Season’s Greetings! The festive merriment and cheer encompasses the Disneyland Resort in all its usual glory once again. “Snow” and lights cascade down the majestic and iconic Sleeping Beauty Castle, colored bulbs encapsulate the “it’s a small world” attraction, the towering Christmas tree, in all its splendid décor, greets all guests entering Main Street, U.S.A., and those seasonal treats return to the market.
Now, usually, I prefer salt-‐water taffy and chocolate delicacies to jaw-breaking confections, but I wanted to partake in the notorious hand-‐made candy cane craze that has gotten many Disneyland fanatics stampeding the quaint Main Street for years. Maybe then I can understand the peppermint cane’s hype and quick sell-‐ outs.
Unfortunately, my initial attempt to attain one of these savored candies failed (as I did not arrive within the first forty-‐five minutes of the park’s opening time). A week later, I revisited the Disneyland Park very early in the morning, just before 8am to, hopefully, this time bear one of the 120 colored wristbands with a predetermined time to return to the Candy Palace to then actually purchase the handmade holiday delicacy at $12.99 + tax.
On my first efforts to earn a Disney candy cane, I learned the candy makers endure the sweltering summer heat in their kitchens in order to create precisely three different batches, roughly forty treats for each batch, on each of the days both Disneyland and Disney’s California Adventure have designated for their candy shops to harbor fresh candy canes for the privileged early risers in the parks. (Call Disneyland’s Candy Kitchen Hotline at 714-781-0112 to verify the selected dates.)
Waiting for the entrance gates to open to the general public at 8:30 a.m. precisely, with the warm comforts of the sun overhead on this crisp, dewy December morning, I met a fellow Disneyland Resort annual pass holder hailing from Northern California, also anxiously awaiting for the moment to charge down Main Street U.S.A. for one of those colored wristbands. He regularly travels south for the winter to enjoy his beloved theme parks during the Christmas season, and just had to continue the tradition he instigated for himself the previous year of procuring one of those Disney-‐enhanced candy canes.
Since this morning marked “Magic Morning Hours” at the Disneyland Resort, my new friend and I stared apprehensively through the closed green-‐painted steel gates as we watched family after family parade through the turnstiles and onto the Disneyland premises. After a half hour of constantly checking the time on my phone, the admissions manager gave the nod of approval for the cast members to release us into the wild. I powered through the turnstile and continued hurriedly towards the castle with the strollers of other families grazing my heels. Up ahead, I spotted three cast members standing just outside the Candy Palace. One of the cast members named Theresa held the 8.5” x 11” yellow “Envelope of Glory” filled with the first treasures we all sought for the day. Successfully, my NorCal friend and I obtained a green wristband indicating we would acquire the second batch of the day at noon. (Silver wristbands dictated the first batch and red wristbands referred to the third and final batch of the day.)
As the floods of people who stormed the candy store for special tickets rapidly dissipated away into the general sea of humanity, I remained behind to witness the tail end of the candy making process of the first batch. A young woman in her mid-‐20’s enthusiastically snapped picture after picture of one of the candymen covering and sealing the completed candy canes into their plastic wrap. The woman informed me that she discovered the existence of these special seasonal goodies online, and knew that she had to have one. Another older woman in her 50’s standing adjacent to me explained that she only learned about the candy canes when she decided to investigate the line forming outside the Candy Palace that morning. She pointed triumphantly at the red bracelet she received through her curiosity.
For decades, we have associated candy canes with Christmas (and now many go a step further correlating the sweets with the Disneyland Resort), but where and when did these minty, sticky candies originate? Around the seventeenth century, European Christians began to adopt the use of Christmas trees during the Christmas celebrations, and decorated their pine trees with foods such as cookies and sugar-stick candies. Supposedly, the first historical reference to the familiar curved “J” shape of the candy dates back to 1670 when a choirmaster at the Cologne Cathedral in Germany bent the sugar-‐sticks into canes to represent a shepherd’s staff. The choirmaster could then not only use the all-‐white candy as a method for appeasing the often restless and noisy children during a church service, but also use it as an educational tool as well—the crook could serve as a way for the children to remember the story of the shepherds who came to visit the baby Jesus. (Mikkelson).
