy cane facts you may enjoy:

• The largest candy cane ever created was made by a candy shop owner Paul Ghinelli in 2001. It measured 58 feet.

• Approximately 1.76 billion candy canes are produced each year. That’s enough to get one every four people on the planet a candy cane every year.

• In 2012, nearly 2 million candy canes were sold during the four-week Christmas season.

So whether you decorate the tree with the candy canes or you just enjoy eating them, it doesn’t really matter as long as you have one this Christmas season. I have enjoyed candy canes in cupcakes, fudge, cookies, chocolate mousse and more.

The list is really endless. Just recently, we have been producing Candy Cane Cello at Jasper’s Ristorante. To be quite, honest, it is a little addicting but so delicious.

I also suggest you make a warm cup of hot chocolate with a shot of espresso and use a candy cane to stir until it melts. Add some whip cream and you have an excellent peppermint mocha.

Don’t forget to celebrate on Dec. 26, it is National Candy Cane Day.

Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!

Chef Jasper J. Mirabile Jr. of Jasper’s commands the helm of his family’s 59-year-old restaurant, consistently rated one of Kansas City’s best Italian restaurants. In addition to running the restaurant with his brother, Mirabile is a culinary instructor, founding member of Slow Food Kansas City and a national board member of the American Institute of Wine and Food. He hosts many famous chefs on his weekly radio show Live! From Jasper’s Kitchen on KCMO 710 AM and 103.7 FM and sells a line of dressings and sauces.