(Please Note: This page is unofficial, and is not associated in any way with Russell Stover, Whitman’s or any other seller or manufacturer of candies. If you wish to contact the manufacturer, you can find them at the Russell Stover homepage.)
As anyone who has been reading this Blog for any length of time is well aware, I am probably the last person you would want to rely on for any sort of relationship advice, unless for some odd reason you are looking for tips on accomplishing your lifelong dream of living out your life as a hermit living in the middle of nowhere, unblemished by any of that pesky human contact stuff. I think that I would like to at least make an attempt to avoid this scenario, but that’s beside the point for now. I probably can’t (and really shouldn’t) try to advise my readers about how to win the heart of their chosen Mr. or Ms. Right but still need some sort of vaguely seasonal content to tie in with the upcoming Valentine’s Day holiday. Last year around this time, I put together my first annual (or so) Valentine’s Day Kitsch Roundup, and since this year’s collection of heart-shaped and jewel-encrusted merchandise seems to be sufficiently kitschy to warrant such a post once again, I am in the process of collecting the photographic evidence for such a collection once again.
In the process of putting together such a collection, I find myself often staring at shelves full of quality (or otherwise) chocolate confections. The sheer number of different choices to be found on the shelves these days is staggering (as I will discuss in further detail in the upcoming post as outlined above), but among the Johnny-come-latelies and trendy designer chocolates with a pricetag to match can be found the venerable Whitman’s Sampler, an old standby which was around long before most of the other chocolates on the shelf, and will most likely continue to be around long after many of the others have been relegated to the closeout rack of history. Whitman’s was founded in 1842, and has been producing the classic Whitman’s Sampler since 1912, leaving a trail of classic advertisements that remain sought after by collectors. The company also has a long history of supporting the military throughout the various wars they have fought, and during World War II workers in the Whitman’s factory would often add handwritten notes of encouragement to boxes of chocolate being sent to the troops overseas. From the 1960s through the early Nineties, ownership of the company changed hands several times before it finally landed with Russell Stover Candies, where it remains today.
Unfortunately for the recipient of this charming little box of history, none of this makes it any easier to figure out what’s hiding inside all that rich chocolate coating that your current suitor has presented you with. Oddly enough, I have found that there doesn’t seem to be much information on this topic on the Internet either. As with any other self-respecting company these days Whitman’s has their own website, but it seems to be mostly geared toward selling products by mail order (although if you dig through the Russell Stover site a bit you can find a school project section that provides an overview of the history of Whitman’s,) Information on the actual contents of the venerable yellow box of chocolate seems to be surprisingly hard to come by. The lid of the box includes a “map” naming each type of chocolate in the box (in three different languages, no less) but in spite of this, the whole thing still seems rather vague. While this type of thing might be great for someone with a sweet tooth and a hearty sense of adventure, I figure that there are some people out there who just might want to have a bit more information before they just bite into some random piece of candy.
In light of this (and because I would feel a whole lot less guilty about eating a whole box of chocolates by myself if I could somehow justify it as being for “research purposes,” I have taken it upon myself to dive into the Whitman’s Sampler, try each piece out and report back on my findings. After the jump, you will find the results of my “study” of this classic box of ambiguous confections and brief impressions of each of the various candies found within.
With Valentine’s Day now fast approaching, the number of places in which Whitman’s candies are sold is somewhat larger than usual (although it appears most of those places sell it primarily on a seasonal basis, usually in various heart-shaped containers.) Outside of the Valentine’s Day season, the Whitman’s Sampler can most often be found in various drugstores (I found them in various forms at Rite Aid, Bartell Drug and Walgreen’s stores around here,) usually on a shelf full of various candies. The Sampler comes in a number of sizes ranging from 1.75 ounces (some of which are conveniently giftwrapped for platonic grade school valentine usage) all the way up to a giant 40 ounce box (which is available on the website, but I have yet to see one available at retail.) In addition to the standard Assorted Chocolates version, There are also Milk Chocolate, Dark Chocolate and ”Nut, Chewy and Crisp” assortments in 12 ounce boxes. Whitman’s Sampler also comes in a sugar free variety that replaces the usual yellow box with a silver one, and comes in 7 and 14-ounce versions, with a moderately higher pricetag than the conventionally sugared versions. For the purposes of this article, I will be sticking to the standard 12-ounce Assorted Chocolates version of the Sampler, which retails for $9.99 (although I got it on sale for $6.99.)