Centuries later in 1847, records show America inherited the candy cane when a German immigrant, August Imgard decorated his Christmas tree in his Wooster, Ohio home with the all-‐white crooked treats. Imgard, the town’s tailor, began to miss his Bavarian home with the approaching Christmas season, and decided bringing in a spruce tree from the nearby creek into his house to decorate would help alleviate some of that homesickness (Winkleman). However, the invention of the stripes on the candies remains a mystery. Nonetheless, Christmas cards prior to 1900 illustrate all-‐white candy canes, and cards post 1900 depict the customary striped curved sweets we know and love today. Moreover, around the same time as the introduction of the red ribbon on candy canes, candy makers began to add peppermint and wintergreen flavors to the confectionary, thus, becoming the long-‐ lasting traditional seasonal flavors over the years (Bellis).
Historical accounts of the choirmaster in Germany and a more recent report of a candy maker in Indiana who “stained” candy canes with red stripes to show “the stripes of the scourging Jesus received”, prove problematic as accurate documentation for both remain nonexistent. Perhaps the cryptic tales of this holiday treat add to its appeal…
Nevertheless, we do know that in 1919, Bob McCormack produced candy canes for local use and sales in Albany, Georgia, and by the middle of the century his company (originally the Famous Candy Company, then the Mills-‐McCormack Candy Company, and later Bob’s Candies) had become one of the world’s leading candy cane producers. However, while these candy canes were largely made by machine, they did require workers to physically bend them into the signature “J” shape, which limited production quantities. Some years later, McCormack’s brother-‐in-‐law, a Catholic priest named Gregory Harding Keller, resolved this issue by inventing the Keller Machine, which automated the process of shaping straight candy sticks into candy canes (Mikkelson).
Thank you, Mr. Keller for your genius, but these Disney fans, myself included, now prefer racing down Main Street U.S.A. or Buena Vista Street to adopt a candy cane treated with tenderness and skill from the hands of three different humans.
On the day I visited the park, the three confectionary wizards, Brian, Sarah, and forty-‐year veteran Rob, huddled in their tiny heated kitchen, using a Disneyland recipe dating back to 1968. The candy makers perform a two-‐hour-‐long process to eventually conjure their treasures for this Christmas season. All Disney guests, regardless of whether a distinguished wristband adorns their wrist on that day or not, can witness the “lost art” of hand made candy making by simply gazing into the Candy Palace’s kitchen windows at Disneyland. The candy makers labor away in their signature white uniforms and red-‐striped neckerchiefs in 95-‐degree-‐ Fahrenheit heat to work their magic with the blob-‐like form of sugar, water, and a little bit of corn syrup. Since they can easily control their indoor environment, Rob and his fellow candy makers use about 90% sugar and minuscule amounts of corn syrup to create a less-‐preservative-‐induced treat. While relieving himself from the intentionally heated kitchen as he waited for the sugary-‐water concoction to boil to a temperature of 313˚F, Rob explained to me that larger kitchens require lots of corn syrup in their candy to make it pliable throughout the candy making process. The extremely warm conditions of his kitchen allow the desired elasticity in his candy to prevent the sugar from hardening too rapidly and breaking.
“So what’s so special about 313˚F?” I inquired. Rob just smiled and casually stated that he has learned after so many years of trial and error that 313 is the sweet spot of a temperature that allows his team to manipulate the sugar as needed.
As the digital thermometer neared 313 in its easily legible, red font, Rob bid adieu and headed back into his candy world. At 313˚F precisely, Rob removed the thermometer and the lid that covered the giant copper pot, before he and Sarah hoisted the boiling vessel of sugar over the heated, slightly greased metal tabletop and poured its contents slowly onto the surface. All three stood back and intently examined the yellow liquid, anticipating a certain cue, unknown to me, for when to make the next move. At that magical moment, Rob grasped onto a metal spatula and began folding the dispersed blob onto itself over and over again. He continued this action multiple times before severing two separate pieces of the sweet substance from the larger yellow substance by using a ridiculously long pair of scissors bearing the resemblance of a small saber. Hands gloved, Sarah seized the medium-‐ sized slice and Brian acquired the smallest of the 3 pieces. Sarah and Brian moved their portions down to the lower end of the table to place the powdered food dye into them. Rob continued to manipulate the large glob by hand at the other end of the table as Brian and Sarah kneaded and folded the smaller blobs to generate one red and one green block.
