For the love of French candy

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.
Sinful!
  • 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. 
 
A bientôt.
 
 
Additional Material:
 
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!
 
 
 

62 Responses to For the love of French candy

    • I know what we have in common – most of these candies! How fun. You totally took me back to my childhood in Toulouse. My favorite were the Fraise Tagada! I was totally addicted and had to be stopped as a child. Thank goodness nobody can stop me now. Next time I’m in France, I’m going to buy a few bags. I probably could get some online n’est pas? 😉 Now I’m going to listen to the song. Do you remember the song Alexandrie Alexandra? =)

    • @ Splendid Market: Thank you for the kind comment. How is life sur la Côte d’Azur? You have certainly made the most of your stay there. I enjoyed your last story on “Blanc Bleu” at Marché Saleya. Great pics.

      @ Sandy: I have learned you and I have a lot more in common than just candy. Don’t forget my hometown is Toulouse, too 🙂 Fraises Tagada and Les Oursons are truly sinful. I am almost afraid to start sampling them again…

  1. What a “sweet” post. I’m sure junior has his own special memories of favorite Bon bons. I used to love when our grandpa would give us money for penny candy. My favorite gummy cinnamon bears!

    • A “sweet” post indeed. My teeth are threatening to fall off any second due to the sugar exposure! I am pretty sure France does not have gummy cinnamon bears. Cinnamon was never as big over there as it is here in the States, but things are changing, I have heard…

  2. I had forgotten about all those sweet treats, particularly “bonbons acidules”. But very often, I still dream of “petits oursons”.
    This brings back so many memories. Thank you Veronique!

    • I know Veronique, I have been here too long and feel more american than french now. I even cannot stand cold weather anymore. But you have to know that I had the best childhood (in France from my birth until we moved to Paris when I was 10 years old) and if it was possible, I would go back in a heartbeat.

  3. Bonjour ma très chère amie,
    Je suis très heureuse de te retrouver… Merci pour ton très précieux message.
    Je viens de passer un moment fabuleux en te lisant et en revoyant certains des bonbons qui nous faisaient saliver et qui me font encore baver de plaisir !
    Il m’arrive parfois d’acheter une boîte de nounours à la guimauve/chocolat. (pour accompagner le petit café pris au lit le soir!!)
    Mais ce qui me manque toutefois, c’est l’atmosphère que nous procurait le fait de rentrer dans la boutique, de compter et recompter combien de bonbons on pourrait s’offrir avec une ou plusieurs petites pièces, tout en espérant que le marchand puisse être généreux ou ne sache plus tellement compter!! Le marchand de bonbons de mon enfance s’appelait monsieur Philippon et je n’ai jamais oublié son nom, ni son étalage de friandises… Cependant des pièces je n’en avais pas souvent, mais rien ne m’empêchait d’aller coller mon nez sur sa devanture ! Parfois, si monsieur Philippon n’était pas occupé à distribuer ou à surveiller les choix des enfants, il sortait et me donnait un petit bonbon et me disait : “Allez, file!”…
    Tu réveilles aujourd’hui des souvenirs précieux enfouis dans ma boîte…
    Un gros bisous à toi…

    • Welcome back Martine! Merci d’avoir laissé ce gentil commentaire, et de partager avec nous ces souvenirs d’enfance . Ils sont toujours personnels, mais beaucoup reconnaitront “Monsieur Philippon,” j’en suis sûre. Peut-être fera-t-il un jour l’objet d’une de tes belles peintures? A bientôt. Bises à Leo le Toucan.

  4. Merci for the delightful and poignant blog about candy. I have favorites from my childhood also, such nostalgia. You have such a tender touch as you reminisce, so enjoyable. A sweet trip down memory lane…
    A bientot – Cherie

  5. Les colliers existent toujours , et finissent de façon toute aussi degoutante:o)
    Il y avait aussi les bâtons de réglisse, qui ressemblaient à des bouts de bois , et que l’on machouillait pendant des heures; et les longs tubes en plastique remplis de microbilles sucrées; et les “cacahuètes”, qui n’en étaient pas mais y ressemblaient;et les berlingots, vendus dans de grands bocaux…. je me souviens qu’on glanait 5 centimes par ci ou par-là,par exemple en rapportant les bouteilles de verre à la consigne, et qu’on pouvait alors aller à la boulangerie , où chaque bonbon coutait UN centime! …
    Tu fais vibrer des cordes nostalgiques , aujourd’hui, et revenir des souvenirs enfouis!Les bonbons , ce sont nos madeleines de Proust!
    PS: vu Happiness Therapy. Délicieux moment! Bradley Cooper joue vraiment bien, de Niro est carrément sensationnel, et l’ensemble du film est … un vrai bonbon!
    Bonne semaine , je t’embrasse!

