Like A Twentysomething In A Candy Store

In the sleepy English village where I went to boarding school for seven years, there was a row of shops that we could walk to---at first just on Saturday mornings and then, as we grew older and earned our independence, on Saturday mornings and Tuesday afternoons (provided we were wearing our blue and gold school blazers---buttoned all the way up!---and traveling in a group of three or more. Oh, you wish I were kidding, but I'm not.)

This row of shops consisted of a post office, a library, a laughably miniscule supermarket, an overpriced stationary shop, an Italian restaurant where I celebrated my thirteenth birthday, a newsagent, and a greengrocer. Actually, if it helps, I just tried to find a picture online for you---in the hopes that it might provide a better visual of this bucolic British one-horse town---but the only one I could dig up via Google was taken in 1955. You can rest assured, however, that it hasn't changed at all in the intervening 53 years.

(Oh, and just for kicks, here's a picture of the pub out of which I was unceremoniously frogmarched by my boarding housemistress on a balmy summer evening in 1998, after she stormed in, saw a group of us raising our pints in celebration, and started shrieking GET OUT! GET OUT! GET BACK TO SCHOOL, YOU NAUGHTY GIRLS! And yes, just in case you were wondering, nothing impresses the local boys like being escorted back to your dormitory in disgrace by a jowly middle-aged French teacher wearing both a pair of forest-green culottes and her glasses on a fluorescent chain around her neck. No, really. Want to hook up with someone tonight? Try it. Foolproof, I swear. You'll be beating them off with a stick.)

Anyway, of all the shops that I frequented every single Tuesday and Saturday between the years of 1991 and 1998 (and sometimes, if I was being naughty, on other days of the week too), the newsagent was my favorite. I'm not sure if the concept of newsagents translates to Americans, but a newsagent is basically a small store that specializes in newspapers, magazines, and candy bars. There is usually a cantankerous old man or woman standing behind the counter, and behind this cantankerous old man or woman---if you're lucky, though I hear it's becoming increasingly rare these days---is a sugar junkie's Shangri-la: a wall of gleaming, glistening, multi-hued sweets in jars.

(Brief time-out: Are we all clear on sweets, by the way? Sweets are just candies, kind of like knickers are just underpants. Also, since I am all about the visual aids today, here is a picture of the outside of a newsagent for you. And here are some sweets in jars. I hope you don't find this inclusion of pictures patronising; it's just that my powers of description aren't always up to snuff, and I'm never quite sure how well things translate from England to America and vice versa. Trust me, were it not for Google Image, I would have absolutely no idea what a pot roast looked like.)

Newsagents and sweetie shops are something of a British tradition, and this particular newsagent became my own personal tradition. Every week, I'd wander in, go up to the counter, and ask for a quarter pound of Apples & Custards and a quarter pound of Rosy Apples. Sometimes I'd vary it up and get a quarter pound of Strawberry Bonbons, and sometimes I might even go for Barley Sugars or Cola Cubes or Flying Saucers or Sherbet Lemons. No matter what I asked for, though, the ritual would be the same every time: the woman behind the counter---I can see her now, in her pink twinset, her white bob parted straight down the middle---would pour my sweets with a clatter from the jar onto the scale and then tip them gently into a white paper bag before twisting the ends to seal the contents inside. I'd make that bag of sweets last a week, sucking them surreptitiously during choir practice in the chapel, or lying on my bed in the dormitory with the bag at my side and a book on my stomach, reveling in two of the world's most simple pleasures: sugar and a storyline.

The last time I went back to my boarding school to visit---probably around 2001, three years after I'd left at age 18---I made the five-minute walk down into the village (scandalously, it may have been a Tuesday or Saturday, BUT IT MAY NOT HAVE BEEN) and wandered into the newsagent for old times' sake. To my huge surprise and subsequent delight, the woman behind the counter remembered me. "You used to come in all the time!" she said. "We wondered what happened to you."

