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Ralph Gardner Jr: Halloween Came To The Candy Aisle Too Soon

Ralph Gardner, Jr
Autumn-themed treats in the candy aisle

On a visit to WAMC’s studio in Albany last week a friendly staffer offered me a marshmallow peep. I hesitated and finally had to reject her generosity.

One reason I did so is that these peeps happened to be brown, not the most appetizing color for a peep. Another reason is that they were maple flavored. In retrospect, I realize the candy was part of a recent trend that I’ll get to shortly.

I have no doubt that had these tiny critters been traditional yellow, or any of the half dozen eye-popping colors that peeps come in these days, they’d have been snarfed down long before my arrival on Central Avenue.

But I suspected others shared my wariness of a maple flavored peep because they remained in their box, the cellophane packaging unbroken.

I’m a big believer in freshness, not that I’m suggesting the peeps weren’t fresh from Peepville, or wherever peeps are raised.

I’m one of those sorry souls who checks the freshness date on everything, even consumables that could probably be buried in a time capsule, unearthed a century from now, and taste just the same.

Jell-O, for example. I was recently checking the freshness date on a box of lemon Jell-O and discovered it expires – whatever expires means when it comes to artificially flavored gelatin powder – this December.

That seems a little too soon. My assumption, as I said, was that Jell-O was one of those things, like Tang, that astronauts could pack on trips to the outer planets. So I checked another seemingly identical box, and this one expired in 2019.

A gap of two full years, twenty-four months. Do I think I’d be able to taste the difference between the two boxes? Have you ever heard anybody say – “Wow, this Jell-O tastes amazingly fresh!” Probably not.

Yet, I was suffused with a certain sense of triumph that I’d outwitted our corporate overlords. I also experienced a sense of well-being in the knowledge that there was no Jell-O at the supermarket more youthful than the box I now deposited in my cart.

I employ the same philosophy when it comes to holiday candy, no matter the holiday. I demand freshness even though that’s probably a fool’s game. For all I know, the candy corn or chocolate bunnies I purchase as soon as they’re available may have been manufactured months earlier.

While the brown peeps at WAMC brought this issue to a head – if you’re still scratching your head about what the issue you’re probably not alone – it’s something I’ve been debating since August.

That’s when I checked out the seasonal or novelty candy aisle in my local supermarket and discovered it was already fully stocked for Halloween. In addition to candy corn, the offerings included those mellowcreme pumpkins, googly eyes foil-wrapped double crisp chocolate eyeballs, and bags of individual-serving Twix, Reese’s peanut butter cups, M&M’s, Snickers, Milky Way, etc.

At that moment my passion for freshness bumped up against the sensation that there’s something wrong, something unnatural, even slightly creepy (and not in a friendly spooky Halloweeny kind of way) about selling candy featuring ghosts and goblins when it’s ninety degrees outside and people are still heading to the beach.

I stood in the candy aisle for longer than I care to admit while I contemplated this existential dilemma. Because it’s not just about holiday candy. It’s what holiday candy signifies – reassuring ritual that gives contour and context to life; the turning of the seasons. As much as I like candy corn, in moderation, it would have felt unseemly devouring it before children had even returned to school.

There are many great things about being an adult. Not having to ask anybody’s permission to buy candy, for example. But there comes a point when self-respect equals self-restraint.

I mentioned a trend of which I have come to realize those suspect brown peeps offered to me at WAMC are illustrative. That’s the rebranding of Halloween candy as autumnal treats. Now, you don’t consume them just on October 31st – and maybe a week on either side of that date – but from Labor Day all the way through Thanksgiving.

I just bought a bag of autumn-themed Hershey’s Kisses where the traditional silver foil Kiss is joined by those wrapped in red and orange foil. I’ve got to admit it’s festive. It adds a little variety to my candy consuming day.

Besides, if chocolate Easter eggs can be wrapped in blues and pinks and green why not the hues of autumn?

Hershey’s is definitely onto something. And with their Fall Harvest miniatures as well. Here Krackle, Mr. Goodbar and milk and semi-sweet chocolates have been decorated with hooting owls, cute squirrels and falling leaves.

M&M’s I’ve noticed, is also getting on the seasonal bandwagon with Mr. M&M – if that’s his moniker – clutching a football and wearing a coach’s cap while blowing a whistle.

But it’s a delicate balance between candy that gracefully piggybacks off the season versus confections that descend into unappetizing kitsch. For example, the taffy that was on the shelf next to the M&M’s. It was celebrating autumn with flavors such as pumpkin pie and whipped cream, candy corn, and caramel apple.

I think I can speak for everyone over six when I say that if I want a caramel apple I’ll buy the real thing and not some saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium, and dentist visit inducing delivery system.

Autumn deserves more respect than that.

Ralph Gardner, Jr. is a journalist who divides his time between New York City and Columbia County. More of his work can be found at ralphgardner.com

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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