For Valentine’s Day and Christmas, you will occasionally find these boxes sold in giftwrapped form, which is how this particular box came from the store. There’s a pretty good chance that your prospective Valentine will probably have a pretty good idea of what you’re giving them here even before the wrapping paper comes off the box, but if you’d like here to at least try to act surprised, it might be a good idea to at least take the removable labels (There’s one on the back as well with the ingredients) off the box before presenting it.
There, that’s better. This way, you might be able to get a good 2 or 3 seconds of suspense out of the whole thing.
When the giftwrap comes off, we’re presented with the familiar yellow box inside,
The design has changed over the years every so often, but the trademark cross-stitch design remains. That bird in the upper left corner of the box seems just a bit out of place, but it seems to have found its way onto the packaging of all the various samplers offered currently, so there’s probably some significance to it that is lost to most modern consumers. In general, the decorations on the box seem to be a lot less elaborate than they used to be, which is most likely a concession to modern design tastes. As a side note, when the Whitman’s Sampler was introduced in 1912, it represented the first use of Cellophane in candy packaging (and until 1924, the Cellophane had to be imported from France since nobody in the US had the capability to manufacture it.)
On the back of the box, we find an ingredient list a mile long (which not only covers all of the various ingredients that might have been used to make all of the different varieties of candy in the box, but has to do so in three different languages.) We also see the nutritional information, which tells a story that I suspect most of us probably don’t want to hear. As such, I’ll refrain from pointing out that you would be consuming 1,650 calories and 232% of your daily saturated fat intake if you were to eat the whole box in one sitting (While I worked on this project I staggered out the candy-eating part over several days to try to keep myself from getting too diabetic over the whole thing,) and we’ll just move on to looking at what’s inside the box.
Removing the outer wrapper and pulling off the lid, we find this handy sheet of what is known as the “Pillow Puff” liner made out of embossed paper, another Whitman’s innovation first introduced in 1937. On the bottom of the lid we can see the “map” of the contents of the box, which we will look at more closely in a minute.
Removing the liner, we finally reach the first layer of chocolate in the box.
If we lift this layer up, we find another piece of liner, and a second layer below it, with contents identical to the first layer.
On the bottom of the box, we see the “map” of the chocolates inside the Sampler, with names in English, French and Spanish (it appears that the entire packaging of the Sampler is trilingual these days, presumably to allow it to be sold in Canada and Mexico.) The problem is that some of these names are just a bit vague, and really don’t tell us a whole lot about what’s under the chocolate. In order to help whatever readers happen to wander by this post to make wise chocolate consumption decisions when confronted with a fully loaded Whitman’s Sampler of their own, I have sampled each of the different varieties contained within the box, and my notes and pictures for each one will be included below, in the order shown above Each item will show a photo of the full chocolate, the inside, and some of my impressions from each piece.
As we begin with our tour through the various candies found within the Whitman’s Sampler, we’re immediately presented with the first of several similar-looking pieces in the box.
The piece on the left is Coconut, and the one on the right is something known as a Chocolate Whip (which will be discussed a bit further down.) Although I’m guessing there’s supposed to be some trick to allow you to tell these two varieties apart from each other (probably something to do with the ripples on top) for most people who aren’t candymakers at the Whitman’s factory it’s probably going to be a 50/50 chance to pick the correct one out of these two pieces.
As you can probably imagine, the inside of the Coconut piece contains coconut, which means that your enjoyment of this particular confection will depend largely on whether or not you like coconut in the first place. In general I do like the taste of coconut, but I did find this particular piece to be a bit on the dry side compared to other similar coconut-based candies I have tried.
#2: Chocolate Covered Peanuts
To be honest, there isn’t really much to say here. It’s peanuts covered in milk chocolate, no gimmicks involved aside from some what I would guess to be a thin coat of confectioner’s glaze for shine applied in panning. You do get plenty of them though (I didn’t actually count them since I began eating them before I could, but I believe there were somewhere between 12-14 in each layer of the box.)
Here’s one of the pieces in the box that actually manages to stand out, at least in terms of appearance. The smooth coat of milk chocolate over a caramel center is distinguished by the lines of milk chocolate that crisscross its surface. It’s also much more squared than other pieces in the box.
In spite of the fancy exterior, the inside doesn’t hide anything, just a center of solid caramel, which remains firm when cut in two, but still manages to be fairly chewy in the mouth. There probably aren’t going to be any major surprises for anyone here.