I never found another sweetie shop when I moved to London for university---there were plenty of newsagents, sure, but never the old-fashioned kind with jars of brightly-colored boiled sweets behind the counter, clattery metal scales, waxy white paper bags---and I became used to getting my sugar rush the more modern way: in pre-packaged tubes and rolls and plastic packets, stuffed with additives and E numbers, dumped onto the conveyor belt at Safeway with the rest of my groceries. A few years ago, though, moping at the office on a Saturday morning in Charleston, I came across the most wonderful article about British sweet shops, and found myself overtaken by a nostalgia so powerful that it caught me off guard. But these few lines didn't surprise me at all:

"The British may spend more on chocolate a head than anyone else in Europe, but it is the boiled sweets, sherbet delights, fruity gums, and liquorice treats of sugar confectionery that are so strongly associated with this country, and that we remember from childhood.......The response to the old-fashioned sweets that [sweet shop] Sugar Boy sells is surprisingly emotional...and is reflected in the way people tend to bulk-buy when they discover that a favourite from their childhood is still on sale."

Now, I wouldn't go so far as to say that my childhood was tumultuous---it was actually very calm and very pleasnt, if rather unconventional---but I did grow up with a lot of change, a lot of moving around, a lot of upheaval and adjustment. And as a result, I think, I tend to cling to tradition wherever I can. It's why I can't even begin to think of spending Christmas anywhere other than with my family, why I have certain rituals in the days leading up to a plane journey, probably even a significant part of why---against all odds, against all separations---I've had the same boyfriend for so long. As much as I like things to change, you see, I like it even more when they stay the same.

About a month ago, Sean and I were walking around San Francisco on a windy Sunday afternoon, and we stumbled upon a tiny store on a street corner, a store I must have walked past a hundred times before and never noticed. I carried the memory of that store around in my head for the next few weeks, but every time I thought about going after work, I'd remember that it closed at six and I didn't have time to make it. This afternoon, after a month of thinking about it, I left the office just after five and marched, like a girl on a mission, through the streets of San Francisco until I found it again: Fiona's Sweet Shoppe. Inside, with the walls stocked floor to ceiling with glass jars, the colored candies bouncing into the clattery metal scale, it felt like I'd come home.

I spent more than I'd ever normally spend on sweets, and I ate more than I'd ever normally eat in one sitting too. But the familiarity of the ritual, the sudden, sharp rush of memory, and the sample bag the woman behind the counter made up for me in addition to my purchases---"try these and tell me what you think of them the next time you come in!"---made me feel like a grateful twelve-year old in a navy school blazer all over again. There's a quote I read somewhere about homesickness being nothing more than a nostalgia for the foods of our childhood, and while I can't seem to find it on the Internet---pictures of pot roast are easier to pin down, apparently---I sure do understand where the person who said it was coming from. Well, of course I do, I've got a one-way ticket from there myself.

Camels & Chocolate
Apr 10, 2008

Growing up in Tennessee wasn't anywhere near as charming. Or fun. Though the Jack Daniels Distillery was just five minutes on the other side of the county line, so sometimes we'd go there for kicks. Too bad Lynchburg is a dry county, and we were resigned to getting drunk from the fumes of the vats of whiskey being distilled.

Apr 10, 2008

You're so lucky. I'd love to get my hands on some cola cubes or those little white chocolate discs with the hundreds and thousands on top.Alas, I live on the french/swiss border and there are no cool sweetie shops here.

Apr 10, 2008

that was simply lovely. Living in Sweden for the past 11 years has made me miss American candy like nobody's business, so I can totally empathize.

Apr 10, 2008

Ah. Nostalgia indeed.

Do you remember how cola cubes used to cut the insides of your mouth with their hard sugar-encrusted edges?

Having a mouth crammed full of the yellow and pink sherbet pips till your teeth tasted of sherbet?

Pear drops? Oh pear drops. That taste nothing like pears...but have their own distinctive, addictive flavour.

Aniseed twists...almost medicinal, but strangely pleasing?

It's amazing I have any teeth left.

(Only one filling...after a childhood in the UK...that's pretty amazing)

Apr 10, 2008

Oh Holly, this post is better than a butterscotch! Top to bottom! There's just NOTHING like finding yourself unexpectedly at home, especially when home is no longer a specific place, but more like a favorite memory.

Apr 10, 2008

Yes, yes, Fiona's Sweetshoppe! I walked past that shop the last time I was in San Francisco and I kicked myself later for not going in! This post was just as delicious as I imagined those sweets to be.

