Today's Chicago Trib has an article about the history and chemistry of the circus peanut. I haven't had one for maybe twenty years, but I loved 'em as a kid, especially when they got a little stale and al dente. Then again, I was a little sugar freak, and would eat granulated sugar right out of the ten-pound bag if there was nothing else sugary in the house. I'm a little less sugar-fiendish these days, so I'm not sure circus peanuts would have as much appeal.
By all accounts, circus peanuts date to the 1800s when they were a seasonal treat and one of the original penny candies. 'There are few candies that actually have survived as long as circus peanuts,' said Jon H. Prince, owner of wholesale candy retailer www.candyfavorites.com. 'It's not so much candy as it's Americana.'
Spangler, which is celebrating its 100th anniversary and is best known for Dum-Dum lollipops and candy canes, has been producing circus peanuts since the 1930s in northwest Ohio. The candy is the most difficult of the company's products to make, Kerr said, because 'you've got all these variables coming together.' There's little room for error when it comes to cooking temperatures and ingredients -- mainly sugar, gelatin, corn syrup and artificial flavor. The toughest part is getting just the right moisture. Too much will leave a thin, crusty layer on the outside. Too dry and they'll cave inward. Bill Fenter, who has made circus peanuts for 23 years, scurries between mixers checking the temperature gauges and adding ingredients. 'I eat them once in a while,' he said. 'One or two. That's about enough for me.'
The mixture is squirted into starch molds that pull out the moisture and shape the peanut. Next, the candy crystalizes in temperature-controlled rooms for about 24 hours. Link.