#4: Chocolate Covered Almonds
Once again, there’s nothing too unusual going on here, just almonds are covered in dark chocolate. The main difference between these and the peanuts is that you get a lot less of these (only three in each layer of the box.) This is a bit of a shame, because I happened to like these quite a bit more than I liked the peanuts. The almonds they used here also seem unusually small compared to almonds you might find elsewhere.
#5: Chocolate Whip
As mentioned above, this particular candy could very easily be confused with the coconut candy found nearby in the box, and there doesn’t seem to be much to distinguish the two from each other. Both are similar in shape, and covered in milk chocolate. The actual contents of the two pieces are very different from each other though.
The “whip” part inside the Chocolate Whip is a light, airy nougat that is presumably flavored as chocolate, although to be honest, I found it just a bit difficult to discern exactly what flavor this was. If it’s eaten with the chocolate shell, you’ll mostly taste that. If you try to eat the nougat by itself, it doesn’t necessarily taste like chocolate. In fact, I seemed to detect a faint hint of some spice I couldn’t place. You’ll just have to try this one for yourself to figure it out. For most people, this piece is going to be more interesting for its light airy texture than for its taste though.
#6: Pecan / English Walnut Cluster
As we begin with the second row of the box, once again we’re presented with a pair of items too similar in appearance to discern by looks alone. On the left side of the box is the Pecan/English Walnut Cluster, and on the right side is the similar looking Cashew Cluster. Both of these are small paper cups filled with milk chocolate and nuts, and both look basically identical when shown side by side.
For all the good that it does, the one on the left is the Pecan / English Walnut Cluster, and the Cashew Cluster is on the right. Aside from the appearance that the Cashew Cluster might have a bit higher density of nut pieces, once again you’re pretty much on your own here.
As for the Pecan/Walnut Cluster, I’m not sure if the pecan and walnut content is supposed to be an either/or thing or if it’s supposed to contain both, but I was able to taste more walnut than pecan. It does look like there are pecan pieces in here though, although it’s tough to tell the difference from here. Either way, you’re dealing with chocolate-covered nut pieces, so there shouldn’t be any surprises here.
#7: Molasses Chew
Now we come to another of the more distinctive pieces in the box, the Molasses Chew. Covered in smooth dark chocolate with elegant white zigzag stripes, there’s nothing else in the box that even looks close to this one. In fact, this piece almost begins to seem a bit out of place compared to many of the more roughly textured pieces found throughout the box.
For those people who take the time to actually look at the inside of the piece, you are rewarded with a surprisingly complex ring pattern in the nougat, presumably a by-product of the method by which the centers are formed. The texture, as expected by the name, is very firm, but not so much as to be considered hard. In terms of flavor, this is another one which could be a bit of an acquired taste for some people. Molasses is a flavor that seems to have long since fallen out of the typical American palate, and might seem a bit odd. It sure is pretty to look at though, isn’t it?
#8: Messenger Boy
Before you ask, no this isn’t made out of real messengers. In fact, this particular piece isn’t made out of anything but plain milk chocolate with nothing else inside. It does, however, act as something of a signature piece for the box, and shows the Whitman’s “Messenger” logo, a common feature in their advertising for many years. In fact, the timeline on the Whitman’s site specifically mentions the addition of this piece in 1915 a couple of years after the Sampler was originally introduced to recognize it as being Whitman’s best selling product. It also gives you a chance to try out the chocolate without anything else getting in the way.
#9: Almond Nougat
In terms of appearance, the Almond Nougat piece seems to bear some resemblance to other pieces in the box, but unlike several of the ones discussed already, it can be easily distinguished from similar looking pieces by its shape, which is a bit longer and more squared than anything else. I am not entirely certain why the top of this piece seems to only have the wrinkles on half of it, but this seems to be an exception rather than the norm for this piece, since the other one in the box seems to have the pattern over the whole surface.
On the inside, we have nougat with almonds inside of it, just as advertised. I found in my tasting that the almonds seem to get just a bit lost in here, and if I didn’t know they were in there, I could have missed them entirely. The almonds will probably assert themselves more as a crunch on the inside than as a flavor. The nougat itself is pretty generic.
#10: Cashew Cluster
This was briefly discussed already in comparison to the Pecan/Walnut Cluster piece that it shares its general appearance with, likely to the confusion of some consumers. What we have here is milk chocolate with cashew pieces in it, plain and simple.
I’m not normally a fan of cashews (I generally prefer peanuts for snacking on,) but I actually liked the taste of this one more than I expected to. The cashew pieces have a nice roasted flavor to them, and don’t seem to get overwhelmed by the chocolate coating nearly as much as the centers of some of the other pieces do. The fact that there seems to be more cashew in here than there is pecan and walnut in the Pecan/Walnut Cluster probably helps with this significantly.
