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See's Famous Old Time Candies: A Sweet Story
By Margaret Moos Pick
Chronicle Books, 2005
Reviewed by William I. Lengeman III

You could probably work your way through this slim, lavishly illustrated volume in about the same amount of time it would take to polish off a box of See's candies, and you wouldn't even end up with a stomachache.

Margaret Moos Pick has put together a compact, informative and entertaining history of See's, the California-based candy maker that's just about a decade and a half shy of their one hundredth birthday.

Things got underway for See's in northern Ontario, where Mary See's homemade candies were a hit with nearly everyone who tried them. See moved to Los Angeles with her son, Charlie and his family and Charlie opened the first See's in 1921, using his mother's recipes and immortalizing her matronly visage on the packaging.

The 85 years that intervened have been kind to See's, who now boast 200 stores, 100 Holiday gift centers and a bunch of kiosks, not to mention a workforce that numbers 6,000 employees during the peak season.

Pick does a nice job of summarizing how See's got from then to now. There were the war years, with shortages that hurt all candy makers, but which See's survived by reducing the quantities they manufactured, rather than giving even an inch when it came to quality.

There were the Fifties, which saw the company engaged in a vigorous expansion throughout California, including moving into many of the new malls and shopping centers that were just beginning to appear on the scene. The next decade saw See's move into other Western states and they continued to widen their sphere of influence as the years ticked by.

Then there are the interesting bits of trivia Pick uncovers - a 15-foot Easter Bunny that made its way from the 1949 Rose Bowl Parade to the roof of a See's building in San Francisco; the chocolate ties and hammers the company came up with for Father's Day; the limited edition Barbie outfitted with it's own distinctive See's uniform and supplied with an equally distinctive replica of a See's store.

Then there was the time Lucille Ball and Vivian Vance spent a day in a See's factory, in training for an episode that would become a revered sitcom classic.

Did I mention that the book is lavishly illustrated with a wealth of photographs and advertisements pulled from the company's files? Well, there I mentioned it again. Plus it's low in calories and fat free. Worth a look.

William I. Lengeman III maintains Tea Guy Speaks, a Web site devoted to the appreciation of tea. More information at http://wileng.blogspot.com/.

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