While there are a number of stories floating around, some believe the most likely origin is Germany, about 250 years ago, when they were first produced as white sugar sticks. It’s said that in 1670, a choirmaster was concerned about children having to sit in silence all the way through a long nativity service. So, he decided to give them something to help them stay quiet. As he wanted them to be associated with Christmas, he created the candy into a “J” shape, similar to a shepherd’s hook in order to remind them of the shepherds that visited the baby Jesus. Whether or not that’s 100 percent true, is hard to say as the earliest recorded use of candy canes doesn’t come for another two centuries, around the late 1800s. We do know that around 1900 was when the red stripes were added to the white sticks, along with peppermint flavoring.
Some say the “J” refers to Jesus and that the white of the cane represents his purity, while the red stripes are the blood he shed when dying on the cross. Peppermint may represent the hyssop plant, frequently used for purifying in the Bible.
America’s introduction to Christmas candy canes is often traced to August Imgard, a German immigrant who has been credited with introducing the Christmas tree to the country in 1847. The National Confectioners Association, for instance, says that Imgard “decorated a small blue spruce with paper ornaments and candy canes.”
The machine that makes the candy into a “J” shape is distinctly American, however. Bob McCormack was having trouble making candy canes because many of them broke during the process to bend them into their shape. Father Keller, his brother-in-law, created a machine that automated the process and was further perfected by Jimmy Spratling and Dick Driskel, two of McCormack’s employees. The results were candy canes that came out perfect almost every time. After that, production increased from thousands to millions every day.
You probably use them now to decorate your own tree, and perhaps dip them in hot chocolate to give your drink a deliciously minty taste, but how else can they be enjoyed?
This holiday season, you might want to try one or more of these three ways to enjoy candy canes.
Candy Cane Popcorn
If you want popcorn that tastes just like Christmas, this recipe is ideal, and it doesn’t even require baking. It makes for an especially tasty snack that blends both sweet and salty flavors, whether you want to enjoy it yourself, bring it to a potluck holiday party or give it as a fun gift. Just don’t use microwave popcorn as it’s not only unhealthy due to potentially harmful chemicals, it doesn’t taste nearly as good. Your best bet is to use air-popped popcorn.
- 16 ounces vanilla almond bark (you can use white chocolate, but vanilla almond bark melts much better)
- 12 peppermint candy canes, crushed in a food processor or by hand to fine crumbs
- 8 cups plain popped popcorn
- Place the popcorn in a large bowl.
- Melt the vanilla almond bark according to package directions.
- Stir a half-cup of the crushed candy canes into the melted bark and then pour that over the popcorn. Stir to thoroughly coat popcorn and then sprinkle remaining crushed candy canes.
- Lay the popcorn on a parchment paper lined cookie sheet to cool.
Chocolate-Dipped Candy Canes
You can make candy canes even tastier by coating them with a rich chocolate shell.
- 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
- 12 candy canes
- 3 ounces white baking chocolate, chopped
In a pot on the stove or in a microwave, melt the chocolate chips and then stir until smooth. Dip the curved ends of the candy canes into the melted chocolate, allowing the excess to drip off. Place them on waxed paper; set aside. Melt the white baking chocolate in the microwave or on the stove and stir until smooth. Use that to drizzle over the chocolate. If desired, you can sprinkle with crushed candy pieces too.
A Candy Cane Wreath
Candy canes, while delicious, aren’t just for eating. You can make this sweet candy cane wreath if you have the following:
- Candy canes, 12 miniature, and 20 regular size
- A hot glue
- Red waxed twine
- Spray sealant
- Red ribbon
Take two (unwrapped) candy canes and face them toward each other, creating a heart shape. Add a dab of hot glue on the two points where they touch, at the base and the tip of the hook. Take the larger candy canes and arrange them into 10 “hearts” in a wreath shape. Use the 12 mini-canes to create six “hearts,” forming a wreath. Dot hot glue on all of the points where the candy canes touch on their straight sides.
When the hot glue has dried, wrap the waxed twine around the connections and tie it off. Turn the wreath over so that the knots and hot glue are on the back. Layer the smaller wreath on top of the larger one, and secure with hot glue. Spray with a clear sealant to strengthen it and protect it from getting sticky. Use the ribbon to hang.
Cheers to the season and the candy cane!