GALENA, Ill. — As a child, Deniece Holman ate sugar candy buttons that came attached to strips of paper.
“We used to bite those off, and the paper would come right with them,” she said.
Holman has worked for 17 years at Galena’s Kandy Kitchen and sells all manner of sweets. But there are a few particular kinds of candy that really bring out her nostalgia. She recalls using satellite wafers — a candy consisting of a wafer filled with candy beads — to play “communion” with other kids. She remembers sucking the juice from wax bottles, then chewing on the wax.
“We’d tear off the top of those with our teeth and drink down the juice and chew on the wax forever,” Holman said.
Those sweets are just a few among many that seem to evoke a sense of nostalgia locally, according to area residents and candy store owners. Often, the memories people associate with their favorite candies keep them reminiscing long after the fact.
“I think, just when they see that we have it, they’re excited, and it brings back a lot of memories for them, and they’ll say I remember that when I was a kid in a candy store,” said Dianne Paxton, who owns Galena’s Kandy Kitchen.
Peg Kimball, who lives in The Galena Territory, also feels a sense of nostalgia for the candy buttons, and likewise often ended up eating the paper with the candy.
“It took you forever to pop them off,” Kimball said.
She also is a longtime patron of Galena’s Kandy Kitchen and particularly enjoys the shop’s malted milk balls, which she often gives away to friends or as gifts.
“Everybody has liked them, so that’s become a signature series,” Kimball said.
Lisa Hay, owner of High Street Sweets in Mineral Point, Wis., said her customers seem to have a soft spot for Pez candy, which in many cases seems tied to the experience of eating the candy from a Pez dispenser.
“There’s something that appeals to everybody,” Hay said. “Kids and adults like Pez, and I think adults like showing their kids how Pez works. I don’t think anybody buys Pez for the candy itself.”
Other candies that seem to evoke people’s nostalgia are old-fashioned gums, such as Black Jack licorice-flavored gum and candy cigarettes, Hay said.
Some of the candies in Paxton’s shop that get people reminiscing include saltwater taffy, rock candy and French burnt peanuts. Her shop’s Chuckles gummy candies also are a local favorite.
Indeed, local residents also seem to have their longtime, locally made favorites. At Betty Jane Candies in Dubuque, some customers still bring in the box from chocolate Easter eggs that they purchased decades ago, company President Drew Siegert said. And Betty Jane’s Gremlins have long been popular.
“Memory is very closely tied to your sense of taste and smell, so it would make sense that smelling that chocolate or tasting that Gremlin kind of takes you back in your mind a bit to the past,” Siegert said.
Indeed, it seems to be the memories associated with a particular sweet that make it worth reminiscing about. Kimball recalls that as a child, she and the other kids would go to the park with their candies and share them amongst themselves.
“It’s things that you did with a group of kids, so you reminisce about the friends that you shared it with,” she said.
Hay remembers going to the store to buy candy when she was young, something that she thinks sticks with the children who visit her store today.
“It’s a feel-good, not just to have the candy but to feel like you’re big enough to go into a store and make a purchase using your math skills,” Hay said.
Candies have evolved to meet the tastes of her younger customers, who tend to gravitate to sour candies such as Warheads. Another popular offering for the children at her store is the Sour Flush, which has a package shaped like a plastic toilet filled with sour sugar and a sucker “plunger.” It’s akin to Fun Dip, but in toilet form.
“There’s new classics for them,” Hay said. “Twenty years from now, they’ll go into a candy store, and they’re going to want to get a toilet.”
There seems to be a common thread to what makes us so nostalgic for certain sweets.
“I think people just identify certain candies with their childhood, and so it makes them happy,” Hay said.