#11: Chocolate Truffle
As we move onto the last row, we run into one more set of nearly identical looking candies, Chocolate Truffle and Vermont Fudge. Fortunately, these two are a bit easier to tell apart than some of the others.
The Chocolate Truffle is on the left in milk chocolate, and Vermont Fudge is on the right coated in dark chocolate (something that there doesn’t seem to be nearly enough of in this box if you ask me, but that’s beside the point.)
It seems like everywhere you look these days you find truffles in one form or another. Everyone and their dog seems to be making the things these days. A couple of years ago I even made some of the things at home once or twice in my own kitchen, and although the results turned out reasonably good, I think I managed to make the second biggest disaster ever out of my kitchen in the process (and the first involved setting something on fire,) so now I just prefer to leave such things to the professionals. As for this one, the center is made of dark chocolate, and unlike the Chocolate Whip, it actually tastes like chocolate. The Ganache layer might not be quite as smooth as some truffles, but it works. I should note that although the cut in the picture above makes it look like there’s multiple layers, the center is consistent all the way though.
#12: Toffee Chip
The first thing you’ll notice about the Toffee Chip is that unlike any of the other pieces, there are actually two of these in each layer. Exactly why they picked this particular piece to add a duplicate of I am not sure, but if they did have to pick one to duplicate, I’d say that this one was a pretty good choice.
As you would expect from the name, it’s toffee covered in milk chocolate, and it appears to contain almond pieces in it as well. The toffee used has a nice buttery flavor, and I’d even say that it compares favoably to the toffee used in the local favorite Almond Roca, the standard for toffee-based candies around here. Of all the pieces in the Sampler that I have tried, I’d have to say this one just might be my favorite.
#13: Cherry Cordial
Cherry Cordials are one of those candies that it seems that people either love or hate. In my case, I find them to be somewhere in between, one of those things that seems like it would be good every so often (usually when they’re on closeout after one of the big candy-selling holidays), but after eating one or two of the things I seem to find myself wondering why I ever thought that would be a good idea in the first place.
The example found in the Whitman’s Sampler is a fairly typical representative of the genre, although for some reason the cherry in the center of this one seems to be oddly translucent, as you can see in the picture. On the plus side, it doesn’t seem to have the extra bit of sugar slurrry in the bottom that some Cherry Cordials have which just seems to be a waste of calories (more so than the things are in the first place, anyway.) If you happen to like the things, you’ll probably like this one. If you don’t, at least this one is distinctive enough that you’ll be able to skip it without too much problem.
#14: Vermont Fudge
Finally, we come to the last piece in the box, the Vermont Fudge. Before we even crack open the chocolate shell we’ve already got a number of questions. Aside from the fact that only the dark chocolate shell distinguishes it from the Chocolate Truffle on the other side of the box, we’ve also got the question of how Vermont Fudge ended up in here anyway. After all, Whitman’s originated in Philadelphia (but the manufacturing facilities appear to have moved to Kansas City after the brand ended up under the Russel Stover umbrella,) and Vermont is a fair distance away. There’s also the fact that when you think of fudge, generally you’re going to be thinking in terms of chocolate.
When we cut this one open and take a look inside, we seem to get a different story entirely. I’m pretty sure that chocolate doesn’t generally come in that color, fudge or otherwise. Only when we actually taste the filling does the whole story come together here: The “fudge” inside this one is actually maple flavored, which would explain the “Vermont” part of the Vermont name. For all I know there might not be a single ingredient in this stuff that has been within five hundred miles of Vermont and still the name almost makes sense. Almost.
So there you have it. All fourteen varieties of candy found in the 12-ounce Whitman’s Sampler dissected and analyzed. As mentioned above, there are a number of other varieties of the Sampler (including all milk and dark chocolate versions of the original and a sugar free Sampler,) so I could probably discuss those in further detail. Maybe I will at some point, but after working on this particular project I’m getting just a little bit sick of candy right now. Hopefully those of you reading this, either because you have received one of these or because you are planning to give one as a Valentine’s Day gift, will be able to appreciate it a little bit more by knowing a bit more about what’s inside. After all, as the classic Whitman’s slogan says, a woman never forgets the man who remembers (although I think that would apply just as much for a guy actually doing the dishes every once in a while as it would for buying candy for your chosen sweetheart.)