Food Column: Life Savers are on a roll of 100 years

It's a story I've heard since childhood: Some kid choked on hard candy, so his father invented candy with a hole in the center to keep it from blocking the windpipe -- and called it "Life Savers" because it would, literally, save lives.

Turns out it's all bunkum.

Life Savers -- along with Oreos and the sinking of the Titanic -- are marking their 100th anniversary this year.

The real story is that Clarence Crane, a chocolate maker from Garrettsville, Ohio, invented Life Savers in 1912 as a sweet treat that would stand up to summertime heat, unlike his chocolates. His inaugural flavor was Pep-O-Mint, not the five-flavor roll we tend to consider the quintessential Life Savers.

And the name has nothing to do with choking. It's simply because of the candies' shape: They look like little life preservers.

Old Clarence wasn't the only renowned member of the family. Some folks will remember his son, poet and journalist Hart Crane, from high school literature classes, although Life Savers are more mainstream than Hart Crane's ambitious poetry.

Clarence Crane didn't get much financial benefit from Life Savers. He sold the formula a year after inventing it -- before the candy's popularity -- to another man, Edward Noble, for $2,900. Mr. Noble ditched the cardboard packaging and invented the foil roll that has endured the test of time.

Bygone flavors have included Lic-O-Rice, Cin-O-Mon, Vi-O-Let, Choc-O-Mint, Cola and several that are particularly strange to the modern palate: Cl-O-Ve, Molas-O-Mint and the ill-fated Malt-O-Milk, which sold abysmally and met an early demise.

Fruit flavors (orange, lemon and lime) didn't debut until nine years after the original peppermints, and it wasn't until 1935 that cherry and pineapple joined the other fruits to comprise the famous five-flavor roll. In 2003, manufacturers made a doomed attempt to switch orange Life Savers to blackberry in the five-flavor pack, but consumers revolted and orange returned to its rightful place.

During World War II, Life Savers accompanied soldiers to war in their rations as reminders of home. Other candy makers even donated their sugar rations to allow Life Savers to stay in production for the troops.

Wrigley, Life Savers' parent company since 2004, is conducting a 100th anniversary charitable campaign through Aug. 31. Buy a specially-marked anniversary pack of Life Savers and go to and use the code on the package to select a charity, and Wrigley will give your cause a $1 donation.


"Food Stamped": This documentary follows a nutrition educator and her husband as they attempt to eat a healthful, balanced diet on a food stamp budget. 7:30 tonight at Pump House, Munhall. This screening is part of the Battle of Homestead film series; a discussion with a Just Harvest representative will follow.

Fine dining

Museum wine dinner: Chef Kirk Kolich of Parkhurst Dining presents a wine dinner based on recipes from Mario Porreca's "The Good, the Bad, the Cookbook" at 6 p.m. July 13 at Carnegie Museum in Oakland. The six-course meal includes strawberry fennel salad, horseradish-crusted salmon, porcini-dusted filet mignon and wine pairings with all courses. $85 per person includes a signed copy of the cookbook. Reservations: 412-622-3317.

Six in the City Dinner Series: Five-course dinner with wine or spirits at 7:30 p.m. July 17 at Root 174, Regent Square. $110 per person; a portion of the proceeds benefits the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank. Reservations:

Sandwich week

"Northside Sandwich Week": As part of this celebration of the 250th anniversary of the invention of the sandwich this week, all 10 participating eateries (selling signature sandiches) will pit those sammies vs. each other at Penn Brewery from 6 to 9 p.m. tonight. For $20, you can sample them all with two drinks. Get tix at and part of the proceeds will benefit Rox Performance Academy.

No need to go to London

Cheese Olympics: McGinnis Sisters, Monroeville, is celebrating the Summer Olympics from 11 a.m to 3 p.m. July 14, when customers can sample cheeses from 10 different countries. Gold, silver and bronze medals will be given to the customers' favorite cheeses in an awards ceremony at 7 p.m. the following Saturday, July 21. Reservations are required for the awards ceremony by calling 412-858-7000, ext. 7 or e-mailing


Tea class: More than you ever wanted to know about your cuppa: history and types of tea, steeping techniques, storing tea, tea gadgets and other topics. 7 p.m. July 11 at Margaret's Fine Imports, Strip District. $15. Registration:

Italian Fling: Cooking instructor Loretta Paganini brings her inimitable humor and effervescence to Crate in Scott. Demos at the 11 a.m. July 14 class will include antipasti, tomato-basil soup, garden vegetable tagliolini pasta and other Italian favorites. $65 per person. Reservations:

Fun with fungi

Mushroom walks: Meet the Western Pennsylvania Mushroom Club to search for mushrooms in local parks on July 7 at Hartwood Acres, Hampton (meet in the mansion parking lot), July 14 at North Park (meet at the pavilion beside the swimming pool parking lot) and July 28 at Wolf Creek Narrows, Slippery Rock Township (meet in the parking lot near the bridge crossing Wolf Creek). All walks are free and start at 10 a.m., and the July 14 walk will focus specifically on chanterelles. After the July 28 walk, participants are invited to meet for microbrew sampling at nearby North Country Brewing.

More mushrooms: See a slide show, take a mushroom walk and bring home samples for identification from 9 a.m. to noon on July 28 at the Outdoor Classroom, Boyce Mayview Park, Upper St. Clair. $15 or $10 for WPMC members. Register: 412-838-0064. For information about the location:

Where's the Diva Chef?

Elise watch: Local Hell's Kitchen contestant Elise Wims does a cooking demo at 3 p.m. Monday, July 2, at the Hazelwood Avenue outlet of the Squirrel Hill Community Food Pantry. She volunteers there.

Correction/Clarification: (Published June 29, 2012) The Outdoor Classroom on mushrooms at Boyce Mayview Park, Upper St. Clair, will be held from 9 a.m. to noon July 28. The time and date were incorrect Thursday in the food column.

Rebecca Sodergren: First Published June 28, 2012 4:00 AM


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