Apr 10, 2008

Though they aren't that common, there are newsagents in the States, or at least while I was growing up in Colorado. We did the same thing, once (or sometimes twice--scandalous!) a week. The newsagents had papers and magazines on both sides, and the entire middle of the store was a giant rack of candy. There were sweets in jars behind the counter, too. My uniform was from Catholic school rather than boarding school, but this post spoke to me just the same.

Apr 10, 2008

I can totally relate to this post. I was an Air Force brat, moving more times than I can count, and I have always craved tradition and stability, too!

Apr 10, 2008

I can so relate to this post! My daddy grew up outside of London and to this day still has a hankering for English sweetshops, good licorice and Molten Mowbray pork pies! I never understood until my first trip to London when I went on a search for aformentioned sweets and discovered a sweet shop (alas only sweets not a newsagent). I had the best time in there and brought everyone back some of the best hard candy I have ever tasted. Lemon sherbets are my all time faves! Every time I am there I try to find a place that I can get him all of his favourites so he can remember home in his own way.

Thanks for the post - it made me remember such delightful things about my dad. Going to call him now and reminisce.

Saucepan Man
Apr 10, 2008

This you at your best - just great. Sweets connect our generations as much as music and film. Your school years sweet buying experience could have been mine in the early sixties.

(And when you see me week after next, I'll need a quarter of pear-drops, a quarter of pineapple chunks and if, they have those little toffee or coffee flavoured pillows that I think are called toffee/coffee crunch, a quarter of those....well anything really.)

Apr 10, 2008

I want to try every single one of those candies you linked to - they're all so weird and foreign to me, but sound so good - and I also want to go back in time so that I can go to boarding school in a tiny English village. I know I'd have hated it desperately, but at the same time, the idea of it is so appealing...

Apr 10, 2008

I so get the tastes/memories from our youth. As a child, we were in the south pacific for three years where my father taught school. Western Samoa, at the time, British. I still like to make some of the native dishes, and I have reconstructed the recipes just from taste memory. Coconut milk, curry, onion and green bananas. Absolutely no one in my family who wasn't there will eat the stuff. But it brings back such powerful memories...

Apr 10, 2008

I am SO homesick right now! I miss newsagents (even the ones without sweets in jars!), and sweet shops! I will have to see if any such thing exists in Austin. I too went to boarding school (in Windermere, which, despite the tourists is very small's all b&bs! but we did have a proper supermarket up by the train station...and TWO newsagents!) and my memories of Saturday mornings in the village are very similar to yours :)

Apr 10, 2008

Oh god I love hard candy!!! (Well actually I love all candy, truth be told).

There's a store in Banff, Alberta, Canada called Welch's ( that stocks the most amazing selection of candy from all over the world (including the UK) and this where I found the most amazing hard candies (similar to Sherbet Lemons) called soor plooms. They're hard and bright green and sour and taste of...well it's difficult to describe the taste, I think it's supposed to be a plum flavour (hence the name soor plooms which I'm told is sour plums pronounced with an extremely thick, Scottish accent). In any event they're WONDERFUL candies and whenever my parents go to Banff I ask for Bavarian fudge (oh god I love fudge) and soor plooms and reading your blog reminded me of how much I love that store, as having been born and raised in Canada, I've never been inside a British sweet shop so Welch's was the closest there was, and I wanted you to know about it.

Apr 10, 2008

I'm a Twentysomething, and I love me a candy store! Whenever I am next in SF, California, I'll have to check it out. For now though, I book marked the website to my favorites and I'll sit at home here in Ontario, Canada, mentally tasting it all.

Apr 10, 2008

What a great story. Nothing brings back memories for me more than food. For me, it's the baked goods we used to get at the little market across the street from the house I grew up in. They had the MOST amazing cookies ever. Sadly, they closed down a few years back. But coffee ice cream from Haagen Dazs or Mint Milanos also do the trick!

Apr 10, 2008

I moved around a lot growing up as well and I have the same family tradition clinging tendencies that you do. Christmas with my family is A VERY BIG DEAL to me.

And then I got married and I spent a Christmas with my husband's family. I cried the whole time. It was all so different and very wrong - the food, the order of the day, the mad dash to open gifts rather than dragging it out over hours, the wrapping paper, the tree, the candy, Santa - everything was WRONG).

It was terrible. The whole time I just kept thinking about all of the wonderful things I was missing out on while sitting at my mother-in-law's table eating....ham on buns for Christmas dinner. I am not making that up.

