The importance of comforting sweets in the Harry Potter series
In dark times, at least we have sweets. Image: Shutterstock / Epov Dmitry By Shannon Connellan2020-04-04 12:00:00 UTC Welcome to Cozy Week, where we'll curl up by the glow of our screens to celebrate all that's soft in entertainment. Pour yourself...
Welcome to Cozy Week, where we'll curl up by the glow of our screens to celebrate all that's soft in entertainment. Pour yourself a cup of hot cocoa and sit by us as we coo over the cutest games, cry over the tenderest movie moments, and drift off to the most comforting shows. Because it can be a cold world out there, and we need something to keep us warm.
In dark times, muggles find all sorts of libations, confectionery, and sweet snackery to cure what ails them, to boost their spirits, and make them forget for a minute that everything's not exactly great. Yeah, they’re not that “good for us” but sweets, lollies, and candies often help folks share a moment of friendship and silliness, or simply provide a delicious, sugary means of inhaling one’s feelings.
What makes you think wizards and witches are any different?
Sweets provide more than a sugar rush in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, providing comfort, happiness, and even magical medical treatment in extremely dark times. And while not all sweets are comforting — hello, Cockroach Clusters, Puking Pastilles, and Nosebleed Nougat — they're more important to wizards and muggles than mere sugar content.
Or at least we can use this to justify stocking up on Hershey's right now. It’s for the Dementors, Mum.
Wizards have the biggest sweet tooth
Wizards sure love a good sugar fix. Far from the grapefruit-quartered existence of Privet Drive, Hogwarts tables are always laden with sweets, whether Harry’s favourite treacle tarts in the Great Hall, or flaming puddings at Christmas. Even teachers keep sweets at their desks, with Minerva McGonagall hoarding Ginger Newt biscuits, and Horace Slughorn making his crystallised pineapple obsession pretty public. Even Albus Dumbledore, rather fond of sweets, makes his own personal office password “Sherbert Lemon,” in the Chamber of Secrets and “Fizzing Whizzbee” in the Order of the Phoenix for one damn moment of frivolity in his day protecting underage wizards from peril.
Outside Hogwarts, Honeydukes is one of the few stores students third year and up can spend their sickles on in Hogsmeade, and provides a palace for independence and stocking up on comforting goodies. "‘It’s this sweetshop,’ said Ron, a dreamy look coming over his face, ‘where they’ve got everything … Pepper Imps — they make you smoke at the mouth — and great fat Chocoballs full of strawberry mousse and clotted cream, and really excellent sugar quills which you can suck in class and just look like you’re thinking what to write next.” You can get Fizzing Whizzbees, “massive sherbert balls that make you levitate a few inches off the ground,” Droobles Best Blowing Gum, “which filled a room with bluebell-coloured bubblest that refused to pop for days,” and shelf upon shelf of other sweets. The store even stocks blood flavoured lollipops for vampires in the Unusual Tastes section.
Everyone needs some sort of comfort, and there's nothing like having your own little stash of your favourite muggle sweet somewhere in your home. Use common sense and moderation, but know there's a little bit of magic hiding just out of your roommate's reach.
Chocolate as magic medicine
Chocolate in the muggle world has been for its magic endorphin-releasing properties. Chocolate in the wizarding world is also well-known for its restorative effects, especially following encounters with Dementors, the soul-sucking prison guards of Azkaban who go a little rogue when allowed to prowl the student-packed Hogwarts Express. Physically and emotionally drained from a Dementor attack in the Prisoner of Azkaban, Harry is given a massive chunk of chocolate by Professor Lupin. “Harry took a bite and to his great surprise felt warmth spread suddenly to the tips of his fingers and toes,” writes Rowling. It’s a strategy that not only impresses the no-nonsense Madam Pomfrey, who runs the Hogwarts hospital ward — “So, we’ve finally got a Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher who knows his remedies” — but one Lupin repeats with Honeydukes chocolate when training Harry in the Patronus Charm. Chocolate, above any potion or spell, is the only noted treatment for feeling completely shit after having your soul diluted by a terrible, evil thing. It doesn’t completely eradicate the effects for Harry, but it helps. Exactly like muggle chocolate.
