Packaging updates include the “Since 1847” band to the left of the logo, and updated type for “The Original Candy Wafer.”Photo Credit : Aimee Tucker
For food lovers — and who among us isn’t? — there are few things sadder than when a cherished childhood treat disappears. Maybe we miss a one-of-a-kind flavor, like the vanilla/coffee/orange sherbet “Country Club” ice cream made popular by the now-defunct company James H. McManus. Or maybe we miss that feeling of pride that we took in, say, regional potato chips such as Vincent’s Chips (shuttered in the late 1990s) and Stateline (now made in Canada).
Below are some of our favorite New England food brands that are gone but not forgotten. And while a few have made comebacks from the great beyond, we should note that it’s from beyond the borders of our beloved New England.
Not long after English immigrant Oliver Chase started marketing his “hub wafers” in Boston in 1847, their easy portability would make them popular with Union soldiers. In the early 1900s, Chase’s company merged with several others and formed the New England Confectionary Company (Necco). Rebranded as Necco Wafers in 1912, Chase’s creation became a New England mainstay for more than a century.
Necco Wafers disappeared when Necco went out of business in 2018. Two years later, Ohio-based Spangler Candy acquired the rights and recipe, and rolls of these multiflavored candies returned to store shelves.
There is nothing quite like a Necco Wafer, and although while some may say that’s a good thing, we die-hards stand by this oddly flavored, distinctly chalky favorite. Even if it’s no longer a New England product, we’re happy we can still enjoy letting a Necco Wafer melt on our tongue and arguing with our friends over what flavor it’s supposed to be.
The lineage of this New England food brand can be traced back to 1792 and a baker in Newburyport, Massachusetts, named John Pearson. Pearson’s version was known as Pilot Bread, a variation on the hardtack that had long been valued by sailors for its versatility and durability.
In 1889, Pearson & Sons Bakery was acquired with several others to form the New York Biscuit Company. Not long after, that company merged with the American Biscuit & Manufacturing Company to form the National Baking Company, which would end up doing business under the trade name Nabisco.
For many years, unsalted Crown Pilot crackers were Nabisco’s oldest recipe. They were available primarily in New England, where cooks came to love them as a not-so-secret ingredient in soups and chowders. Others folks crunched them straight from the box, slathered in jam or molasses.
Sales lagged in the late 1980s, and Nabisco discontinued production of Crown Pilot crackers in 1996. Protests from consumers prompted Nabisco to reverse course a year later, but sales never really rebounded. In 2008, Nabisco pulled the plug for good.
In 1905 in Salem, New Hampshire, William “Buddy” Croft opened what is believed to have been the first commercial potato chip production facility in the country. His Granite State–brand chips were sometimes sold in bags but more notably in plastic buckets (and before that, cardboard cartons). And his company had the distinction of being the first ever to use New Hampshire’s iconic Old Man of the Mountain as part of a business logo.
Although Granite State chips remained popular for decades, the company found it increasingly hard to keep up with national competitors, and it ceased production in 2007.
It just wouldn’t be Valentine’s Day without those little candy hearts with phrases printed on them. In the 1860s, Daniel Chase, brother of Necco founder Oliver Chase, perfected a machine that could print words on candy using red vegetable coloring. The process was refined over the years, and the first Sweethearts were marketed in 1902. Many of the words and sayings used on the hearts have been updated over the years, but a few date back to those early days, including “Be Good” and “Kiss Me.” Like Necco Wafers, they were acquired and are now produced by Spangler Candy.
In 1848, inspired by the Native American practice of chewing the flavorful resin from spruce trees, Maine businessman John B. Curtis started selling spruce resin as the first-ever commercial chewing gum. Over time, Curtis and his son tinkered a bit with the flavor and made the texture softer by adding paraffin.
They eventually opened a shop in Bangor, Maine, where they could be close to their product’s source. The younger Curtis became a traveling salesman, peddling the gum as well as other products, while his father handled production. Their business grew to employ 200 people in a three-story factory in Portland that cranked out 1,800 boxes of gum each day.