Change is good, but there are some things that I would have preferred to just leave alone. Christmas with my family every year for the rest of our lives isn't a very popular idea though. Boo.

Apr 10, 2008

That was a sweet, pleasant story for a yucky, rainy day in Chicago. Thank you for that!

She Likes Purple
Apr 10, 2008

This is such a powerful post. I grew up in San Francisco, actually, and when I get sad for my dad who I haven't lived with since my mom, sister and I left the city, I think of this gelato place called Marco Polo that he used to take us to on Taraval. Also, a sandwich shop called Yellow Submarine (which I can't be sure is still even there). He also used to sneak us into donut shops in the morning (my mother would have never approved) and every time I think of donuts, I think of my dad.

Apr 10, 2008

I love this entry. Fiona's is definitely on my agenda the next time I'm up there. One of my favorite - and few, really - memories of my granddad is walking to the neighborhood sweets shop in Norwich with him when I was 5.

Apr 10, 2008

okay. this is bad. very bad.

because of the deliciousness of this post, i must now head over to fiona's sweetshoppe after work today. and i didn't even know it existed...until now.

thanks a lot for fueling a new evil addiction.


Barbara Smith
Apr 10, 2008

you're blog is so cute! definitely craving some cadbury right now though... hmm.

Apr 10, 2008

When you grow up in Brew City, the newsagent gets replaced by a liquor store-- or Beer Depot as it was known in my youth-- and penny candy takes the place of boiled sweets. There'd be a sign on the window stating "Only 2 students allowed at 1 time" and you'd wait outside for your friends to finish spending their quarters before you could go in, two at a time. I usually picked the Sweetartish kind of sucker called Lollies (two for a dime!) and my brother always chose those gross wax bottles filed with colored sugar water. His friends would dare him to eat the bottles and HE WOULD!

So yes, the types of candy and certainly the location differed, but what probably was shared in our experiences was the grown up feeling that accompanied being big enough to go, on your own, down the street and conduct a transaction in a place of business. Only recently, I allowed my oldest daughter to walk a few blocks to the pharmacy with a friend for the first time to buy candy. She had a pocketful of change when she left, and a sticky grin on her face when she returned. I was left with a sense of nostalgia, not only of my own youth, but for my little girl who is so rapidly growing up.

Oh, and P.S.: I would have totally gone for the Rhubarb & Custards.

Apr 10, 2008

Yes, we were only allowed in two at a time as well! Made for a few logistical problems, considering we had to go to the village THREE at a time.

And the newsagent definitely had penny candy as well: Fruit Salads, Blackjacks, Drumsticks, gummy cherries, fizzy cola bottles....

Apr 10, 2008

I relate. We had a candy shop by my home while I was growing up. Every friday, my mother would pick me and my brother up from the bus stop and we would walk over. I would fill my bag with whatever candy I desired and purchase slush puppies (a slush drink). It is a great memory. I loved my gummy frogs and coke bottles. Looking back, I dont know why my mother let us eat so much candy. I dont think I would let my daughters buy candy by the pound! Although, it is a great memory. Your stories are great!

Apr 10, 2008

LMAO! It's like that in Canada too Holly. There is this little store down the bend called 'DOLLAR DISCOVERIES' where everything is about 1 - 25 dollars and there is a limit of 4 'teenagers at a time.' That's right. They've specifically banned a number of students at a time. Because, apparently only teenagers steal. It's teens robbing banks, committing fraud, and anything to do with stealing.

Lori Ferrari
Apr 11, 2008

Beautifully written, as always. You moved away before Sweet Rexie's ( opened on Washington Blvd. in Norwalk. There's an entire wall of candy. They also have the cutest gifts there, too. Next time you and Sean are in CT visiting his family you should swing by there - you'll love it!

Apr 11, 2008

Love the way that you write with a British accent!! Sounds like a Harry Potter movie without the scarey stuff in it. Here's a translation from England to America: in America, boarding schools = huge amounts of family money/family tradition only, -OR-, punishment for one to many juvenile other words, not very common. Ditto for sweet shops - not common either, even a couple of decades ago in my childhood. Also, news agent = news stand....a dying breed here, but still available in highly populated urban areas. But seriously, NO pot roast in Great Britain??!!!! There goes my long-planned for trip to London!

