How the Opera Creams Are Made


Fawn Candy’s ball cream beater making the Opera Cream filling.


In Cincinnati, Easter is the prime time for our beloved Opera Cream. They come in the form of eggs, elongated bon bons, and even crosses. But aside from the common geometrical shapes, most cream-center chocolates don’t use molds or irregular shapes. That’s why you’ve never seen an opera cream bunny or unicorn.

Robert Hiner Putman, a candy maker from Tolesboro, Kentucky, near Maysville, who transplanted himself to Ft. Thomas, and his business to Cincinnati, is credited for inventing our opera cream some time in the 1910s. He and his wife operated two candy stores in downtown, and one at the Fair, a major Gilded Age department store in downtown Cincinnati. Putman’s innovation was adding rich, sweet cream into the standard fondant ‘creamed’ fillings used in French-style chocolate bon bons. Creamed fondants were basically emulsified fondants of cooled, molten sugar, none with actual cream in them, only sugar, water, and flavoring.

Convenient for Cincinnati candy makers, a Dayton, Ohio , company invented what is called the Ball Cream Beater, the machine that all makers of Opera Creams use to make the delicious filling inside the chocolate coating. It was designed to make any creamed fondant type of filling for chocolate bon bons from maple cream to mint creams to pineapple creams. The “Dayton Beater” as it’s called, was patented in 1905. All the advertisements for it in the Confectioner’s Association trade journals proclaim “Every Candy maker must own one.” And for sure, anyone that makes opera creams needs one.
The ball cream beater is a water-jacketed, horizontal, round mixer that is designed to cream a cooling molten mass of sugar and other ingredients into a candy center for use in chocolates. Oddly enough, it’s the same type of machine used to emulsify pork to make our Cincinnati Brats.


It’s a huge and heavy piece of equipment that once it’s installed, is rarely removed. The now defunct Sam’s Candy in Covington still has their original 1910s Ball Cream beater in the basement of what was once the soda fountain and candy store at street level. Fawn candy has theirs in the basement of their original Westwood candy factory.

Sam’s Ball Cream Beater in Covington, Kentucky (left) and Fawn’s in Westwood (right).
It is so important a piece of candy making history that our Smithsonian National Museum of American history has a Dayton Ball Cream Beater catalogue in their collection.
Instructions for how to use a ball cream beater are given in the Up to date Candy Teacher in 1921 by Charles Apell. Although there’s no recipe for opera cream ‘fondant’ – it’s the same basic procedure, with the ingredients of our opera cream being a bit different. After melting the sugar and cream together, and the mixer poured with cold water, the candy is poured onto the table of the Ball Cream Beater. When it stops bubbling, cold water is poured on top to prevent a sugar crust forming on top that would give the resulting fondant a grainy texture. Then the water cooling jacket is turned on until an impression can be made in the surface of the candy. Then the water is turned off, and the mixer turned on to ‘cream’ it into fondant. Once creamed, it is cut into it’s desired shape, and placed in tubs to be either dipped in chocolate or put on a chocolate enrober.

Now nearly every candy company in Greater Cincinnati makes its own Opera Creams.   You can find them from Papas, Schneider’s in Bellevue, Sweet Tooth in Newport, Esther Price, Aglamesis, Graeters, Fawn, and others.     And Easter is the time to taste all the lovely varieties!




The Legacy of Fawn’s Irish Potato Candy

Cincinnati is known to be a city largely made up of German immigrant-descended stock.  This weekend, however, will see the frolicking of another immigrant group – the  local leprechauns –   at Cincinnati’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade and all the commensurate festivities.   The 1920s wooden carved statue of St. Patrick will be ‘stolen’ from the German Catholic Immaculata Church High atop Mt. Adams by the Ancient Order of Hibernians in a procession of bagpipe music. It will then be paraded through the streets of Cincinnati at the parade. This custom has been in place since the Irish Catholic Holy Cross Parish (formed in 1873) merged with the German Catholic Immaculata Parish (formed in 1860) in 1970. As a reminder of their parish’s Irish heritage they asked to bring their statue with them to their newly adopted church. Today the original and now very fragile wooden statue stays at Immaculata, and another statue is used in its place.

