The Sweet Makers ep.3

Four modern-day confectioners use original recipes to recreate a Victorian sweet shop and discover how the quest to satisfy the national sweet tooth transformed Britain. They come under pressure as small-time players trying to compete in a tough new world completely altered by the industrial revolution and the dawn of mass production. Guided by food historian Dr Annie Gray and social historian Emma Dabiri, he 21st-century sweetmakers are in their own workshop in Blists Hill, Shropshire, to experience first-hand the life of confectioners in late 19th- and early 20th-century England - a time when children finally got their hands on chocolate and the brands that we still know and love today were dreamt up. Cheap sugar meant sweets for every class in society for the first time, so everything the team make across four days in the kitchen forms part of the stock for their shop.


The confectioners use period equipment, original recipes and authentic ingredients. They are Paul A Young, who runs two boutique chocolate shops in London, Cynthia Stroud, a bespoke wedding cake decorator, Diana Short, who owns her own chocolate company, and sweet consultant Andy Baxendale, whose first job in the industry was in the Chewits factory. They each bring a unique set of skills and experience to the job - but they will quickly come to appreciate the immense skill of their confectionery predecessors.

Wrestling with unfamiliar equipment - from drop rollers for moulding boiled sweets, the first rotating pans, fiddly starch trays to some extraordinary Easter animal moulds - tests the confectioners' skills and ingenuity to the limit. They discover how the sugar they worked with changed from slave-produced cane sugar to the European sugar beet and the huge impact of eating chocolate. And they see their own status change and decline from earlier time periods as the pressure now is about producing cheap treats in bulk not crafting artistic delights by hand.

Dr Annie Gray is their guide to the unfamiliar recipes and ingredients - everything from the original fruit pastilles recipes to adulterated paraffin wax toffees and beautiful fancy boxes which cost more than the average weekly food budget of a working family. Emma Dabiri helps the confectioners understand the harsh competition smaller companies faced with the establishment of the huge Quaker brands such as Rowntrees, Frys and Cadburys and the boom in confectionery factories. Chocolatier Paul is visibly moved by the letters from the First World War trenches, a stark reminder of how precious chocolate was to soldiers who were far from home, and they are staggered to discover that the first animated advert was for a Rowntrees bar.

Their new urban customers were sugar addicts who burnt thousands of calories in the factories. They wanted a range of cheap and delicious treats so they have to produce more than they have ever done before, working longer hours at a time when profit margins were tight. They go all out for their Easter display - making a vast decorated egg, chocolate fish and other animals. Annie and Emma are impressed with the incredible array of sweets they manage to make, from rose rock and lemon drops to barley sugar twists, fruit pastilles and creamy toffees to chocolate fancy boxes and eggs. Their young customers can't eat them quickly enough and an Easter egg hunt tops it off.

They have triumphed in the difficult world of mass production and seen the birth of the big brands that we still recognise today. It has been an extraordinary journey through more than 350 years of the confectionery, and they are the product of the men and women who came before them.

The Sweet Makers ep.3
The Sweet Makers ep.3