The Revolutionary Story Behind Mary Jane Candies

These small, molasses sweets have been around for more than 100 years, but beneath their sticky exterior, Mary Jane candies contain a revolutionary tidbit.

In 1884, Boston entrepreneur Charles H. Miller decided to try his hand at candy-making. Like many young businessmen, Miller didn’t have a lot of working capital when he entered the confectionary market, and so with no storefront or workspace, he opted to make candy in the kitchen of his own Boston home, with help from his three sons. After spending 30 years handcrafting candies in their home-based shop, Miller's son, Charles N. Miller, came upon the perfect flavor combination that would solidify the family name in candy history: a sticky mixture of peanut butter and molasses.

Mary Janes were sold out of dime stores as penny candies starting in 1914, and the Charles N. Miller Company thrived off of marketing the taffy-like sweets as being inexpensive treats. Early slogans persuaded sweet-tooths to “use your change for Mary Janes.”

Rather than naming the sticky candies after an historical figure or family pet, Miller chose to honor his favorite aunt by naming the chews after her. Or at least, that's the company line. Some have contested the validity of Miller’s name choice, suggesting that the story about his aunt is a lie and rather, Miller selected the name as a ploy for free advertising from the popular early century Buster Brown comic strip, which featured a character named Mary Jane. (While Buster Brown was created 12 years before Mary Jane candies—and the style of girls shoes actually are named after the cartoon lass—there’s no hard evidence to support this theory.)

The molasses chews were wrapped in yellow wax paper donning one red stripe, and featured a small girl named Mary Jane. Despite 100 years in production, the outside (and inside) of Mary Jane candies has remained virtually the same as when Miller first concocted the treat more than a century ago, except for specialty editions like full-sized Mary Jane bars, some covered in chocolate, and the occasional Halloween mix.

But besides his confections, what made Miller's Boston house-turned-candy shop so special was an earlier occupant, one who is best known in textbooks for his midnight ride that warned fellow colonists about incoming British Redcoats. That's right—American folk hero Paul Revere lived in the North End home at 19 North Square for 30 years (including in 1775, when he made a name for himself on that famous ride).

Fast forward more than 200 years, and Miller’s candy company was sold to Stark Candy in 1989. Within a year, the recipe and rights for Mary Jane were sold to NECCO, the same company that produces Conversation Hearts and NECCO Wafers. And in a move that brings the fun link between the candy and the legendary patriot full circle, NECCO continues to produce Mary Janes—unironically—in Revere, Massachusetts.

Even as an occasional dentist, we think that's a connection Paul Revere could rally behind.

10 'Nuts' That Aren't Actually Nuts

None of these "nuts" are truly nuts.
None of these "nuts" are truly nuts.
margouillatphotos/iStock via Getty Images Plus

Who doesn’t love a pedantic houseguest? Next time you’re at a dinner party and someone breaks out the mixed nuts, seize the moment and let everyone know that a lot of the tasty treats we call nuts don’t actually merit the title. Botanists define a “nut” as a dry, one-seeded fruit encased in a hardened ovary wall (called a pericarp). Genuine nuts are fused to their shells and won’t naturally break open upon reaching maturity. Hazelnuts fit the criteria. So do chestnuts. But these ever-popular snack foods sure don’t.

1. Peanuts

The star ingredient of America's favorite nut butter isn't actually a nut. Instead, peanuts are considered legumes, along with soybeans, lentils, and chickpeas. Unlike nuts, most legumes come in self-opening pods—which may or may not grow underground, depending on the species. 

2. Almonds

A group of almonds in wood bowl atop a rustic table
These almonds formed inside a fleshy fruit.
onairjiw/iStock via Getty Images Plus

Almonds are seeds found within the fleshy, peach-like fruits of the Asian Prunus dulcis tree. They’ve earned a spot on our list because actual nuts don’t come wrapped up in softened fruit matter. So how do botanists classify almonds? As drupe seeds. Briefly stated, a drupe is a soft fruit with a hard inner shell. (Think peach pits.)

3. Cashews

Like almonds, cashews are drupe seeds pulled from soft fruit packages. The trail mix staples poke out of red, yellow, or green “cashew apples” that grow on South American trees. Cashew seeds are naturally protected by a toxin-coated outer shell that's roasted to neutralize the acid. In spite of this defense mechanism, the yummy snacks were soon embraced by Portuguese explorers and distributed across the globe.