Chocolate also finds a comforting role in the wizarding world’s favourite form of amphibious confection: the Chocolate Frog. These wizard card-paired treats show up in many a trip on the Hogwarts Express, first appearing in Harry’s maiden train journey in the Philosopher’s Stone, and marking the start of a beautiful friendship with Ron Weasley. Not one to leave someone to their lumpy, home-packed corned beef sandwich, Harry buys the lot from the Trolley Witch — Chocolate Frogs, Pumpkin Pasties, Liquorice Wands — leaving Ron to give Harry (and us) a rolling commentary on every sweet. “It was a nice feeling, sitting there with Ron, eating their way through all Harry’s pasties and cakes (the sandwiches lay forgotten),” writes Rowling.
What better way to get to know a new friend than to try Bertie Botts Every Flavour Beans together, even (or especially) if you get the sardine or bogey flavour? In fact, this bonding over Bertie Botts is repeated in the series, notably with Albus Dumbledore trying his luck with one while visiting Harry in the hospital ward at the end of the Philosopher’s Stone. “Alas, earwax.”
While sweets might not be that good for our general dental health, their ability to bring people together or soothe a torn-up soul isn't restricted to the wizarding world — if you've ever shared a bulging bag of jelly beans or a great big slab of chocolate with someone (or nobody at all, either way), you know how cathartic this can be.
Wizards love a bit of cake
In fact, cake is a type of remedy that temporarily makes things better while everything’s a mess in the Harry Potter series. From Hagrid bringing Harry his Hogwarts letter paired with his very own 11th birthday cake, to those large stacks of Cauldron Cakes trundled up and down on the Hogwarts Express trolley, cake is served up at some of the most dire moments of the series. Cake provides much-needed comfort after some of the characters' biggest trials, a slice of peace and normality.
The first real treat Harry’s ever been given, Hagrid’s large, sticky chocolate birthday cake in the Philosopher’s Stone is the ultimate comfort food, a heartfelt mess of green icing that Hagrid “mighta sat on it at some point, but it'll taste all right." The Dursleys had never really showed this level of acknowledgement or care for their nephew, and in one cake (and yes, a pretty important letter and a ride outta there) Harry’s life changes for the better.
Even Nearly Headless Nick’s enormous, grey, tombstone-shaped Deathday cake with “tar-like” icing brings sombre festivity to the partygoers, surrounded by other cakes (“burned charcoal black”), maggoty haggis, piles of rotten fish on silver platters — all of which can’t actually be tasted by ghosts. “I expect they’ve let it rot to give it a stronger flavour,” Hermione supposes. Nice.
"He had cake, and Dudley had nothing but grapefruit."
Cakes continue to roll into Harry’s life throughout the series — in the Goblet of Fire, Harry receives not one but four “superb” birthday cakes in the post from Ron, Hermione, Sirius, and Hagrid, all of which he keeps under a loose floorboard and allow him to survive Aunt Petunia’s new “rabbit food” diet for his cousin Dudley. Harry’s secret birthday cake stash, along with a whole host of S.O.S. treats sent to him by Mrs Weasley, Hagrid, and Hermione, physically and emotionally gets Harry through the summer, away from Hogwarts. “He sat there on the floor eating it, savouring the happiness that was flooding through him. He had cake, and Dudley had nothing but grapefruit," Rowling writes. "It was hard, just now, to feel worried about anything — even Lord Voldemort."
In fact, there’s a lot to be said for the amount of comfort Mrs Weasley provides with her baked goods throughout the series, sending Harry home-made fudge, plum cake, mince pies, and nut brittle at Christmas over the years, hand-painting Golden Snitches onto Easter eggs for Harry and Ginny to smuggle into the library, making treacle pudding to mark the end of the summer holidays, and making enough rhubarb crumble to feed the Order of the Phoenix between meetings. She even makes Christmas pudding for the Order while her husband is in hospital after being attacked. A little help, anyone? Then, while planning her son’s wedding while Death Eaters are everywhere, she finds time to create a beach ball-sized, hovering golden snitch cake for Harry’s 17th birthday. "'Oh, it’s nothing,’ dear,’ she said fondly."
