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The snack endorsed by Snoop Dogg and your grandma
A brief history of Chick-o-Sticks
Hello, Snackers. Mmm … chicken bones!
While you’re here, I’ll also recommend this essay, on building queer community in a red state, from Lyz Lenz’s excellent newsletter. And here’s a good round-up of organizations doing the important work of fighting anti-trans legislation around the USA. (If you’re like, “What’s Doug even talking about?” … Google it.)
This is a lightly updated version of a post that originally went out to paid subscribers in 2021. I’m still working on a fresh public post—it’s a wild, complicated one but it’ll be worth the wait, I promise!
This suggestion comes from my friend Teague, a Chick-O-Stick fan who notes that the candy is much like a Butterfinger, but with a bit of coconut on the outside in place of chocolate. “I suspect that Nestle ripped them off,” Teague writes, which an extremely logical guess, given the fact that the completely wrong corporate histories are a running theme of this newsletter. Big Industrial Candy stealing from the Chick-O-Stick’s parent company, Atkinson, would not be a surprise.
So: Butterfingers originated in 1923, as Mashed discusses in this short history. When we go to the Magic Research Machine™, we find confirmation that the bar was around in that decade (if not that exact year), in the form of this little ad from 1929:
Meanwhile, the official Chick-O-Stick lore says that it dates to 1955 (and I can’t find any evidence to the contrary). However! The the bar was originally called Chicken Bones—it was renamed because there was another candy by that name—which means it’s possible the product predates Butterfinger bars.
This is where things get tricky. “Chicken bones” is hard enough to search for, even when you include the qualifier “candy” in there somewhere, because there are all kinds of old recipes and grocery store ads that include the most random things next to each other, including both small sugary treats and the real bones of real chickens. Sometimes the words show up in helpful hints for babies, like these pieces of advice, both from 1913:
When you add the existence of multiple brands of treats called Chicken Bones, it becomes damn near impossible to say what’s what. In fact, it appears there were several candies with this name, the oldest of of which might [??] be a cinnamony-chocolatey one from Canada, created in 1885 and still in production.
Here’s an ad from the Fall River (Massachusetts) Daily Evening News, in 1920, advertising Chicken Bones candy of SOME kind, but we don’t really know what variety, or if it included peanuts or coconut or really any of the ingredients in the non-a-Butterfinger bars. For some reason, I was amused by the hat ad next to the candy listing, so I included that rather than cropping it out. You’re welcome.
All of that said, when we head over to the Atkinson website and look at the company’s origins, at least part of the story becomes clearer:
It all began in 1932 when B.E. and Mabel Atkinson needed to find a way to keep their family afloat during the Depression.
Turns out it doesn’t actually matter when the Atkinson company started making Chicken Bones, because it was definitely after Butterfinger debuted—in the battle of the crunchy peanut butter bars (at least the brand-name versions), the most famous one was the original.
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You may have noticed my clickbait subject line and you may be waiting for the part about Snoop Dogg and your grandma. This is that part.
Since the origin story part of my research kinda petered out, I tried to look for information about the candy’s cultural resonance—sometimes that’s more way more interesting anyway! What I found was an endless stream of Chick-O-Stick mentions in articles about old-fashioned candy for nostalgic types, going back to the 1980s. Here’s a portion of a wistful article in The Philadelphia Inquirer in 1996, about a one-man grocery store that had been in operation for “more than three decades”:
Burston sees the other stores closing up and can rattle off the reasons: Crime. Drugs. And, face it, some people from the bebop generation just want to slow down and spend some time at home with their hip-hop grandchildren.
In those quiet moments at the end of another 11-hour day, when he sits on his stool in the back of his store, near the Chick-O-Sticks and the cowpeas, Burston will admit that he's thought a lot about all of that.
The vast majority of newspaper mentions of Chick-O-Sticks, at least those available on ProQuest, follow the same lines: Here is a product from another era. But it’s still going, and so is this person selling it at their [grocery store, five-and-dime, candy shop]. Here’s another one, from The Arizona Republic:
This shop is a nostalgic nod to the days of penny candy. Wax lips, Chick-O-Sticks, Dots and nearly any old-time sweet treat you can imagine are here waiting to fill up the red-and-white candy bags.
I know you can get Chick-O-Sticks outside penny-candy shops, but their marketing appeal, at this point—and for the last multiple decades—appears to be that you’ll love them because your grandma loved them.
And so does Snoop. In October 2021, when he and Marth Stewart were promoting their upcoming Halloween special, he told The Daily Beast this:
So, what is your favorite Halloween treat—either a candy you’d get from your neighbors or one you make yourself?
Stewart: I like the candy apples—I like the crunchy kind, the red candied glass that you have to break with your teeth. I love that.
Snoop: I like candy apples, too, but I like Chick-O-Sticks. I don’t know if you know about a Chick-O-Stick.
I was about to say, I don’t think I’m familiar with the Chick-O-Stick. What is a Chick-O-Stick?
Snoop: It’s like peanut butter—I don’t even know what the ingredients is, but it’s … amazing.
Note to the Atkinson candy folks: If you want to update your branding, you know who to call. He might even be open to it—this wouldn’t be the first time he officially promoted an old-school snack.