The stealing of the St. Patrick statue from Immaculata Church in Mt. Adams by the Ancient Order of Hibernians.
Like the Germans arriving at the same time in Cincinnati, the Irish were not treated well by the Anglican majority. There was a fear of the Irish taking their jobs, even though none of the English were willing to dig the Ohio & Eire Canal as the Irish were (sound familiar?).  Signs around town, “Irish Need Not Apply” were common.
Another custom, at least for West Siders of Irish heritage, is the eating of Potato Candy from Fawn Candies in Westwood. Now this Irish Potato candy has neither potato in it, nor is it from Ireland. It’s actually a coconut cream fondant center, sometimes with nuts, rolled in cinnamon to look like a potato. It reminds the Irish-Americans of their reason for immigrating in the 1840s and 1850s in the midst of the tragic Irish Potato Famine. Some might joke that the fondant should be ‘flavored’ with Jameson or another Irish whiskey.
And, although this candy is little known in Cincinnati – Fawn seems to be the only local candy maker producing it – it has a long legacy in Philadelphia, where it is widely popular in late February and early March. Oh Ryan’s, based in Philadelphia, has been making the candy in one pound boxes since 1989. And others, like Pennsylvania General Store, ships them to transplanted Philadelphians. A company in San Francisco, See’s Candies, has made their version of Irish Potato Candy since 1978, using a divinity-like nougat filling. Sometimes, people sneak a penny in one of the candies, like the plastic baby in a New Orleans King Cake. The finder becomes the lucky child, if they don’t choke on it first!

The candy is said to have been made by Irish immigrants over a century ago, say experts like 154-year old Shane Candy Company, whose founder Edward Shane was an Irish immigrant, whose family arrived because of the Great Potato Famine. But no documentation of the candy’s birth or the inventor is to be found. Most likely, the invention was more out of necessity because of the lull in the candy season between Valentine’s Day and Easter. Philadelphia in the early 1900s was the candy capital of the U.S. There were hundreds of candy makers in the city of Brotherly Love. The fondant type filling was already being used in chocolate bon bons, and rolling them in cinnamon made a unique new candy that could be marketed to Philadelphia’s large Irish immigrant community.
So, if you want to honor our city’s Hibernian Heritage, make sure you pick up a bag of Fawn’s Irish Potato Candy, at the Rookwood Hyde Park or Westwood stores before they run out!

The Hummingbird Egg: The Most Elusive of Easter Candies


Recently I spoke to a captive audience at the Taft Museum of Art about the history of the Cincinnati Candy industry. A woman in the audience asked if I knew anything about the Hummingbird Egg. She couldn’t remember what Cincinnati candy company made them, but she said they were her favorite Easter candy and lamented in not being able to find them anymore. She and her sisters looked forward to finding them in their Easter baskets.
A scan of the newspapers show that Hummingbird Eggs were carried locally by several companies from at least the 1950s through the 1980s. The McAlpins Candy store in Kenwood carried them in the 50s and 60s at Easter, as did Albers Groceries. Busken Bakery and Becksmith distributed them up until the late 80s, when they stopped being seen around town. Murray Brothers Candy in Norwood also carried them into the 1980s.
Candy catalogues from local candy companies in the early 1900s locally and nationally show a variety of sizes and names of jelly easter eggs. Today’s standard ½” sized jelly bean was certainly not the norm in the early days of jelly eggs. There were many varieties of larger sized eggs. There were also a variety of small non-jelly eggs, like my favorite the malted milk Robin Eggs, and a variety of sizes of chocolate covered marshmallow eggs.