Rob eventually shaped his concoction into a long rectangular log. With that formation established, Rob gripped either ends of this log into his still-‐gloved hands and began stretching and pulling the sugary silly-‐putty concoction several times over a metal hook hanging on the wall in order to crystallize the sugar. This pulling motion aerates the candy canes to deliver a light and crispy texture, and also provides their white color as well. While the stretching occurred, one of the other candy makers applied a quarter ounce of peppermint oil to the pulled sweet substance to give the candy canes their conventional flavor.
Rob then placed that mixture in all its new flavored glory back on the metal table to begin molding it into a giant block, turning it from side to side while poking it with the saber scissors in order to eliminate air pockets. Sarah, in the meantime, had worked with the colored pieces on a nearby wooden tabletop under a small heat lamp to construct flat, rectangular red bands and elongated, rolled green strips. Rob then transferred the white block under the mini heat lamp after deeming it suitable for the application of the colored strips, which will ultimately provide the iconic stripes on the finished candy canes. With the red bands draped along four sides of the sugary mass and the green strips wrapped around the sides in the opposite direction, all candy makers took their positions as Rob began to massage and twist one end of the peppermint-‐induced block to construct a large funnel-‐like form resembling the Sorcerer’s hat. Brian, standing beside Rob, took the narrow end of the created funnel, and slowly rolled out the striped mass on the wooden table.
Brian would spool out each stick about three quarters of an inch in diameter and cut them at eighteen inches from tip to tip. These candy canes, thus, stretch much further than the traditional store-‐bought candy canes that measure only six inches in length, and weigh a remarkable 5.25 ounces compared to the machine-‐made confectionary weighing a measly .5 ounces.
Finally, Sarah retrieved the chopped candy, and placed it around the edge of a wood mold to create the “J” shape of the cane. The newly cut and formed candy canes returned to the now cold metal tabletop to harden and maintain their desired shape. With the entire sugary module used, and with even a sweet trio of mini candy canes created with the small left over portion to include in a Christmas-‐care package for the military, all three Disney candy magicians paused briefly before commencing the final stages of their candy making. Each candy maker wrapped the forty-‐something canes inside simple plastic bags with one end already tied, and the other end tied by a small machine resting atop one of the wooden tables. With all bags filled, the batch reached completion, the confectionary trio could rest, and the eager, branded guests could line up inside the candy shop to collect their holiday prize.
After peering over the shoulders of those in front of me as well as nearly pressing my nose up onto the glass for several hours to gawk at the sheer talent presented before me behind a storefront window, I happily accepted the finished product wrapped with the same care and affection that went into resurrecting the candy cane itself. I tore back a small portion of the plastic from the bottom of the cane to taste the minty Disney goodness. I appreciated the not-‐so-‐sticky texture coupled by a small hint of peppermint bouncing on the palate. My taste buds also approved of the level of sweetness as my tolerance of sugary morsels has waned due to my age and my deeper appreciation for bitter and salty foods. It certainly exceeded the consistency and flavor of the traditional store bought candy cane, but it remained a bit too firm for my liking.
However, in spite of my less than overly enthusiastic reaction towards the holiday treat, I thoroughly enjoyed my entire morning and afternoon at the Candy Palace. I remember one older woman asking me what makes these candy canes so special and why do people race in line for a wristband to purchase such an expensive candy cane? Well, I cannot speak for the man who earlier proclaimed his absolute pleasure at immediately consuming his purchased candy while it contains some of the warmth from the kitchen, or even for his two female friends who vow to save their sweets intact and unwrapped for the decades to come. I can say for me, that even though the actual candy cane did not possess any magical capabilities, the people I befriended, the knowledge I gained, the “lost art” I witnessed, and the joy and intrigue expressed by all I encountered, made this day at Disneyland one of the most memorable and gratifying I have ever experienced! The infection of festive cheer spread throughout the park and into my soul, and for that, I will return to the Candy Palace, not for a candy cane, but for the experience to re-witness that confectionary virtuosity in the midst of fellow Disney aficionados. Happy Holidays, one and all!