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How'd They Do That?  Put Letters into Blackpool Rock

This piece started when my daughter and I were driving in uptown New Orleans and saw the Roman Candy man.  A throwback to simpler times, the cart is still pulled by a horse today.  I have never eaten Roman Candy, and asked Jenny whether it was anything like rock. (It's not.)

I was surprised that Jenny knew about rock.  "You mean Blackpool rock," she said, and described to me how they make it, which she had seen on a Food Channel TV show.  The younger generation are so broadly educated these days!

My curiosity piqued, I had to look up the details of rock-making.

Rock is made from pulled sugar, and is something like American candy canes, but with lettering running through the middle. Rock dates back to the end of the nineteenth century.  The words put into the first stick of rock were "Whoa Emma!"

Seaside rock was in its heyday in the 1950s and 1960s, when it was the expected holiday souvenir.  Today, corporate advertising and wedding favors make up nearly 50% of the business.

How do they put the letters through?  It's one of the few processes that is still done by hand, and it takes several years to become proficient.  When the candy mixture has been boiled, part of it is separated, and colored red to use for the lettering.

The red candy mixture has the consistency of plasticine as it cools.  Strips are shaped into letters by hand.  Imagine a child's letter block, but it is made six feet in length.

The remaining white portion of the mixture is then aerated using a "product puller" machine.  Its rotating arms stretch and pull the mixture, trapping air.

All the six-foot-long letter strips are put together (in the right order!) with a strip of the white mixture in between each letter. A roll of white mixture forms the center, and the lettering is wrapped around it.  The finished rolls are then compressed in a machine, cut into the required length, and wrapped.

The actual process is a bit more complicated, but you can find a description online, and even a U-Tube video showing it being done.

From the beginning of "Whoa Emma," rock has had a history of innuendo, used to good effect by the likes of George Formby. One of his more "innocent" songs . . .

"A fellow took my photograph.  It cost one and three.

I said when it was done, "Is that supposed to be me?"

"You've properly mucked it up - the only thing I can see

Is my little stick of  Blackpool Rock."

(George Formby - "With My Little Stick of Blackpool Rock")



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