4. Walnuts

A squirrel eating walnuts in a park
The walnuts this squirrel is noshing on are drupes, not nuts.
Serhii Ivashchuk/iStock via Getty Images Plus

Hey look, it’s another member of the drupe clan! Walnuts inhabit green fruit on temperate trees in the genus Juglans. Most of the seeds that end up on American dining room tables come from the English walnut tree, Juglans regia [PDF]. Even if you don’t eat the drupes, you can probably find a use for them: Walnut shells have been incorporated into everything from cosmetic products to kitty litter.

5. Pine nuts

About 20 pine tree species—including the Italian stone pine—produce big seeds that get harvested en masse. Those seeds are removed from cones in a meticulous process, which accounts for their high selling prices.

5. Brazil Nuts

You’ll encounter Brazil nuts all over the Amazon rainforest, in such countries as Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, and (of course) Brazil. They come from a hardened 4-to-6-pound pod containing up to two dozen seeds that might become trees someday. The pods are so hefty, getting bonked on the head by a falling one is enough to stun or even kill you.  Surprisingly, Brazil Nuts can also be fairly radioactive thanks to the trees' roots, which grow deep within radium-rich soil.

7. Macadamia Nuts

Rows of trees at an Australian Macadamia orchard
An Australian macadamia orchard filled with the country's native drupe.
oxime/iStock via Getty Images Plus

Gympie, Queensland, has an odd claim to fame: Approximately 70 percent of all the macadamia nuts on Earth are descended from trees grown in the Australian town. Macadamias are an ecological staple in Queensland and New South Wales. But—stop us if this sounds familiar—their so-called “nuts” are drupes.

8. Pistachios

Not only are pistachios drupes, but they’ve got shells that automatically open with a literal popping noise once the contents reach a certain size. When all’s said and done, though, at least pistachios are Frank Drebin-approved.

9. Pecans

The Algonquian term for “nut that requires a stone to crack” gave us the English word pecan. Wild pecans can be gathered in Mexico and the United States—they’re true North American treasures. Name origin aside, they can’t accurately be called nuts. Botanists usually refer to them as drupes, but because of their tough shells, the label “drupaceous nuts” might be more appropriate. Either way, pecans aren’t true nuts. They make for great pies, though.

10. Coconuts

A monkey sticks out its tongue while eating a coconut
This cheeky monkey seems to be enjoying its delicious drupe.
Volga2012/iStock via Getty Images Plus

A drupe of unusual size, the coconut is a fibrous juggernaut that bears a single seed. The whitish fleshy interior can be immersed in hot water and then rung out through a cloth to produce coconut milk. Meanwhile, the outer shells are responsible for some of the most delightfully bizarre Guinness World Records categories, such as “most green coconuts smashed with the head in one minute.” (You can see other unusual Guinness World Record categories here.)

Coming Soon to a KFC Near You: Fried Chicken and Doughnuts

KFC is bringing doughnuts to the table.
KFC is bringing doughnuts to the table.
Kentucky Fried Chicken

You might have noticed that fast food franchises have upped the stakes considerably when it comes to promotion. In 2019, Taco Bell briefly opened a themed hotel in Palm Springs, California. Meanwhile, Wendy’s has become known for a particularly salty Twitter presence that takes swings at the competition, regularly roasting rivals Burger King and McDonald’s.

KFC recently introduced a collaboration with Crocs for shoes with a fried chicken design. In 2016, they offered a chicken-scented sunscreen. Their newest attempt to garner attention is in the form of a new fried chicken and doughnuts platter. But unlike some novelty foods, this one is rolling out nationwide.

KFC enthusiasts can choose either fried chicken on the bone or their boneless crispy chicken tenders that come with one glazed doughnut. (A big basket meal will give you two doughnuts.) If you want to reach Roman Emperor levels of decadency, you can opt for their fried chicken and doughnut sandwich, which uses two doughnuts to bookend a chicken filet.

All the doughnuts are served warm, a touch usually reserved for Krispy Kreme and other premium doughnut dispensaries. If you feel like grabbing a single doughnut, you can, provided you order one of their other meals.

KFC calls the chicken-and-doughnut combo “the newest fried chicken trend” that’s gaining in popularity, with some independently owned storefronts like Federal Donuts in Philadelphia basing their business on the dish.

KFC tested the doughnuts in 2019 and apparently got enough of an enthusiastic response to make them available across the country for a limited time. You can find the doughnut baskets and sandwich at stores beginning Monday, February 24. If you’re in Los Angeles, a special Colonel’s (Chicken and) Donut Shop will pop up two days earlier on Saturday, February 22.

[h/t Hypebeast]

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