Jelly beans and their cousins belong to a family of candy known as pan-coated. They are usually a soft center that’s covered in a hard shell which is sprayed as a liquid into a rotating pan coater. It’s the same machinery that coats our pharmaceutical pills. One of the Union Terminal murals shows workers pan coating pills in one of these at Marion Merrell Dow in Reading, Ohio. They take a lot of energy to run, and the smaller the item being coated, the harder they are to keep from sticking together and getting a consistent coating. There were several early candy manufacturers in Cincinnati that specialized in pan coated goods, like Reinhart in Newton, at Third and Walnut Streets near the Ohio River.


Kroger even made their own jelly beans at their Springdale candy plant, which was the second largest candy plant in the U.S. behind Brachs, until they closed in the 1980s.
I don’t remember the Hummingbird Eggs from the Easters of my youth, but they apparently have quite a cult following. They are much smaller than a typical jelly bean, about an eighth of an inch in diameter. They were hard shelled and had a cream center – some describing them as like an opera cream center, and some like a candy corn. They came in pale pastel colors and milder fruity flavors than the typical jelly bean – like grape and cherry – although some people are adamant that they are NOT a jelly bean – and resemble more of the structure of a red hot candy.
Many pleas from ardent fans to Brach’s Candy have been made online, but to my knowledge they have not been resurrected by anyone for Easter.



At the Red’s Palace of the Fans, Before Cracker Jack, it Was Doscher’s Corn Fritters


As baseball season approaches the well known smells of peanuts and popcorn at the ballpark come into mind. Before Cracker Jack became the ballpark favorite after its 1893 release in Chicago by candy company F. W. Ruekheim, Cincinnati’s favorite at fairs and public events was the popcorn fritter.

Friedrich Ruekheim, the German immigrant who invented Cracker Jack, had figured out how to separate the individually caramel-coated popcorn kernels in the manufacturing process. Prior to Rueckheim’s innovation, caramel corn was hard to handle, forming great clumps of caramel coated corn.

Samuel S Kingery, owner of Kingery Machines, and their Hamilton, Ohio, factory.
So, a Cincinnati candy machine company called Kingery, solved this problem by inventing the Eureka steam powered popcorn fritter machine. They had a full line of small to large steam powered popcorn poppers and peanut roasters. Now, sellers of caramel corn could mix their corn and immediately press them into slider-sized fritters for sale at the Red’s Palace of the Fans field and groceries and small stores.


Note the sign between the two proprietors advertising ‘Old Time Pop Corn Fritters” from this 1905 photo of Gebrill’s Grocery in St. Bernard, Ohio.
Brothers Samuel Sylvester and Hiel H. Kingery moved their confectionery business from Camden, Indiana, to Cincinnati in 1879 at 50 Sycamore Street. In 1885, their business was so good, with the addition of third brother, George W. Kingery, as a traveling salesman, that they moved to a four story building at 9 West Pearl Street. In addition to their main line of steam powered equipment, they also sold Cyclone brand French Pot Ice Cream freezers, ice cream additives, ice cream scoops and implements, milk shakers, and lemon squeezers. They even supplied hand pulled and horse drawn vendor wagons, being considered one of the first suppliers of food trucks to the American market. Their designs created the beautiful carnival aesthetic that we associate with vintage popcorn machines. As a result their mechanical popping and roasting products have become very collectible in the antique world. The Wyandot Popcorn Museum in Wyandot, Ohio, has several antique Kingery popcorn poppers.


A 1921 Kingery Candy and Popcorn Booth outside the Royal Theatre in Cincinnati.
Doscher Candy Company became one of the first food concessionaires to the Reds, selling their version of the popcorn fritter – Grandpa’s Corn Toast – to the Reds as well as to local amusement parks, Chester Park (now where the Cincinnati Waterworks Headquarters are on Spring Grove Avenue), Coney Island, and on riverboats like the Island Queen. Friedrich Rueckheim, the inventor of Cracker Jack, and his brother Louis, were at the first convention of the National Confectioners’ Association in 1884 in Chicago, along with John Doscher, owner of Doscher Candies, so they may have traded recipes and methods of caramel corn manufacturing.

