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11# Chicken Bones: the story behind an uniquely Canadian holiday treat

3 min read

In the riverside town of St. Stephen, New Brunswick, sweet tooth still speak with reverence about an almost 140-year-old candy known as Chicken Bones, a vibrant pink candy made of pulled sugar, with a cinnamon-flavored outer layer and a bittersweet chocolate filling. It hold high regard in Canadian Christmas traditions, where it appears as a common stocking stuffer, or as a staple in grandma’s candy dish.

They are a product by the most experienced confectioners at Ganong Brothers Limited, the oldest candy manufacturers in Canada (in business since 1873). The story began when an American candy maker named Frank Sparhawk moved to St. Stephen’s from Baltimore to start working at the Ganong factory. He created the first Chicken Bone in 1885, and the candy is made by nearly the same process today: the cinnamon-flavored sugar syrup is first cooked in a large copper pot until it gets to a sticky, chewy consistency. Then confectioners roll the sticky syrup out, dye it red, then pull, press, and knead it by hand. The mixture is then strung onto a pulling machine where the sugar is stretched until it takes on the distinctive bright pink color of the final product. Expert hands then add the chocolate filling and pull, stretch, and roll to make one giant candy, which is then fed to a machine that cuts out the individual pieces.

Chicken Bones are a controversy candy, with haters and lovers in equal measure. The bigger point of contention, though, might be around how best to eat them: to bite into the crunchy bones and get the spicy-bittersweet flavor combination of cinnamon, sugar, and slightly grainy dark chocolate all at once or to suck on the outer bone with the heat of the cinnamon until the sweetness of the chocolate marrow? Either way, for Canadians on the East Coast, the pink-tongued enjoyment of too many chicken bones is a Christmas tradition that has stood the test of time.
One thing everyone agrees on is that Chicken Bones are a huge part of Christmas tradition in the Atlantic provinces: many a stocking in New Brunswick and beyond has been stuffed with Chicken Bones for over a century. However, no one really knows why Chicken Bones became associated with Christmas. Western Canadians can usually find them in drugstores and big box stores in December, as a little piece of home for the holidays for those Atlantic Canadians who’ve migrated west.

More than 700 million candies have been made to date, even if they are anonym outside of the East Coast. However, other sweet manufacturers have capitalized on the success of these treats. In the United States, the Idaho Candy Company makes their Chicken Bones with a peanut butter filling and a coconut crust, and they look quite like deep-fried chicken fingers. Chick-o-stick is a similar Texan counterpart, made by the Atkinson Candy Company while in Canada, Robertson’s Candy and Confectionery has been making their own chicken bones, modeled on the Ganong originals.

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