Hagrid’s also quite the baker, but alas, his treats don’t exactly provide comfort, whether it’s his treacle toffee that “had cemented [Harry’s] jaws together” in the Chamber of Secrets, or those dreaded rock cakes that make their first appearance in the Philosopher’s Stone and keep turning up throughout the series, usually remaining untouched. “The rock cakes almost broke their teeth, but Harry and Ron pretended to be enjoying them as they told Hagrid all about their first lessons.” That being said, it’s nice to be offered cakes, even if they weigh down your robe pockets. By the Goblet of Fire, Hagrid has wised up, sending Harry a box of his favourite sweets for Christmas instead.
No matter what's going on in the world, even for muggles, a bit of homemade cake always puts things right or marks an important occasion — even if they break your teeth.
Sweets that give you a good ol' laugh
Often sweets in the Harry Potter series can provide a good hearty chuckle in the midst of serious business. In fact, the use of magical sweets for comedic purposes is one of the very best bits of the series. Wizards can truly thank the candy selection of Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes for this, the joke and prank shop opened by Fred and George Weasley following their legendary exit from Hogwarts. It’s one of the only remaining stores open in Diagon Alley following Voldemort’s return, for various reasons. While other shops sit boarded up, the Weasley's store, its shelves packed with Nosebleed Nougat and Skiving Snackboxes, is brimming with customers. "Fred reckons people need a laugh these days," Ron says in the film version of the Half-Blood Prince. What better way to find command over impending doom than snacking on an edible Dark Mark?
Fred and George provide this kind of sweet relief all through the series. Sometimes you need a good old chuckle after you’ve tackled the equivalent of a Hungarian Horntail, so one of the Weasley’s cheeky Canary Creams left for an unsuspecting Neville Longbottom to find is just the ticket — yes, it temporarily turns him into an enormous yellow bird in the Goblet of Fire. Harry makes “a mental note never to accept so much as a crisp from Fred and George in future.” The pair had earlier slipped Dudley Dursley a cheeky Ton-Tongue Toffee, which causes his tongue to grow a foot long and turn purple, “lolling around like a great slimy python.” This event makes the Weasley kitchen “explode” with laughter. These moments are what you’ll hang on to when you’re about to head into a Triwizard Tournament task, literally about to face your demons.
And that goes for muggles too. Can highly recommend investing in some Ghost Drops to turn your tongue bright blue, to make someone laugh when they truly need it.
Does butterbeer count? Yes, yes it does.
There’s one type of drinkable sweet that the witches and wizards of the Harry Potter series depend upon for comfort: butterbeer. Foaming mugs of the notably non-alcoholic stuff (they start drinking it at 13, people) regularly make appearances during the series, mainly served up at the Three Broomsticks in Hogsmeade or shared during moments of triumph, scheming, or bonding. “Harry drank deeply,” Rowling writes in the Prisoner of Azkaban. “It was the most delicious thing he’d ever tasted and seemed to heat every bit of him from the inside.” Butterbeer counts as a sweet here, purely for the amount of sugar each one served up at the Universal Studios' Wizarding World of Harry Potter or the Warner Bros Studio Tour canteen probably contains. Muggles get to experience this magical sweet firsthand.
Whether used as a magical remedy, a means to make a new friend, or act as a reminder that even in the darkest of times, there are people who love and care about you (even if their rock cakes will break your teeth), sweets are as important to the wizarding world for comfort as they are to our own. Wizards and muggles alike survive on moments of levity, silliness, and sweetness when battles arrive on our doorstep, and while they might rot our teeth, these moments are incredibly needed.
In times of soul-sucking darkness, at least we have chocolate.