Brothers Fred and Louis Rueckheim, inventors of Cracker Jack, and John Doscher, inventor of Grandpa’s Corn Fritters, from the 1884 National Confectioners’ Convention in Chicago.
Doscher even offered a testimonial in the Kingery 1898 product catalogue: “Your corn popper we bought of you two months ago (August 1898) we find same to be labor saving, and we could not do without same, as we find it does again as much work as the old style popper, and with less expense.”
Two other Cincinnati candy companies were making candied popcorn at the same time – H.D. Smith and Sauerstein & Brown. The Kingery popcorn maker is still being sold, over 100 years later by local Butler County company, Gold Medal Products. Hundreds of Cincinnati-made Kingery popcorn machines are on display at museums and in private collections around the country, showing Cincinnati’s legacy in concession products.
So, in Cincinnati, we should really be singing, “Buy me some peanuts and Doscher popcorn fritters” at the 7th Inning Stretch.


In Mexico City, Jesus is Lord of the Chocolate


The Statue of El Senor del Cacao, in Mexico City.

As Good Friday and Easter approach, the mind of the faithful turn to the passion of Christ. The crucifix and the stations of the cross constantly remind us of this. There are many sculptural representations in Churches across Christendom that represent the pieta, the image of Mother Mary holding the body of her son. In Northern Germany the image of the pieta is replaced by a group image of Christ being lain in the tomb. In France the pieta image many times has the addition of a mourning Mary Magdalene behind Mother Mary. Those that saw the Da Vinci code know that legend has it France is where Mary Magdalene, and her daughter, the spawn of Christ, led their lives in secrecy after the Resurrection.

But there is one statue of the Pensive Christ in Mexico City that is unique in the world. It is called El Senor del Cacao (The Lord of Chocolate). It is in fact the only statue of Christ in all of Christendom dedicated to, um chocolate. The statute was placed in the side chapel of the Mexico City Metropolitan Cathedral in the 1500s during the Spanish colonization period. Christ is seated, resting his head with the crown of thorns on his right hand, wearing a velvet kingly robe that his captors put on to mock him, after being scourged, and before being crucified. He holds a cacao branch in his left hand. Apparently the long hair is human and it and the robe are changed out periodically on the statue.

At the statue’s feet is a bowl set atop a velvet pillow that is typically filled with cacao beans, which the faithful of Mexico City leave as an offering. But what connection does Christ have to chocolate? I don’t recall reference in the Bible to our Savior being a fan of chocolate. In fact, chocolate was not even available in the Holy Land in that time. So why do they faithful leave the beloved bean behind at the statue?


The images of Aztec gods Huitzilpochtli, left, and Tlaloc, right.
Well, the Metropolitan Chapel, where the statue is on display was built in the 1500s adjacent to the Temple Mayor, or main temple for the Aztecs of Tenochtitlan, now Mexico City. The temple was dedicated simultaneously to two Aztec gods, Huitzilpochtli, god of war, and Tlaloc, god of rain and agriculture. Both had shrines on top of the pyramid of the temple, with separate staircases. The Spanish destroyed the temple, the center of Aztec religiousity in 1521, to make way for the Metropolitan Cathedral.
Cacao or Chocolate was important to the Mesoamericans and considered a holy food that they used as an offering to their gods. As the Spanish Catholic Missionaries were in the process of converting the native Aztecs, they were appalled that the natives would bring hot chocolate to mass, considering it a breaking of the fast required before receiving Holy Communion. But that was how the natives worshipped their gods and they were using the same ritual to worship their new savior, Jesus. The Spanish priests were determined to stop this chocolate ritual, but the natives created a big fuss, and the Pope ended up issuing a decree that allowed chocolate drinks to be consumed during fasting.
So, after the Pope offered his approval, and to make Christianity more appealing, or more familiar to the native Aztecs, the Spanish priests created El Senor del Cacao. Cacao beans were very valuable back then, and were actually a form of currency. So the priests at the chapel became very rich from the cacao offerings, and many returned to Spain with jewels and riches, all in the name of chocolate. Chocolate drink became very popular in Europe among the wealthy as the Spanish brought it back from the colonies, and it became an aphrodisiac.


America’s Obsession with the Chocolate Peanut Cluster Candy


Whatever you call it – a cluster, a patty, a gem, or a candy bar – America has a long obsession with chocolate peanut clusters and their variations. Even outside of the big peanut producing states like Texas, almost every region (the Northwest, Southwest, Deep South, Midwest & Upper Midwest) has its own version of a peanut cluster. Oddly enough, there doesn’t seem to be a native Northeastern peanut cluster candy. They were apparently too busy chewing on taffy and sucking on hard candy to develop one.

There may be different fillings like caramel, marshmallow, or some flavored cream, but peanut clusters all share a larger diameter than a bonbon or a turtle candy. So, I am defining the peanut cluster here as any round mound of chocolate covered peanuts (or other nut) with at least a 3” diameter that was packaged and marketed by an American candy company.


It seems the first of these chocolate nut clusters first appears in the 1910s. Both Pearson Candy’s Nut Cluster, and the Goo Goo Cluster appeared in 1912 – the Goo Goo in Nashville, and the Nut Cluster in Minnesota. They were marketed as a ‘nutritious lunch,’ when the majority of Americans were performing laborious, non-sedentary jobs, and needed high calorie boosts. The Goo Goo Cluster is going strong today, with its cult following, associated with country music and the Grand Ole Opry, where they are the only company to have advertised onstage.


In 1918, the Chase Candy Company, under the tutelage of Ernest Chase, introduced the Cherry Mash, a mound of crushed roasted peanuts in chocolate with a cherry nougat filling. They have a year full of celebrations for their 100th year.


Twin Bing is a knockoff, born in 1923, sometimes called the Poor Man’s Cherry Mash, made by the Palmer Candy Company, in Sioux City, Iowa.


The Schuler Candy Company introduced the Cherry Hump in 1913, which was made in Winona, Wisconsin, until 1986. The Cherry Hump is described as two cherries in a light cordial on a creamy fondant enrobed in two coats of dark chocolate. The bar was unusual in that after it was manufactured, it had to be aged for at least six weeks to allow the cherry and fondant to mingle and interact to create the sweet, semi-liquid cordial that gave the bar its unique taste and character. Shuler also had a Good Stuff Bar


Our own Doscher Candy Company came late to the peanut cluster game, introducing the short-lived Goober Cluster and Nut Burger in the 1950s, perhaps to compete with the rising national popularity of the Goo Goo Cluster.


Johnson’s Chocolates in Cincinnati also introduced a doughnut shaped candy cluster called the Paul-i-Plop in the 1930s, named after the famous big band leader Paul Whiteman. It was a toasted coconut chocolate covered confection, similar to a Girl Scout Samoa cookie.


The Mountain Bar was introduced like the Cherry Mash, in 1918 by Brown & Haley in Tacoma, Washington. Originally called the Mt. Ranier Bar, it received its name change in 1923 due to controversy over whether the local peak should be called Mt Tacoma or Mt. Ranier.


The Glade Company of Salt Lake City, Utah, introduced the Prairie Schooner in 1928, which is a cluster of pecan pieces with a vanilla cream center, covered in chocolate.


The Wayne Bun Candy Company in Ft. Wayne, Indiana, introduced the Bun Bar in the 1920s. That brand, which now has maple, vanilla, and sea salt caramel flavored centers, was bought by Clark Bar, and in 1998, by Pearson, who invented the Nut Cluster. The Bun candy is still widely distributed and popular in the U.S.


Clay Candy Company’s Puff Ball was a maple cream center with crushed nuts covered in chocolate, similar to the Maple Bun.


Texas panhandle’s Peanut Patties, are an old fashioned favorite enjoyed by many in the South. They are made by several candy companies in Texas, including the Tyler Candy in Tyler, Texas, especially the original pink version. Apparently Spanish and Valencia peanuts have a red skin, so when the peanuts are cooked in the syrup they take on a red or pinkish color. Also called Prairie Pralines – in the panhandle, gas stations and small mom and pop cafes have handmade versions for sale at their counters. Arkansas, Oklahoma, and California are also big Peanut Patty consuming states.

Texas also have a candy called the Horny Toad, which is a cashew praline, sometimes with a cream filled center. The Southwest states have their version of the Horny Toad, using local pinion nuts, rather than cashew. Although they’re more of a praline, they still fall into the nut cluster candy category, in my opinion. Chocolate melts too fast in the desert sun!

Boyers Candy Company introduced the Almond Mallow Cup – an almond, marshmallow cream, ground coconut cluster covered in chocolate. It became known as the first cup candy in America, before the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup.


Bunte Tangos were billed as the first peanut chocolate bar, named after the famous dance of the same name in the 1920s. Bunte like our own Doscher was formed by three German immigrant brothers, Gustavus, Ferdinand, and Albert. The candy is made of marshmallow, maple cream, and toasted peanuts covered in chocolate.

There are certainly many more regional varieties of these cluster confections, but there’s something about a cluster of chocolatey nuts with a surprise cream filling, that has been satisfying the American Sweet Tooth for over 100 years.


The 100 Year Old Cherry Mash Candy and Cincy’s Connection

I was recently introduced to Chase Candy’s Cherry Mash Candy while technicians were trying to replace a warning sensor on my flight.     At 100 years in 2018, it is our nation’s third oldest ‘candy bar’ – if you can really call it that – to the Hershey Chocolate Bar, and its close cousin, Nashville’s Goo Goo Cluster.    The company plans a year’s worth of celebrations honoring is centurian status.

The Cherry Mash Candy comes from the brilliant mind of Ernst Chase, the son of company founder, George Washington Chase.   It’s a cherry fondant or nougat filled center made with real egg frappe (for better mouth feel) and real pieces of maraschino cherries, covered in a mound of chocolate and crushed peanuts.      It’s more of a mound or cluster than a candy bar, like the Goo Goo.     Ernst’s father, George Washington Chase, was a doctor turned candy maker, who founded Chase Candy Company in 1876 in St. Joseph, Missouri, where the Cherry Mash, and its sibling the mini mash, are still made in a factory that’s so secret it doesn’t allow plant tours.

Wild cherry flavor has been used in the confection since the 1930s, while the custom milk-chocolate coating has been made for at least 60 years by Blommer in Chicago.  Blommer uses cocoa butter rather than vegetable oil. Peanuts, roasted and ground on site, are typically incorporated within 24 to 48 hours of roasting.   Over 15 tons of maraschino cherries, 200,000 pounds of peanuts and 200,000 pounds of chocolate coating go annually  into the production of Cherry Mash.


The Chase Candy Cop mascot was prominently featured on the  wrappers of the many candy bars the company had from the ate 1920s to the 1930s- Mallo Milk, the Nutrol, Black Walnut, Malted Milk, Chase Nut Bar and Candy Dogs.

Chase was family owned until 1944, when the F. S. Yantis company, out of Chicago, which still owns them today, bought.    And here’s where the Cincinnati connection comes in, in 1946, Chases (owned by Yantis) purchased the National Candy Company, originally owned by Vincent Price Sr. (father of actor Vincent Price) which was headquartered in St. Louis.   Our local Peter Eckert Company, joined the league of 12 companies in 1896 which formed the National Candy Company.     Roscoe Rodda, the man who’s company created the marshmallow peep was a former owner of the Eckert Company before they sold out to National Candy.