Apr 11, 2008

get ready for the crazy: so i read your entry yesterday (loved it—childhood candy memories are the best), then had a dream last night that i was in some building trying to find this candy shop i had read about in your blog. once found, it was fabulous—all colorful, sparkly glass jars of candy with the added bonus of tables full of baked goods. i ran around filling bags with treats, then woke up empty-handed. so sad.

Apr 11, 2008

World Market has most of your faves for ahelluva lot cheaper than $9 per 1/4lb. Not quite the nostalgic experience but sweeter on the pocket. Yeah, I killed a big of butter fudge for dinner last night, my waistline thanks you!!

Apr 11, 2008

This is a lovely coincidence; I was looking up quotes about food the other day for a project just before reading this post, and I came across a saying which is pretty similar to what you described:
"What is patriotism but the love of the food one ate as a child?" ~Lin Yutang.
And I couldn't agree more, with you and with Lin. Food is the strongest trigger of nostalgia for me too!

Apr 12, 2008

Boiled sweets. Mmmmmm...

(something about that phrase, to my American ears, sounds unappetizing. Don't know why.)

Nevertheless, there were two such stores/shops.carry-outs (minus the newspapers and magazines) in my neighborhood when I was a kid--Karen's Corner and the Mohawk Market. The Mohawk Market even had a pinball machine in the front of the store! When you're 11, it didn't get any better than that.

Top-notch post.

Apr 12, 2008

Oh man oh man. I've been trying very hard lately to cut down on my sugar intake but this entry, and the fact that there is just such a newsagent not half a block from where I live, is making it very difficult to hold on to my resolve.


Apr 13, 2008

I understand the glasses bit, but why on earth would your French teacher be wearing forest green culottes on a chain around her neck?

- M

Apr 13, 2008

i stopped reading to just say- oh my god you're right, WHAT THE HELL does a pot roast look like? my mind can't even come up with a good guess! image search here i come...

Apr 13, 2008

Very lovely. This is really a tangent, but something about this post reminded me of James Joyce - maybe something about the effects of memory, but I didn't know what I was talking about, exactly. Even though this isn't it, a quick Internet search yielded this, from McSweeney's:

If I ever figure out what I was really thinking of, I'll, um, not bore you with it. But in the meantime, next time you're in Monterey, don't forget to check out the shops where the candy comes in giant barrels! Different experience, maybe wholly American, but tasty nonetheless!

Apr 14, 2008

The town I grew up in had a homemade candy store a block away from the school. Homemade chocolates, pepermint sticks, caramels. Everything you could think of- pretzels, marshmallows, chips- covered in chocolate.
The town I live in now happens to have a sweet shop on the main street. The entire walls are covered with glass jars full of candy.

Apr 14, 2008

Did you buy something black licorice-y? DID YOU BUY SOMETHING BLACK LICORICE-Y??

Terri B.
Apr 15, 2008

I just went to Fiona's! Was visiting SF last week and was on Sutter to go to dinner at E&O Trading Co. Had to check out the rest of the neighborhood too. What was up with the warm warm dry weather Friday and Saturday?? I didn't even need a jacket down at Pier 39 in the evening!

Speedy Canizales
Apr 16, 2008

Holly, have you ever heard of Miette Confiserie in San Francisco? I read about it online recently, and you might want to visit. They also own a patisserie (ooh la la!).

Here's a link to their site:

Apr 16, 2008

Yes, I've been to Miette! It's lovely. Fiona's is totally English-centric though (did I make that word up?) with all my old British childhood candy, so it's a different ballgame! I go to Miette when I want to pretend to be French and glamorous. I go to Fiona's when I'm homesick.

Apr 16, 2008

This delightful place is near my aunt and uncle's house in Yorkshire:

(In fact, they're rather spoilt for ancient purveyors of comestibles up there, their town also boasts the oldest chymist's shoppe in England

Mom on the Run
Apr 28, 2008

I grew up in England and attended a boarding school in Yorkshire for a short time. I well remember the sweetie shops. I don't recall a limit for the number of kids allowed in the shop. The candy was scrumptious...coca cola bottles, red licorice, candy bracelets, bags of multicolored rice krispies.

I went to a Catholic convent school and twice a day at recess an elderly nin would push a cart of sweets around the playground. She had no shortage of customers!