    • Les bâtons de réglisse… un grand classique en effet. J’ai eu du mal à faire des choix, tu l’imagines… Les bonbons en madeleines de Proust. Il fallait y penser. Absolument d’accord. Oh, et ravie que tu aies aimé le film avec Bradley. Je pensais bien qu’il te plairait. Bises du Grand Ouest américain, pour ma copine M. et ma chère Nice…

  6. What lovely memories and pictures. I still love liquorice and those very sour sweets that make you look as thought you have sucked on a lemon.
    When I was in the USA I found everything much sweeter than in France, the sweets, the cakes, the soda’s. They were so sweet they set my teeth on edge. The chocolate was so sweet I couldn’t eat it and I am fairly addicted to chocolate.

    • Bonjour Kerry. I agree with you. Our American friends enjoy life on the sweet side 🙂 Too bad i don’t enjoy sour candy as much as I used to as a child… but I will still be happy to get my hands on les Fraises Tagada, les Oursons au chocolat, et les Carambars, of course, when I return to Europe… Bonne fin de semaine dans le Sud de la belle France…

  7. Veronique, I can attest to the fact that they are every bit as good today as they were in your childhood. 🙂 when my girls were small I especially appreciated being able to buy a small amount of candy at the bakery. It was nice treat, a small amount never did them any harm and I didn’t have to buy a huge box and listen to them asking me every five minutes at home for just “one more please, Maman.”

    • Bonjour Victoria. Good point you are making. Being able to buy a smaller quantity of candy is both cheaper, and wiser, and it is still possible to do so in French boulangeries… I am sure you remember the size (and price) of candy boxes in North American movie theaters (usually enjoyed with half a gallon of soda, bien sûr…) 😉 —

  8. A wonderful post again, as positively nostalgic as the fabulous Renaud song ! My youth was spent in Sweden, so my memories are not linked to exactly the same sweets (less “international” those days), but are somehow similar. I never found any “oursons”, “nounours”, then, but today, a bit later, I have become a very good client!

  9. I wasn’t allowed sweets as a child, but as an adult I am partial to Haribo – especially the licorice. I’m not sure if should admit this, but on a recent trip to France I spent an afternoon in the south at the Haribo factory and left with metres and metres of licorice straps (conveniently curled up into round plastic containers) and boxes of ” ‘strawberries”. I was in a hyperglycemic trance for weeks! Bisous.

  10. I remember rock candy, flip chips, peanut brittle and sponge candy covered in chocolate. Of course if given a choice as a child I loved raisins and salted cashews more.

    • I was trying to picture all these, since I am not familiar with them, except maybe peanut brittle (please tell me that was not covered in chocolate, as well!?) — Salted cashews sound pretty good too. I enjoy them on a regular basis. Thank you for stopping by!

  11. A sweet post Veronique; I loved your tale of your first business efforts selling candy on the beach and look forward to hearing about your next brainstorm. For me, I am partial to chocolate over all of these bonbons. Have a great day. A bientot.

    • Bonjour Michel. Merci de ta visite. Wait until you find out about the rest of my French entrepreneur career! You will not believe it! I think my adult tastes have drifted more towards chocolate as well, but I am picky. I guess this means my taste buds have not completely been destroyed by all the sour and chemically processed Bonbons I enjoyed as a child! Phew.

  12. Most French candy–other than chocolate, bien sûr–didn’t interest me, as I don’t like licorice or tart flavors. But I never heard of the Petit Ourson, and I’m wondering how in the world it got by me!?!

  13. sweet! and my kids are obsessed with carembars here. and of course the kinder eggs. i will be trying les petits oursons for sure! merci veronique! 🙂

  14. What a beautiful post, even though I did not have then, nor do I have now, a sweet tooth. My p’tit pêché mignon was a big box of American sweet tarts. Still is, if I’m to be completely honest, and the occasional red licorice twist. I have always gone for the sour and the tart in my candy selection.

