The Real Licorice Path

"Keep Going"

By David Wronski

Central Image: Coca-Cola by Stephen Dohanos (1907 - 1994) Library

I still remember going into the Cunningham Drug Store at the corner of Chene Street and E. Milwaukee in Detroit as a youth. That drug store was the kind that featured those huge glass apothecary amphorae with colored liquids. (That drug store and much of what surrounded it was razed to accomodate a modern Cadillac automobile factory.)

I am going far enough back to remember that they sold live leeches. If you don't know what that's for, go figure. They also had quite a long stretch of a soda/lunch counter, maybe 20 stools. (The image above is the Cunningham's in Detroit at Van Dyke and 7 Mile Road. Also a place I frequented since it was a few blocks away from my Uncle and Aunt's Northtown Bakery.) All the stores' exteriors were trimmed in their trademark shades of light and dark greens.

But my particular thing was (IS!) licorice. I prowled the city (now I prowl the world) looking for the licorice holy grail.

Before candy stores, licorice was sold by drug stores. Pictured above are cardstock paper narrow boxes each with a long stick of dark licorice inside. The sticks were stamped in the upper part with an oval mark with the Y&S brand name. Very strict licorice. I don't know if they made them that way or whether the one's I bought were old on the shelf; but those sticks, besides being very bitter were also as hard as nails. Not your every day candy, probably more for medicinal purposes as the packaging shows. I can still see me buying one of those at Cunningham's with great expectation.

Here is a type from England that is close to the form of those old fashioned sticks. Bassetti brand.

For every day sweet licorice I could always snag some at the corner grocery store from the display of loose candies. I still can see the impatient store clerk urging me on to make my nickel's worth selection. Licorice ropes, wheels with that red candy ball in the center, and sometimes a plain wedge, maybe 1/4 inch thick and smaller than a business card. Also, Schwitzer's bars, a packaged item with several tubes stuck together.

Or, Nibs, small pieces of chewy deep flavor licorice. Oriental. Hinting at mysteries in far off lands. Nah. It just tasted good.

Both were in the day a lot like today's Panda Brand from Finland.

Then there are Snaps. All the way through my college years you could get them in small boxes; in the day, for 2 cents each. Snaps were small licorice tubes coated with white and pink sugar frosting (like Good & Plenty). In the day the candy was not sealed in cellophane so they dried and, literally, snapped when you bit down. Nowadays Snaps are back, in cellophane (so the aficionado like me has to let them "age", or air dry a bit to reach the proper texture) in white, pink, orange, and green colored frosting. Still good, but not like it used to be. (The cost of ingredients and the consumer price acceptance point for things has to be calibrated. In other words, you probably couldn't run a candy business with ingredients of the kind of quality that used to go into things years ago; you'd price yourself out of the category.)

A hand full of years back I contacted American Licorice Company and inquired about Snaps. It turned out they were just then in the process of developing the soon to be reintroduced classic. Since they were not available for sale at the time, the good folks at ALC sent me a box. A five pound box! This kid says, THANK YOU!

Now that I'm all growed up my taste for good licorice is undiminished. By good licorice we're talking black, deep flavor, and chewy-tough. And when you be wanting something like that then you have to take yourself on a sea voyage. To the old country. The Netherlands is a recent trip, where the entire time in Amsterdam was a lot about finding the best places for licorice. Read the full article, Droppin' In On Ol' Amsterdam. If you go, The Old Dutch Candy Store is a definite licorice lovers place to stop. They will ship. Also, for a great online assortment of licorice from everywhere in the world, go to All Things Licorice.

That last online source carries a variety we love but haven't seen anywhere else. Licorice tool shapes. The thing is that licorice from one manufacturer to the next varies considerably. And each type and shape has its own flavor. We like tools.
Interestingly, how the fates look out for licorice lovers. Right here in our current home state of New Jersey there's A Touch of Dutch. In business 27 years since 1984. Never advertised, always busy. Susan and Burt Halpern (85 years young) are the very nicest people. Their tiny store stocks a wide variety of things Dutch that you wouldn't believe. And, licorice. As they say in the Garden State, forgedaboutit. Everything you would want, and more.

If you visit or place a telephone order be prepared for Mister to tell you the story of how one day his wife announced she wanted to open a store. This here, folks, is a real Mom & Pop operation.

They don't sell online but you can call them at 800.475.5897 almost any day of the week and they will set you up. Just, be sure you know what you want (the online information for Dutch Licorice is exhaustive; poke around and you'll see something you'll like.)

Suggestions: Sweet Coins/Muntdrop, Rockies/Salmiak Rock (chocolate, white, pink, or mixed), Licorice Chalk, Old Timers (literally, old time), Heksehyl Salmiak.

Those varieties are a good start. You could also ask for a suggestion. But this is not the sort of place where you ask, "What'ya got?" There are dozens of varieties and Mister said very emphatically, you should know what you want. As we said, a search will uncover a world of options. The Touch of Dutch has most.

Also, if you are new to Dutch licorice, beware the Zout and Double Zout types. You should order one just to see, but Zout means salt and they will pucker your mouth like lightening. An acquired taste.

Without further adoing, A Touch of Dutch . . .