What About Bob?

There now; everything looks good. My computer shows the correct seats, the correct date and time. So with almost a giddy feeling, I press the enter button. The most wonderful time of the year. . . again. And I just purchased my annual “A Christmas Carol” tickets online. It’s a tradition. And you know what else is a holiday tradition in my house? It’s my peppermint candy canes! Peppermint is a natural part of the holidays. But, do you know why?

Some say the original candy cane was just a white sugar stick used in the 1600’s by parents as a pacifier for crying babies during church services. Peppermint has a long history as a cure for digestive upsets. So maybe this is why the sugar was later combined with peppermint to calm babies’ tummies. The cane got its distinctive hook either because a 17th century German choirmaster convinced a local candy maker to bend the canes in the shape of a shepherd's crook, or simply because bent canes were easier to hang on trees and wreaths. That one still remains a mystery.

Early scholars knew that mint was also a curative where liver ailments, ulcers, hiccups and snakebites were concerned. Also used topically for sore muscles, it was great for anyone just about to make an important speech. Early cookbooks even mentioned mints in their sauces. The colonists brought mint with them to America. Lewis and Clark always traveled with essence of peppermint in their medical kits. Many just plain enjoyed the cool refreshing taste. I know I do. Once described as a cross between pepper and chlorophyll, it was often used to conceal the taste of some drugs in the 18th century. Castor oil was served floating on top of peppermint water. Very different from those who eat “Altoids” like candy today.

Peppermint (Mentha x piperita) is a hybrid mint cross between watermint and spearmint. It is a sterile plant, producing no seeds. Spread by runners or rhizomes, it can grow almost anywhere and it will if planted. Look for the square stems and reddish veins in its leaves. Hey, red and green! Its leaves and stems are slightly fuzzy. Peppermint is used as a flavoring in toothpastes, gums and many other products. Oregon and Washington are the top producers.

Over two billion candy canes are made every year. Oh, and the red stripe, we owe that one to a candymaker from Georgia, named Bob, as in Bob’s Candy Canes. His candy company produced the striped candy canes starting in 1919. It was only in the beginning of the 20th century that striped candy canes first appeared on holiday cards. Whatever the association with Christmas, I love my candy canes.

By Cheryl Balster

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