Fringe Candy: Rosemary Jones defends Good ‘n Plenty

What evil lurks beneath the hard candy shell?

First made in 1893 by the Quaker City Confectionary Company, the Good ‘n Plenty is now made and distributed by Hershy’s. You might ask what makes it a fringe candy. My defense is two-fold – over 100 years old, and with a black licorice heart. I’ll let guest blogger Rosemary Jones take it from here.

When Nate Crowder shook a box of Good ‘n Plenty at me, I immediately went into an impassioned rant about how these are my cinema candy of choice.

Back in my film reviewer days, which included weeks trapped in the dark at the Seattle International Festival, I lived off Good ‘n Plenty and popcorn. Oh, and coffee, because independent theaters in Seattle brew great coffee.

I once survived the entire run of Lars von Trier’s The Kingdom in one sitting on that mix. There was one intermission where we staggered outside,, blinking into the late afternoon sunlight like diseased moles, and rampaged down the street for fried chicken at the nearby KFC. Which I followed with more Good ‘n Plenty for dessert.

But my real passion for Good ‘n Plenty started long ago with their UK cousins: Licorice Comfits. Little shells of brightly covered candy surrounding a soft licorice center. The taste of the best childhood Saturdays.

Come, flashback with me, to a tiny Scottish town whose only public library had exactly one shelf of children’s books. The Narnia series, the Borrowers, and Oliver Twist. As an ambitious eight-year-old reader, that selection lasted me about a month, possibly less. As an American transplant on alien soil, who came from a public library system with an entire large room filled with books of all sorts for children, I was a slightly desperate kid.

Further, since my parents were in Scotland for a short-term job assignment for my father, my personal library of books were packed into storage with only a few shipped along to our new temporary home. Which left me running rapidly out of things to read and frequently re-reading the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy (those paperbacks made the trip), some Tarzan novels handed to me by an aunt before we left, and Green Mansions by William Henry Hudson. I’m not sure where I got Green Mansions, but I distinctly remember reading it during this time and being frankly annoyed by its unhappy end (sorry, if you haven’t read it, but things do not go as well as the later DC adaptation Rima the Jungle Girl).

So how does this all lead to Licorice Comfits or Licorice Comforts as I persisted in hearing that name for years? Because our tiny Scottish town had sweet shop/newsstand. Inside it resembled Aladdin’s cave, at least to my eight-year-old eyes, with glass jars filled with candy stretching to the ceiling and racks upon racks of cheap paperbacks and Tammy.

Tammy was a collection of continuing comic strip stories of the sort that I had never encountered before, being an American who thought the funnies were Charlie Brown and pals. As I remember these tales, they focused on poor kids trying to make it in rich boarding schools, or a local orphan defeating the snobby girls in various races with help of her stray cat buddies, or girls secretly training to become ballerinas or ice skating champions despite parental disapproval. Thrilling stuff, especially when you started the afternoon with that and then followed it up with a paperback novel penned invariably by the prolific Enid Blyton. The Famous Five closely followed by the Adventure series were my favorites for those (mysteries solved by intrepid kids), but I’d periodically dip into Malory Towers or St. Clare’s (boarding school stories) too.
Each Saturday, I’d take my allowance and head to this amazing newsstand. Get a small white paper bag filled with as much Licorice Comfits as I could afford, that Saturday’s Tammy, and, if the money stretched that far, a Blyton paperback. The cost of paperbacks was padded by swapping read ones for unread ones with a school chum, so I think I only got a new one every other week.

Then it was home to huddle by the coal fire or one anemic electric heater — our townhouse was built before the days of central heating — and a Saturday afternoon spent reading all the thrilling adventures in my bag, accompanied by the satisfying crunch and black licorice goodness of Licorice Comfits. Since the Tammy stories invariably ended on a cliffhanger, I’d go back and re-read past issues for past resolutions of other cliffhangers. In short, the adventures and the licorice seemed last forever or, at least, until school started on Monday.

Upon my return to the States, and my joyful reunion with our local library, I still remembered Tammy (sadly, all my issues were jettisoned for the move) and Enid Blyton (ditto with the disposal) with great fondness. I’ve since picked up a few of Blyton’s books in my travels, and found that they haven’t aged well for me — except for Kiki the parrot sidekick of the Adventurers. Kiki forever remains one of my favorites.
I thought Licorice Comfits also were lost to the past until a friend introduced me to Good ‘n Plenty during one night at the movies. Suddenly, part of my Saturday afternoon passion was restored.

I think Good ‘n Plenty are skinnier and not quite as full of licorice as the Comfits, but they run a close second in my heart. Every delightful crunch reminds me of long Saturday afternoons huddled in front of a coal fire, reading thrilling endless adventures.

Rosemary Jones writes her own adventures these days for Wizards of the Coast and Timid Pirate Publications. You can check out what she’s writing and reading at When not reviewing movies, she lives on a fairly normal diet full of green leafy vegetables.

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