With the advent of fall soon, there are certain seasonal treats which become more readily available, especially items using apples. One of my favorites, which can be found at many local farms, are fresh, cider donuts, and my favorites are from Russell Orchards. Prior to the pandemic, when we used to have local fairs, carnivals, and festivals, you would also find candy and caramel apples, which might be covered with coconut, nuts, colored sprinkles or other items. They are more difficult to find now, but are still available at some shops and farms.
Most sources claim that red candy apples were invented first, by William Kolb, a candy-maker in Newark, New Jersey around 1908. Sources also claim that caramel apples were first developed by Kraft Foods in the 1950s. Although I found multiple references to “candy apples” in 19th century newspapers, none of the references were specific enough to identify their actual nature. Some of the references almost seemed to indicate they were merely a type of candy, and not what we think of when we think “candy apple.”
However, I was able to find multiple, specific and detailed references to candy apples which predated their alleged invention in 1908. The St. Louis Republican (MO), November 5, 1900, published an article about local candy shops that were lowering their prices. It also mentioned that one of the shops had introduced a “Russian delicacy.” The article continued, “The new thing was candied apples on a stick. The apples were raw but the candy was red and sticky, and altogether winning.”
A competing candy store quickly learned how to create these candied apples, and the price dropped from 3 for a nickel, to one penny each, and finally to 2 for a penny. It’s now clear then that Kolb wasn’t the inventor of red candy apples.
The Buffalo Evening News, July 19, 1904, provided a recipe for a “candy apple” that stated “place apples pierce with bits of wood (like skewers) where the stems had been. These are placed in a pan and covered with a common brown taffy.” This isn’t a red candy apple but seems more similar to the caramel apple, as it was covered with a softer coating.
There was another reference to a red candy apple prior to 1908, in The Times Herald (MI), December 9, 1905, which published an article about the holiday season and mentioned “Red candy apples for the holiday time may be easily made at home by dipping small perfect apples in a bath of hot candy colored a brilliant red.”
Candy apples, with their distinctive red candy shell, are usually made with a flavored boiled sugar recipe, while Caramel apples are covered with melted caramel. There is a huge textural difference between the two, one with a hard outer shell and the other with a gooey exterior. The popularity of each varies across the country, though I’ve been noticing over the last several years, to my dismay, an increase in the ubiquity of caramel apples locally.
I love red candy apples, especially covered with coconut. It’s often a challenge to take that first crunchy bite into the hard shell, but it’s rewarding. With a fresh, crisp apple, the candy, coconut and fruit make for a very appealing treat. For me, the caramel apple fails. I love caramel, from a nice sweet sauce atop ice cream to a salted, gooey center of a dark chocolate. But I don’t like its soft gooey texture on a caramel apple. It’s too soft, and just doesn’t seem complementary to the crisp, juicy apple. Plus, maybe it’s also a bit sentimental, as growing up I most often had and enjoyed red candy apples.
Why has the popularity of red candy apples waned? What is behind the rise of caramel apples? I don’t have answers to these questions but I want to be able to more readily find red candy apples.
Do you prefer red candy apples or caramel apples? And why?