Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Gobstoppers, Humbugs, and Bull’s Eyes.

More random facts on boiled sweeties today.

A gob is something you gab (and eat) with, and it must be an old word because the OED says it is ‘of obscure origin’, possible Gaelic. It is not too difficult then to understand what a gob-stopper is. What surprised me when I went looking is that it is a relatively recent word. The first OED reference is from Walter de la Mare, which pleases me no end – I do like it when the first reference is a literary one. In Come Hither (1928), Walter says ‘Gob-stoppers and toffee, are these not ‘good’ names for goodies?’ They are indeed Walter.

Humbug is an interesting word. The OED is really puzzled by it. It says ‘humbug’ is ‘a slang or cant word which came into vogue c1750.’ It goes on to say:

‘Many guesses at the possible derivation of humbug have been made; but as with other and more recent words of similar introduction, the facts as to its origin appear to have been lost, even before the word became common enough to excite attention. Cf. the following:
1751 (Jan.) Student II. 41 There is a word very much in vogue with the people of taste and fashion, which though it has not even the ‘penumbra’ of a meaning, yet makes up the sum total of the wit, sense and judgement of the aforesaid people of taste and fashion!..I will venture to affirm that this Humbug is neither an English word, nor a derivative from any other language. It is indeed a blackguard sound, made use of by most people of distinction! It is a fine, make-weight in conversation, and some great men deceive themselves so egregiously as to think they mean something by it!

This blackguard of a word became the name of a sweetmeat in the early nineteenth century – at least according to the OED again. It is mentioned as being ‘in common use in Gloucestershire’ in 1825. I’ll bet there are earlier references somewhere.

Bulls’ Eyes. Like gob-stopper, this one is self-explanatory. First mention again, about 1825. Perhaps there was a great growth in the boiled sweet industry in the first couple of decades of the nineteenth century? I am away from many of my resources at present, so am asking more questions that I am attempting to answer, which is not a bad thing. If any of you have any ideas, do please let us all know.

No recipes for todays sweets – they are variations on the same theme of yesterday; boil sugar and add flavouring and form into shapes. Instead, this one for pie. Pie is good.

Butterscotch Pie.
Line a pie tin with plain pastry [and presumably ‘bake blind’] then place in a saucepan
3 tablespoons of butter
1 cup of brown sugar.
Heat slowly and cook for three minutes. Then place one and one-half cups of cold milk in a bowl and add four level tablespoons of cornstarch to the milk. Stir to dissolve the starch and add to the cooked sugar and stir constanty to thoroughly blend. Bring to a boil and cook for three minutes. Cool and add one well-beaten egg. Then pour into the prepared pie plate. Care must be taken to not let the sugar caramel.
Mrs. Wilson’s Cook Book. 1920


sunburnt said...


I was wondering if you've ever seen a recipe for jersey caramel? My husband loves them, and last time I read the packet the ingredients looked straight forward but I haven't been able to find a way to assemble them. Any ideas?


The Old Foodie said...

Hello Lucy; I have not (yet) seen a recipe for Jersey caramels, or at least not one called by that name. They are sort of fudgy, arent they? I think they are called that because of the Jersey-cow cream in them. Perhaps a creamy toffee fudge recipe? I'll see what I can find.