Happy 117th Tootsie

Tootsie RollsThe eternal popularity of the Tootsie Roll proves that even a little chocolate can go a long, long, long, how-many-licks-anyway way. Named for the daughter of creator Leo Hershfield, legend has it that the Tootsie Roll — “chocolate-ish, but without the expense of actual chocolate,” in the words of Candy Professor — was introduced by the Austrian immigrant into his New York City penny candy shop Feb. 23, 1896.

Early Tootsie Roll AdThat is the story kept alive by Chicago-based Tootsie Industries, producers of an estimated 60-million plus TRs every day. The company is also home to a host of other downmarket but ever popular confections and is currently run in a Willy Wonkaty manner by 90+ Melvin Gordon and the woman who allowed him to marry into the company, wife Ellen. It is not necessarily the only version of the iconic candy’s history … but the corporate considerations are leading us from what makes the Tootsie Roll magic: it was “chocolate” by virtue of mere wisps of cacao and that has proven to be enough.

Although allegedly introduced all those years ago today, the real genius lay in the candy being the first wrapped penny candy, meaning it was easier to vend and that (with imagination) what was first monikered “Chocolate Tootsie Rolls” provided a summertime flavor unmatched at a time when refrigeration and lack of filler technology joined to insure that any cheap chocolate sold in the summer would melt well before getting close to a mouth.

The (truth-in-advertising mostly chocolate-less) Tootsie Roll of today is ingrediented sugar, corn syrup, partially hydrogenated soybean oil, condensed skim milk, cocoa whey, soya lecithin, artificial and natural flavors. Not necessarily appetizing, healthy-sounding or chocolately, but not hurtful to sales, or financial prospects of the company. Still, looking too far beyond the wrapper does leave something of a hole in the heart of Tootsie Roll Day.

Fortunately, nature abhors a vacuum and some have stepped forward to try and fill that hole with recipes for actual, well more-, chocolate TRs. The Food Network tosses out one easy-peasy recipe incorporating actual, semi-sweet chocolate chips and Heather Baird of Food52 provides a no-cooking, no-baking, honey and cocoa powder version that is probably pretty close to what Hirshfield imagined he was making in his young daughter’s honor.

Whether manufactured or fresh from the home kitchen, enjoy today’s probably fabricated history celebration of the little candy that could because, well why not even the “penny” candy still has some chocolate.

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