    What does that say about me, I wonder?

  15. Hello Veronique

    You brought back wonderful memories of childhood. We had some of those sweets in Ireland too. I love your first foray into retail and I can just imagine you with your little box secure around you neck as you sang out your inventory.
    Incidentally, thank you also for the movie suggestion, Silver Lining Playbook. Well worth seeing, we loved it The music was also uplifting.

    Helenxx

    • Bonsoir Helen. I am so happy you, too, enjoyed the Bradley movie. I am going to try and catch it again before the Academy Awards, that’s for sure.

      As for my first business, wait until you hear the end of the story… Some kids play in the sand when they go to the beach in the summer. I was too busy becoming the next Donald Trump 🙂

  16. Mmmm! I have many wonderful memories of the candy from my youth! 🙂 We had those candy tart necklaces too. They were my faves i think. (I say i think, because i had many favorites when it came to candy then.) Still do, in fact. I also like what we called ‘red hots’. They were super hot indeed, and they colored my tongue bright red. I never had a cavity though. And to this day, i have no fillings! Not one. I think i’m pretty lucky.. Love this post, btw. It’s lots of fun!

    • Bonsoir Mary. You’ve got to love candy necklaces. I might have to buy one (again) this summer. I have forgotten what the different flavors were, so I need to investigate further… Extremely important 🙂 No cavity. No filling. Lucky indeed. It was probably the result of all that yummy fluoride you American kids get in your drinking water! 🙂

  17. A lovely trip down memory lane! We actually call les bonbons soucoupes ‘flying saucers’ and I used to love the sherbet inside and unravelling the liquorice wheels too. In the North of England we often called liquorice ‘Spanish’ – I’m not sure why! Maybe because liquorice was imported from Spain or I’ve heard that Spanish monks in Yorkshire (our neighbouring county) cultivated liquorice root! As soon as I saw those Carambars I was transported back to France! I always bring some back to England with me! The Renaud song is so touching and so very appropriate for this nostalgic post. Bon week-end, Véronique.
    http://missbbobochic.blogspot.co.uk/

    • Bonjour miss b. I knew the French and the Brits had a lot more in common than an underwater tunnel and the Hundred Years’ War 🙂 Glad you enjoyed “Mistral Gagnant.” – -I have been watching old Renaud songs on YouTube this week and realized how much I still like his music. Do you remember the great song he wrote about women where he totally CREAMED Margaret Thatcher, the former British Prime Minister? 🙂

  18. Dearest Véronique,
    Aha, so many things I do recognize, even though I never really did eat candy. Maybe that’s why I still have all my teeth? Only 4 fillings from age 14… Haribo we had and framboise, poire candy. And you forgot the nougat… Or the Côte d’Or chocolate… We also had cinnamon and peppermint cushions that I got at the grocery but did always give away to my siblings at home. Fun childhood memories!
    Hugs to you,
    Mariette

  19. Il est clair, Véronique, que toutes ces friandises nous rappellent notre enfance. Ces souvenirs sont dans un petit carré de notre cerveau, et c’est toujours agréable de se les remémorer.
    Bon week-end!

  20. I’m wondering now which country introduced these candies first? I ate the same ones in the U.S. only with a different name. I went each Saturday with friends to the movie theater, and the best part was buying candy and eating it during the film….so much to choose from then.

    • A big manufacturer like the German Haribo probably did and they spread to all the other markets is my guess… No matter who did it, I certainly am glad “candy globalization” was already en route, Mem. Bon weekend!

  21. A lovely taste of childhood Veronique.
    I’ve been away from blog land for a while and am pleased to find you well.
    I shall keep reading. Best wishes to you and your family.
    Craig

    • YEAH!!! Craig and Boris are back! I’ve missed you guys. So good to hear you have been busy, and the new landscaping looks fab. Sometimes, you’ve just got to keep things in your own hands! Boris is even cuter at 10. What a lady killer that furry thing is. Come back soon, y’hear?

  22. Oh je viens juste de faire un delicieux retour en arriere…je me suis rappelee de tout mais egalement les boules de coco et les grandes fraises….l’enfance en France que de merveilleux souvenirs xx

  23. You could write a guide for us Veronique!
    This wonderful and fills in a lot holes in my French candy knowledge.
    So much to learn…so little time and over 600 regional candies in France!
    More candy than cheese.
    Merci Carolg

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