But after the chewing gum market began to boom in the late 1800s and early 1900s, State of Maine Pure Spruce Gum — and spruce gum generally — faded away. L.L. Bean sold a brand of spruce gum until the mid-1980s, but today it is difficult to find.
For more than 60 years, Massachusetts-based Sevigny’s was the go-to brand for thin ribbon candy, a beautiful, sugary treat popular during the holidays. In 1986, Sevigny’s was sold to F.B. Washburn Candy Company of Brockton, Massachusetts, which continued to sell the candy under the Sevigny’s name. Washburn, in fact, produced most of the commercially available ribbon candy in the country, including not only Sevigny’s but also the candy sold under the trade names of Russell Stover, Fannie Farmer, and others.
In 2018, Washburn decided to focus its business on lollipops and other traditional hard candies, and it shuttered its ribbon candy operations. The following year, West Coast–based Quality Candy Company acquired the Sevigny’s brand and moved production to its facilities in Mexico.
The Humpty Dumpty Potato Chip Company was founded in 1947 by Norman Cole and George Robinson in Scarborough, Maine. Eager snackers could buy chips directly (often still hot) at the production facility, although they were also bagged and distributed to retailers throughout New England. Flavored chips were a Humpty Dumpty specialty, including sour cream and clam, dill pickle, and bacon flavors.
After more than 40 years as an independent company, Humpty Dumpty was sold — first to Ohio-based Borden, then to a Canadian company called Small Fry, and finally to the Canadian company Old Dutch Foods. In New England, the chips continue to be sold under the Humpty Dumpty name. And although many longtime fans claim the product ain’t what it used to be, Old Dutch has continued to innovate, with offerings including buffalo wing, roast chicken, and jalapeño.
Squirrel Nut Zippers were nutty, vanilla-flavored caramels originally produced in the 1920s by the Squirrel Brand Company of Cambridge, Massachusetts. The candy’s name was a play on the name of a popular Prohibition-era cocktail.
They remained a New England staple until 1999, when the Squirrel Brand Company was sold and moved to Texas. Then in 2004, Necco purchased the rights to produce Squirrel Nut Zippers and brought them home to New England.
As previously mentioned, however, Necco closed its doors in 2018. Unlike many of the company’s other products, Squirrel Nut Zippers (along with their chocolate-flavored cousins, Squirrel Nut Caramels) have not yet found a new producer.
Once upon a time, ZaRex syrup was arguably New England’s most versatile flavor additive. Add one part ZaRex to seven parts ice water or lemonade, and you’d have a sweet, fruity drink. Replace the ice water with soda water, and you’d have a delicious pop. Snow cones, cocktails, smoothies, ice cream, muffins — they all could be improved with a shot of ZaRex.
Commonly available in raspberry, grape, fruit punch, and orange, ZaRex was created by the One Pie Canning Company in the 1930s and had a solid 50-year run before sales started slowing in the 1980s. Production ceased in 2008.
In 2010, a pair of Massachusetts entrepreneurs bought the ZaRex name and recipe and brought it back to market, although it seems to have fallen out of production again in the years since.
Started in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, by Carl Schultz and Ted Bettcher, Schultz Hot Dogs became a Seacoast favorite soon after introducing its franks in 1933. Schultz-brand hot dogs maintained their popularity for decades, even after the recipe was lost in a fire in 1990. In 1992 the business was sold to Maine’s Jordan Meats, then sold twice more before landing with Arkansas-based Tyson in 2001. But then the brand’s value had faded to the point that Tyson shut it down in 2004.
All is not lost, however. Ken Bettcher, Ted’s son, teamed up with Shields Meats of Kennebunk, Maine, to create the closest facsimile of Schultz’s original recipe as possible. The result, Shields Provisions natural-casing frankfurters, is a worthy successor.
What are the New England food brands you miss the most? Tell us in the comments below!