Russian immigrant Robert Altshuler arrived in the United States in 1917. Working hard, Altshuler saved his money and learned all the right skills, and by 1950 he was ready to found the Annabelle Candy Company. Named for Altshuler’s daughter and dedicated to delicious, high-quality West Coast treats, Annabelle is ground zero for West Coast candy.

Learning by trial and error, Altschuler arrived at the idea for the Rocky Road bar, a nutty, marshmallowy, incredibly messy but infinitely rewarding bar. The Rocky Road took off, and soon Annabelle moved from its San Francisco, California factory to a newer, expanded factory in Hayward where it prospers still.

Altschuler passed away in 1971, never seeing his company grow to match the powerhouses of Mars and Hershey’s, but still guiding Annabelle to a position of West Coast mainstay that thrives even today. Through canny acquisitions, the company has increased its stable of high-profile candy bars to include Big Hunk and Look (from the Golden Nugget Candy Co.), in addition to the U-NO and universal favorite Abba Zaba (formerly Cardinet Candy Co. confections). The Annabelle Candy Company offers today the same handmade delights that made its name over half a century ago, and its eight permanent offerings enjoy lofty spots in the upper echelons of West Coast snacking.

Thankfully, the retro candy trend has brought Annabelle treats waaaaaaay out East. Curious readers can find an Abba-Zaba or Rocky Road in just about any dedicated candy store and novelty shop, provided the slight mark-up isn’t too much to bear. And you can always order direct from Annabelle’s website: www.annabelle-candy.com

Here’s a brief rundown of Annabelle’s top tier treats (photos courtesy annabelle-candy.com):

Rocky Road

Rocky Road: Tastes just the ice cream bearing its name, though the traditional almonds of rocky road ice cream are replaced here with roasted cashews. I’m not a cashew fan, but I always make an exception for the marshmallow malt of a Rocky Road.

U-NO

U-NO: A truffle-ish center with almond bits coated in milk chocolate, the U-NO dates to the 1920s, by far the oldest candy bar in the Annabelle family (er, by adoption). It’s super fluffy, but don’t let it dry out, lest you eat something akin to chocolate coated styrofoam.
Abba-Zaba
Abba-Zaba: Tom Waits don’t want no Abba-Zaba, but the man’s a certifiable nut anyway. This delicious vanilla-like taffy bar is filled with creamy peanut butter, guaranteed to pull out your fillings but leave you supremely unconcerned, all things considered. Also a 1920s throwback, confirming that the ’20s was the most delicious decade of American confections. The Zaba’s available in two variations, one with a chocolate center instead of peanut butter, and another with green apple taffy and peanut butter.
Big Hunk

Big Hunk: Ah! Truth in adverising indeed! A big fat block of honey nougat made even fatter with roasted peanuts. Very good, and surprisingly low in fat (only 3 grams of fat per 2-ounce bar). Much like the Abba-Zaba, a Big Hunk typically takes me about three weeks to gnaw down. A good investment!

Look

Look: I’ve never come across a Look yet, but its molasses-flavored nougat sprinkled with roasted peants and coated in dark chocolate leaves me, er–Looking.

Courtesy Neatorama, another stroll through the graveyard of long-gone candy bars. These deceased treats were found in the research and Candy Bar Gazebo zine of, of course, Ray Broekel.

THE AIR MAIL BAR. Introduced in 1930 to honor the first airmail flight in the U.S. – in 1918, from Washington, D.C. to New York City. Ironically, the first flight never made it to New York. After takeoff, the pilot noticed someone had forgotten to fill the fuel tank. Then he got lost over Maryland and had to land in a cow pasture. The Air Mail candy bar had a similar fate.

FAT EMMA. In the early 1920s, the Pendergast Candy Company in Minneapolis introduced a candy bar with a nougat center. They planned to call it the Emma bar. But when it wound up twice as thick as expected (they accidentally put too much egg white in the mixture), they changed the name to Fat Emma. Later, Frank Mars copied the idea to create the Milky Way bar.

THE SAL-LE-DANDE BAR. The first candy bar named after a stripper – Sally Rand, whose “fan dance” at the 1933-34 Chicago World’s Fair shocked and titillated the nation. In the 1960s, another stripper bar was available briefly: the Gypsy bar, named after Gypsy Rose Lee.

The Red Grange Bar

THE RED GRANGE BAR. Endorsed by Red Grange, the most popular football player of his day. After starring at the University of Illinois, he joined the Chicago Bears in 1925 and helped keep the National Football League in business. Unfortunately, he couldn’t do the same for his candy bar.

THE VEGETABLE SANDWICH BAR. One of the weirdest “health” bar ever made, this 1920s vegetable concoction contained cabbage, celery, peppers, and tomatoes. Its makers claimed that it aided digestion and “will not constipate.”

THE ZEP CANDY BAR. “Sky-High Quality.” One of several candy bars that capitalized on the popularity of “lighter-than-air” dirigibles in the 1930s. This one featured a sketch of a Graf Zeppelin on the wrapper. It was taken off the market after the Hindenburg exploded in 1937.

THE CHICKEN DINNER BAR. One of the bestselling bars you’ve never heard of. It was introduced in the 1920s and remained on the market for about 50 years. The original wrapper featured a picture of a roasting chicken on a dinner plate – a bizarre way of suggesting it was a nourishing meal and encouraging customers to associate it with prosperity (“a chicken in every pot”). The manufacturer, Sperry Candy Co., even dispatched a fleet of Model A trucks disguised as giant sheet-metal chickens to deliver the candy to stores. Several years after the bar’s debut, Sperry dropped the chicken from the wrapper. But it kept the name.

THE BIG-HEARTED “AL” BAR. George Williamson, owner of the Williamson Candy Company, was a good Democrat and a good friend of New York governor Al Smith, Democratic nominee for president in 1928. Smith lost in a landslide to Herbert Hoover, and his candy bar soon followed.

Seven Up

THE SEVEN UP CANDY BAR. Got its name from having seven connected pieces, each with a different center. The bar came out in the 1930s, before the 7-Up Bottling Company began production of its soft drink – so the Trudeau Candy Company owned the trademark rights to the name. Eventually the 7-Up Bottling Company bought the bar and retired it, so they had exclusive use of the name no matter how it was spelled – Seven Up or 7-Up.

THE “IT” BAR. The #1 female sex symbol of the silent movie era was Clara Bow – known as the “It Girl.” (She had that special quality her movie studio called “It.”) In 1927 the McDonald Candy Company of Salt Lake City tried cashing in on her popularity with a candy bar featuring her face on the wrapper. It did well for a few years, then disappeared along with Bow. (She wasn’t able to make the switch to talkies, because although she was lovely to look at, her Brooklyn accent made her impossible to listen to.)

Also Gone: The Betsy Ross bar, the Lindy (for Charles Lindbergh), Amos ‘n’ Andy, Poor Prune, Vita Sert, and Doctor’s Orders.

Spotlight: Chicken Dinner

September 23, 2008

Back in the 1920s, Milwaukee’s Sperry Candy Company gave the world its weirdest treat of all: the Chicken Dinner. Read the rest of this entry »

The Canadian National Post presented a slightly disturbing piece on August 27, 2008: News not so sweet in candy bar research Read the rest of this entry »