For the love of French candy
This story was written in 2013. It has been updated.
Les bonbons. Les bonbecs. I miss you, sweet (and not so sweet) candy of my childhood. My teeth did not like you as much as I did. I associated with you too often, and spent many Thursday mornings (the French school children’s day off at the time,) in a dentist chair. Ah, les caries! (cavities.) And these ugly silver colored tooth fillings! You were worth it, les bonbons. You were always worth it.
I was looking at the candy sold at the local movie theater the other day, and felt sorry for the poor American children who will never know you, as I did. You were just as colorful, as chemically processed, as unhealthy as your modern counterparts, but time – and memories – have given you an aura, a patina. You have aged well, like a good wine.
Je me souviens… I remember…
I remember trips to the local confiserie, or boulangerie, where you were artfully displayed on the counter, at the right height to seduce and fascinate our young eyes, and close enough to the cash register so Madame la commerçante (the shopkeeper) could keep an eye on us, in case we attempted to snatch you.
Je me souviens… I remember my first business: As a budding entrepreneur, (I was 11,) I convinced my brother and cousin to sell candy at the local beach during our summer vacation at Grandma’s. We purchased our supplies at the town’s boulangerie in the morning, and displayed them artfully in a small cardboard box we took turns carrying with a string around our necks (like the usher at the movie theater.) That afternoon, we walked two miles to the beach, and paced back and forth for hours in the sun, singing our mesmerizing little song: “Bonbons, sucettes, chewing gum!” (candy, lollipops, bubble gum.) Forget organic homemade treats, and kale chips. Candy was a hot item, then. What children can resist candy? What parents can refuse kids their sweets during a summer vacation? There was one problem: We, the merchants, ended up eating half of our inventory on the way down to the beach. Then on the way back, my brother, distracted by an enticing licorice stick, lost all our hard-earned money. Not to despair. This French Girl soon came up with an even better business idea. But we will save this for another story.
|Mèze (Southern France:) “our” beach, today.
Je me souviens… I remember my favorite candy.
I remember les acidulés, ranging from tangy to tart, all the way to grimace-inducing, tooth-hurting acidity.
- Les bonbons soucoupes (resembling flying saucers,) ruled supreme. They looked harmless and were prettier than macarons. Their soft shell, made out of the same unleavened bread as les hosties (Communion wafers) we consumed at Church on Sundays, melted on the tongue after a few minutes, revealing the white powder inside, an explosion of sour flavors.
- Les petites filles loved their candy necklaces. Each “pearl” on the necklace had a different flavor: You just chewed if off the flexible rubber band. The necklace turned into a gooey mess, that would inevitably get stuck in your hair. Good times.
- It was so much fun to pull on the tangy Bouteilles Cola (Coke flavored gummy bottles,) until they ripped apart. It was the next best thing to enjoying soda, still frowned upon by many parents.
Je me souviens… I remember les bonbons à la réglisse, the licorice-flavored candy.
- Who could resist Haribo‘s Car en Sac or eat only a couple, when it was so easy to pour the contents of each little bag inside your mouth? Did it matter that the little buggers would stain your tongue red, green or blue for hours afterwards?
- It is a miracle my teeth weren’t permanently stained by les rouleaux de réglisse. It was such a treat to unroll, and chew away, as the sweet taste of licorice hit your tongue, until you reached the reward: the piece of candy in the middle of the roll.
- All French kids, my generation or older, knew Coco Boer, immortalized by singer Renaud (*) in his nostalgic and poetic song, Mistral Gagnant, in 1985.
“(…) Te raconter surtout les carambars d’antan et les Coco Boer
Et les vrais roudoudous qui nous coupaient les lèvres
Et nous niquaient les dents
Et les mistrals gagnants.”
The licorice-based, anis-flavored powder stained our fingers, as we dipped them in the small tin boxes. In the summer, our mothers would add Coco Boer to water to prepare a refreshing drink.
|Pre-cola days in Europe…
Je me souviens… I remember les Roudoudous (colorful hard candy we licked out of sea shells,) and les carambars (hard caramel flavored sticks that inevitably destroyed your tooth fillings,) both mentioned in Renaud’s lyrics, as children’s favorites.
But none of these delicious friends could rival the guimauve-based kings of French candy!
The ever popular Fraise Tagada, (soft mounds of white marshmallow covered in a hard sugar crust to resemble strawberries) is as popular today as it was in my youth, with children and stressed grownups. “Tagada, on grandira plus tard!” touts Haribo’s new commercial (Tagada, we will grow up later!)
- Bouquet d’Or’s Petit Ourson Guimauve (chocolate covered, marshmallow teddy bears,) was born over 50 years ago, and still delights French – and as of 2012 – North American palates.
|Forget pretty! L’ourson is flippin’ good!
… and ready to take on the American market…
Oui, je me souviens… I remember you, old friends, chers bonbons de mon enfance.
I am happy that some of you have recently enjoyed a revival, thanks to a few brave distributors like bonbonsgourmands.fr I will see you in a few months, when we make it across the pond. After all, Junior’s friends may not know what they are missing, here in the United States, but he has already been properly introduced to most of you. And he loves you, he really, really loves you, like Maman.
Renaud’s Mistral Gagnant, one of the most beautiful French songs ever written, I am certain:
Don’t speak French? A brave soul attempted a translation of the nostalgic Mistral Gagnant lyrics. Renaud wrote the song for his young daughter in 1985.
Bonne écoute. Enjoy!