Legend has it that in 1670, the choirmaster at the Cologne Cathedral in Germany handed out sugar sticks among his young singers to keep them quiet during the long Living Creche ceremony. In honor of the occasion, he had the candies bent into shepherds’ crooks. In 1847, a German-Swedish immigrant named August Imgard of Wooster, Ohio, decorated a small blue spruce with paper ornaments and candy canes. It wasn’t until the turn of the century that the red and white stripes and peppermint flavors became the norm.
In the 1920s, Bob McCormack began making candy canes as special Christmas treats for his children, friends and local shopkeepers in Albany, Georgia. It was a laborious process – pulling, twisting, cutting and bending the candy by hand. It could only be done on a local scale.
In the 1950s, Bob’s brother-in-law, Gregory Keller, a Catholic priest, invented a machine to automate candy cane production. Packaging innovations by the younger McCormacks made it possible to transport the delicate canes on a large scale.
Although modern technology has made candy canes accessible and plentiful, they’ve not lost their purity and simplicity as a traditional holiday food.
How are candy canes made?
Many machines help with the production of this popular Christmas confection.
Sugar and corn syrup are heated in large kettles and then vacuum cooked. The candy is poured on a cooling table where peppermint and starch are added. The starch holds flavor during mixing and prevents stickiness. Next, a kneader mixes the flavoring and candy together until it turns a golden brown color. Afterwards, it is placed into a puller that turns the candy silky white. It moves to a batch former and is made into a log-like shape.
The stripes are formed on a heating table and placed on the white log. The candy is put back on the batch roller and formed into a cone shape. Sizing wheels reduce the cone to the diameter of a candy cane and turn it into a rope. Next, a twister will make the rope into a barber pole.
Finally, it moves to a cutter that snips the candy into strips. The candy is kept warm so it will not harden. It is placed in wrappers and the heat of the candy will shrink the wrappers. The canes move to a crooker, which will give the candy its Shepard’s Crook or hook. The candy canes are placed into a box, called a cradle, inspected and shipped.
Fun facts about candy canes: