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Sugar candy kisses

If a quarter of sherbet pips can set your heart singing, you're in for a treat: all the old favourites are back. Tim Richardson celebrates

For most of us nothing can beat the romance of the old-fashioned sweet shop, where the bell on the door jingles as you enter and a housecoated lady of a certain age weighs out your sweets, which clatter satisfyingly into the metal scoop of the weighing machine before being deftly bagged up and neatly closed with a twist. Where they survive, such sweet shops tend to be treasured. In most cases, the shop will have secured a local reputation for either its range or its homemade chocolates, or else it will have diversified - into an off-licence, for example. A captive market always helps: seaside sweet or rock shops tend to survive in traditional holiday destinations such as Blackpool, Morecambe and Brighton.

My favourite sweet shop of all has to be Casey's, on St Mary's Street in Edinburgh....A close second to Casey's has to be The Sugar Boy, a shop set up in Canterbury in 1998. This - together with its two sister shops in Whitstable and Deal, and its website, sugarboy.co.uk - was the brainchild of Sarah Smith, a true sweets connoisseur who has followed her dream. At the age of 30, while on holiday with her family in the Lowlands of Scotland, Smith noticed how many excellent sweet shops there were in the vicinity and resolved to go into business down south. "It all came to a head in the Moffat Toffee Shop," she recalls.

Back in Canterbury, Smith began seeking out the very best boiled sweets still being manufactured, visiting factories and comparing like with like. As a result, the Sugar Boy stock represents the very apogee of sweets quality and the best choice for connoisseurs of British confectionery. Smith stocks her personal choice of traditional favourites such as Everton mints, coconut ice and liquorice comfits, as well as confectionery arcana such as the bizarrely delicious Toasted Tea Cakes (brown, squashed pillow-shaped and coconut-flavoured) and Black Bullet mint balls. The discerning range was vital to Sugar Boy's success, but Smith was equally concerned about the atmosphere of her shops, which she wanted to echo those she remembered from childhood. She deliberately sought out small premises to create an intimate feel, and resolutely sells only sweets - no drinks, no ice creams - from the scores of jars that line all the available wall space. "I also make a point of selling Black Jacks and Fruit Salads at a penny each, so a child who has just found 2p on the street can come in here and spend it."

The response to the old-fashioned sweets Sugar Boy sells is surprisingly emotional, Smith says, and is reflected in the way people tend to bulk-buy when they discover that a favourite from their childhood is still on sale. "Some people buy by the jar," she says. "We have a number of US customers who regularly order large quantities of sweets such as Love Hearts and Fizzers, and sales to the armed forces serving abroad are an important part of our internet business."

Men tend to buy more sweets then women, especially if they find themselves in the shop for the first time. "One of the things I love is when parents come in with their children," Smith says. "Dad will go completely mad, mum will be quite restrained, but the children's eyes are on stalks. They've never seen Dad buy this many sweets! If you have £5 to spend, you can come away with a massive bag." Which is what happens to me every time I visit Canterbury.

With so many opportunities to rediscover the sweets of the past, it seems a shame to ignore this vital if unsung aspect of British food culture. Sweets have never fitted into conventional narratives of food history. They are the anarchists of gastronomy: consumed outside mealtimes, hoarded in pockets, played with in a way other food is not, put in and out of the mouth (like a lollipop), hated by grim nutritionists, yet beloved of children and others supposedly bereft of good taste or judgment. But the sweets culture of Britain is one of the richest and most complex in the world, especially as it has now been boosted by the food cultures of immigrant communities. India was the birthplace of sugar cultivation and therefore sweet-making, and cities such as Birmingham, Leicester and London boast world-class makers of the luscious, fudge-like barfi, the spherical laddu and syrupy gulab jamun.

But the best thing about sweets, wherever they come from, is they do not take themselves too seriously. All a sweet wants you to do is suck it and see

· Tim Richardson is the author of Sweets: A History Of Temptation, published by Bantam








Saturday February 19, 2005
The Guardian
My favourite sweet shop of all is Casey's, on St Mary's Street in Edinburgh....A close second to Casey's has to be The Sugar Boy, a shop set up in Canterbury in 1998. This - together with its two sister shops in Whitstable and Deal, and its website, sugarboy.co.uk - was the brainchild of Sarah Smith, a true sweets connoisseur who has followed her dream. At the age of 30, while on holiday with her family in the Lowlands of Scotland, Smith noticed how many excellent sweet shops there were in the vicinity and resolved to go into business down south. "It all came to a head in the Moffat Toffee Shop," she recalls.

Back in Canterbury, Smith began seeking out the very best boiled sweets still being manufactured, visiting factories and comparing like with like. As a result, the Sugar Boy stock represents the very apogee of sweets quality and the best choice for connoisseurs of British confectionery. Smith stocks her personal choice of traditional favourites such as Everton mints, coconut ice and liquorice comfits, as well as confectionery arcana such as the bizarrely delicious Toasted Tea Cakes (brown, squashed pillow-shaped and coconut-flavoured) and Black Bullet mint balls. The discerning range was vital to Sugar Boy's success, but Smith was equally concerned about the atmosphere of her shops, which she wanted to echo those she remembered from childhood. She deliberately sought out small premises to create an intimate feel, and resolutely sells only sweets - no drinks, no ice creams - from the scores of jars that line all the available wall space. "I also make a point of selling Black Jacks and Fruit Salads at a penny each, so a child who has just found 2p on the street can come in here and spend it."

The response to the old-fashioned sweets Sugar Boy sells is surprisingly emotional, Smith says, and is reflected in the way people tend to bulk-buy when they discover that a favourite from their childhood is still on sale. "Some people buy by the jar," she says. "We have a number of US customers who regularly order large quantities of sweets such as Love Hearts and Fizzers, and sales to the armed forces serving abroad are an important part of our internet business."

Men tend to buy more sweets then women, especially if they find themselves in the shop for the first time. "One of the things I love is when parents come in with their children," Smith says. "Dad will go completely mad, mum will be quite restrained, but the children's eyes are on stalks. They've never seen Dad buy this many sweets! If you have £5 to spend, you can come away with a massive bag." Which is what happens to me every time I visit Canterbury.

With so many opportunities to rediscover the sweets of the past, it seems a shame to ignore this vital if unsung aspect of British food culture. Sweets have never fitted into conventional narratives of food history. They are the anarchists of gastronomy: consumed outside mealtimes, hoarded in pockets, played with in a way other food is not, put in and out of the mouth (like a lollipop), hated by grim nutritionists, yet beloved of children and others supposedly bereft of good taste or judgment. But the sweets culture of Britain is one of the richest and most complex in the world, especially as it has now been boosted by the food cultures of immigrant communities. India was the birthplace of sugar cultivation and therefore sweet-making, and cities such as Birmingham, Leicester and London boast world-class makers of the luscious, fudge-like barfi, the spherical laddu and syrupy gulab jamun.

But the best thing about sweets, wherever they come from, is they do not take themselves too seriously. All a sweet wants you to do is suck it and see

· Tim Richardson is the author of Sweets: A History Of Temptation, published by Bantam








Saturday February 19, 2005
The Guardian