ETCETERA / Design Dinosaurs: 17 The Gob-Stopper

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The Independent Culture
MANUFACTURERS of authentic gob-stoppers, although they still exist, are nowadays as scarce as pargeters or wattle-daubers. The reason is simple. A gob- stopper - the real kind, which changes colour as you suck it, won't crunch into bits half-way through, and silences a child for an hour or more - can take up to two months to make. Smash one with a hammer and you see why: there are hundreds, sometimes thousands, of multi-coloured layers, like the rings of a tree trunk.

Gob-stoppers are what the trade calls 'panned' ball sweets: confections - such as mint imperials, sugared almonds and aniseed balls - with hard sugar coatings, which can trace their lineage back to the pre-confectionery age, when apothecaries first used sugar to make medicine palatable. They have to be laboriously built up, one layer at a time (dried between each), in heated rotating pans of molten sugar. With the discovery of new synthetic dyes and food colours at the end of the 19th century, the different layers began to acquire different colours and flavours. Before final polishing, a traditional gob- stopper receives anything from 40 coats (for a paltry half-incher) to more than 1,000 (for the 1 3/4 in Mother Sucker or the ludicrously impractical 're-usable' 2 1/4 in American Giant).

In America they are known as jawbreakers. The English name - often bandied about as if it applied to any difficult-to-chew sweet - seems to have appeared in the late 19th century, when Victorian children were prescribed gob-stoppers to keep them quiet in church.

Although such manufacturers as Tidman's insist that they have a future, gob- stoppers are out of sync with the times. Confectionery sales depend on taste-bites - fast fixes which crunch, melt or chew, rather than requiring leisurely sucking. Gob-stoppers take too long to eat, and, more important, too long to make; the confectionery giants can extrude several miles of chewing-gum in the time it takes to make a single gob-stopper.