22 October 2008

Food: Goldenberg's Peanut Chews

Anyone else have a penchant for these chocolate delights that are hard to find outside of New York City? I had to categorize this under food, even though it might not be entirely accurate. I just don't have a category for "items to store for the next major disaster."

Blogger Darren Zieger has written a post on his connection to these addictive bits, now manufactured under the name Chew-ets Original Peanut Chews, after the competition bought out the company:

Some more digging, and a thorough reading of my grand-cousin's autobiography, has allowed me to piece together a chronology of the Goldenberg branch of my family tree which includes a few more entertaining nuggets.

In a nutshell (he said, hoping to produce a less long-winded post than usual, a goal which this parenthetical statement does little to advance):

In the beginning (well, as far back as we know) there were Favel and Eva (nee ???) Goldenberg, a typical (for all we know) mid-19th century Romanian couple. Except that they weren't actually Goldenbergs. Favel's surname was Seltzer.

This fact got changed retroactively in the archives because one of his sons, Dovid Seltzer (1865 - 1935) changed his name when he arrived in the US around 1880.

It is said that, as the ship that took him across the Atlantic passed the Statue of Liberty on its approach to Ellis Island, Dovid asked a fellow passenger, a returning US citizen, "What is a good name to have in America?" The passenger replied "Sir, in America, the best name is Goldberg."

(Whether this was accurate is unclear; the National Archive only has Best Name data going back to the 1910 Census.)

And while it is not said, we can assume that at that revelatory moment, the fog lifted and, far off on the deck of next ship, Barbra Streisand began singing.

So, Dovid Seltzer became David Goldenberg (adding an extra syllable for, I'm guessing, subtlety).

David Goldenberg settled in Philadelphia, and, being a late 19th Century Jewish immigrant, he went into the candy business, as the law required (had he been wealthier, he would have had the option of becoming a diamond merchant).

He started out pushing a cart, later opened a candy store, and eventually, on the strength of one particularly successful confection, ran a factory, fulfilling the American Dream(TM) as the law required.

Let me emphasize here: I am a descendant of a man who owned a chocolate factory*. I find this quite marvelous for no practical reason.

The candy in question, you've probably encountered if you're from the Northeast. Goldenberg's Peanut Chews were a staple of my pre-diabetic diet. They rocked. Seriously, we're talking about Desert-Island-List food, here.

And here's my very own Peanut Chew story:

While working for the Jerusalem Post's Metro weekly in the old Tel Aviv editorial office, I sometimes went down the block to a shop offering delicious Iraqi Sephardic specialties cooked by the owner's mother and sister.

While waiting for my order to be packed, I noticed a few shelves holding snacks and candy. Imagine my surprise when I saw an entire box of Peanut Chews. The shop's owner wasn't there, and the manager had no idea where they had come from.

I bought the entire box. "Are they good?" the manager asked, having never tasted them, and I was afraid to give him a taste! The delights went home to live in our freezer, doled out small piece by small piece over the coming months.


  1. Anonymous6:56 AM

    Are they really no longer sold under the Goldenberg name? I was looking forward to going through my kids Halloween candy and taking them for myself!

  2. Yes, I loved them! In college just outside of Philadephia in the 80s, I always got them out of the candy machine in our dorm when I was pulling an all-nighter. They were wonderful, but as you say, they are hard to find.

  3. Hi, Bonnie,
    The package and the graphic looks much the same but the text says Chew-ets Original Peanut Chews. You will recognize them among all the candy! Would people really give them out for Halloween, I don't remember the little bits separately wrapped, they are just 6 chocolate pieces inside the package.

  4. Anonymous7:55 AM

    As a Goldenberg, I can add that my father, who was born in Cairo and came to the US via Canada, (not sure why I added that, other than our name having been Goldenberg originally, not Seltzer) bought copious amounts of the 6 piece "bars" to have out on the food tables at my brothers' Bar Mitzvot in the 60's. We, in turn, got them to have out at our kids' events. We noticed the change in the size of the name over time. It was originally printed across the entire package, as I recall, but then shrunk to a corner. We did find bags of the individually wrapped chews as well. One of David's decendants contacted us via mail when he was doing a family tree a couple yrs ago. That's all I know other than they are indeed tasty chews and, according to a friend from the northeast, were often referred to as the "poor man's Turtles(tm)".

    Paul AIM: pgold444

  5. Anonymous7:58 AM

    Hi Schelly:

    Genalogy is about memories. As we get older, those memories of a simple childhood seem to be more vivid. I grew up in Northern New Jersey, where my Dad owned a neighborhood grocery, deli, and liquor store. Home made pastrami, corned beef, fresh cut lox, fresh made bagels and seeded rye, Hostess cupcakes, and Goldenbergs were some of my favorites.

    I now live in the Philadelphia area and want to give credit for Goldenbergs as one of the great foods of Philadelphia -- a staple of all Philly children of my generation along with Tastycakes, cheestakes, and hoagies. Goldenberg's is a Philadelphia born and bred tradition. See http://www.bizjournals.com/philadelphia/stories/2005/04/11/tidbits1.html for more about Goldenbergs and the sale of that brand.


  6. Anonymous9:52 AM

    I'm sad to report that the current incarnation of Peanut Chews bears little resemblance to the candy we all remember. The JustBorn company's "Chew-ets," while a perfectly decent confection, tastes pretty much like any other peanut/chocolate candy; the original Peanut Chews were something special.

    TO be fair to JustBorn, the are also the current producer of Marshmallow Peeps, which remain excellent.

    Reviewing the opening chapters of the Everett's bio, I caught a couple other details.

    Apparently the D. Goldenberg Company (later the Goldenberg Candy Company), introduced the world to the "After Dinner Mint" and "Salt Water Taffy" - in quotes because I believe that it wasn't the actual confections, but the _names_ that were the innovation; a great moment in candy marketing, as the names stuck and are now generic terms for the products.

    Neat stuff. I do wish I'd been aware of all this growing up. As it was, I had very little contact with the Goldenberg side of the family, which turns out to be where all the action was.