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Writer revives nostalgia for Christmases past with chocolate classics

Queen’s former chef reveals that the monarch kept chocolate in her room

That thick wedge of chocolate with its fine seam of smooth caramel and chewy “mallow” filling contained ingredients whose cost would fluctuate in international markets: sugar, milk, and cocoa.

Today, with the official figure hovering around 11 percent but feeling higher amid economic gloom, our little chocolate sentinel would seem more useful than ever. Instead, the Mars bar now symbolizes the short measure that we receive so often.

Everyone will have their own examples: cereal boxes that feel lighter than before or toilet paper rolls with a drastically shorter shelf life or toothpaste tubes that dry out more quickly, but it’s called shrinkage inflation: covert shrinkage the size or volume of a product while maintaining the same price. or even giving it a sly push up.

It’s stealthy speculation, often practiced by the very supermarket chains whose TV ads speak so piously of “helping us” weather the cost-of-living crisis. The Office for National Statistics identified 2,529 items that had suffered this Alice in Wonderland-style shrinkage, but ended up costing more.

Symptomatic of the nation’s chronic sweet tooth, most customer complaints concerned the chocolate. It’s never been simpler—or milkier—than at Christmas with all our favorites dolled up in “gift packs” or “selection boxes,” though these days the packs tend to overwhelm their contents like oversized shoulder pads on oversized people. short.

My house is no exception, although any chocolate that finds its way into our fridge tends to disappear like the proverbial ghost of a rooster’s crowing. In fact, I often think it should be classified as a soft drug, because of how intense the craving is and how painful the withdrawal symptoms are.

You could say I grew up in the chocolate trade, because my grandmother sold tons every summer, along with sea rock and cotton candy, from a kiosk outside the gates of Ryde Pier on the Isle of Wight.

bars of mars

A Measure of Inflation: The Trusty Mars Bar (Image: Getty)

Grandma Norman’s attitude was like a vintner’s to fine wines. I can still taste the brands that enjoyed her special stamp of approval: Cadbury Vogue in its elegant red box; Lyons Mint Chocs in a visible double stack; and Peter’s Original Milk Chocolate, each brown and gold wrapper signed by D. Peter, inventor.

It was thanks to her that I learned that, like so much else back then, British chocolate was the best, beating out the fancier Swiss brands at a fraction of the cost.

The three main companies, Cadbury’s, Fry’s and Rowntree’s, were founded by Quaker families for heavily moral purposes with a soft center of philanthropy, Cadbury’s even houses its workforce in a faux Tudor village called Bournville.

Wrappers explained how they wanted their product to be enjoyed in perfect condition and promised that any dissatisfied consumer would be reimbursed for returning the defective bar, detailing where it had been purchased. In such cases, one imagined the guilty confectioner being visited by stout men in Quaker hats and talking to him kindly.

Those founding fathers chocolatiers would shake their heads sadly at the fate of their proudest creations. So would Milwaukee, USA-born Forrest Mars Senior, who released his signature chocolate-caramel-mauve namesake since the improbable Slough control mission in 1932.

Mars advertising was always brilliant. A sticker on the window of Grandma Norman’s newsstand showed musical comedy star Sally Ann Howes enthusiastically biting into one, with a speech bubble: “I buy Mars every week because Mars are wonderful.”

announcement from mars

An early print advertisement for Mars bars (Image: Alamy Stock Photo)

In the Coronation year of 1953, sugar rationing was finally abolished in tribute to our sweet young Queen, and Mars hastily put up a new sticker on the window of Grandma’s newsstand, with Sally Ann Howes saying: “Now! I can buy Mars every DAY! Isn’t that WONDERFUL? The latter became: “A Mars a day helps you work, rest and play.”

Today’s Mars Pub, which retails for around 90p, still has its cheeky cursive logo that vaguely suggests the Red Planet, but otherwise looks like it’s just come back from a health farm after getting locked up. accidentally in the sauna. Around him, all the other once-substantial bars—anemic Aeros, bonsai Bountys, meager Milky Ways, compressed KitKats—evoke the same thought: “Are they laughing?”

It is true that it is a common delusion that things in youth appear larger than they really were.

So I turn to a classic 1940s black and white British film about people who treat each other sweetly. In Brief Encounter, made at the height of wartime rationing, when Celia Johnson’s gossipy friend buys two shilling (5p) bars from the station buffet, they look almost the size of bricks.

The main victim, however, are the multi-colored dragées whose famous 1960s TV jingle has become sadly ironic: “A tube of Smarties means lots, lots of chocolate beans, yes, you get lots, lots, LOTS of Smarties.”

Then a little girl’s voice babbled what became a national catchphrase: “Buy something for Lulu.”

Cadbury Advertisement

A long lost Cadbury Vogue ad (Image: Alamy Stock Photo)

As created by Rowntree’s in 1937, Smarties’ sugar coatings were brilliant and each color had a distinct character that could be identified in a blind tasting.

The light brown ones were filled with milk chocolate milky enough to show a watermark. The dark browns tasted like coffee, the orange ones were orange, while the red ones, bold enough to bet on a roulette wheel in Monte Carlo, tasted unmistakably red. Since then, the Smarties brand has been acquired by food giant Nestlé and corporate bean counters have gone untethered.

For 90p, instead of “lots and lots” you now get 30 Smarties. Its previous lustrous primary colors were watered down to muted pinks, purples and grays that already look half-drenched, with the addition of a blue that, to me, strikes a strange, unnatural note. Lulu would hate them.

Fortunately, there are some manufacturers who still believe that size matters. The purple-wrapped in the Quality Street selection, a cozy tea shape filled with smooth caramel and a hazelnut, was so much more popular than all the others that a jumbo version was produced to sell individually.

And Bendicks Bittermints (invented in Britain despite their Dutch-sounding name) are still as bulky as ever. It takes a much bigger Bunter than me to shoot more than two at a time. A box or two of those and Netflix for Christmas will do just fine.

● Philip Norman’s memoir, We Danced on Our Desks: Brilliance and Backstabbing in the Most Influential Magazine of the Sixties, is published by Mensch and is priced at £14.99.



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