Featuring a “delightful and innocent confection” made for the masses.
Gumdrops by j2wade, on Flickr
Gumdrops are essentially a combination of gelatin or pectin (or both), sugar, and coloring agents, with the occasional flavoring agent added.
The earliest references to gumdrops in American newspapers seem to be from around the early 1850s, where candy was in a transitional phase between what it was in the 1830s–a way of coating medicine to make it more palatable–and what it was in the 1860s, a treat for children. (Consider the ad from 1857, below right.)
For most of American history, remember, sugar was expensive to produce. You’d be lucky to get a bit of rock candy, and that if your family was comparatively wealthy. In the 1820s, we isolated pectin from apples. In the 1830s, the cost of sugar went down. In the 1840s, we started to make candy molds, and in the early 1850s, used steam to heat sugar to keep it at a constant temperature without scorching.
Here’s a brown sugar version from the September 12, 1934 edition of the Sheboygan Press:
Gum Drop Cake
2 cups brown sugar
Cut gum drops; sprinkle 1 cup flour over the gum drops, nuts, raisins and dates and mix well. Cream butter and sugar, add eggs and beat thoroughly. Add sour milk alternately with the sifted dry ingredients, then add the first mixture and stir only until well mixed. Pour into an angel food tin lined on the bottom with paper and bake 1 hour at 350 degrees.
From a box sold in Martinez, California.
Gum Drop Cake
1 c. butter, creamed
2 c. sugar
2 eggs, well beaten
2 c. (scant) unsweetened applesauce, strained
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. vanilla
1 lb. white seedless raisins
1 lb. gumdrops cut small (no black ones)
1 c. pecan nuts, cut and fried in butter
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
4 c. flour
Sift over fruit and nuts, stirring in lightly until well blended. Bake in tin lined with wax [parchment] paper for two hours. 325 deg. to 300 deg.
Well greased pan!