Did you know that Christmas Crackers were inspired by the French bon-bon sweets? Crackers were invented by Thomas J. Smith of London in 1847 after he had discovered the French bon-bon (a sugared almond wrapped in a twist of waxed paper) whilst on holiday in Paris, where Bonbonniers were all the rage. British sweets were still being sold loose on trays at the time and Smith saw that the French sweets would be popular at home.
Smith marketed the bon-bons in time for Christmas, and they were an instant success but he noticed that sales slumped after the festive season. His first tactic to increase sales was to insert mottos into the wrappers of the sweets (like those in fortune cookies), but this had only limited success.
However the story goes that he was inspired to add the "crackle" element when he heard the crackle of a log he had just put on the fire. A small strip of saltpetre, still familiar in today's crackers, was pasted to two strips of thin card. As each side was pulled, the friction created a crack and a spark. With too much, they burst into flames, too little and the crack was inaudible. So in 1860 Tom Smith's 'Bangs of Expectation' were launched containing a sweet which was later dropped in favour of a small gift.
In those early days, the crackers were still quite small, about 6 inches long, and fairly plain. They were known as 'Cosaques' because the noise they made reminded people of the cracking of the Cossack's whips as they rode through Paris during the Franco-Prussian wars.
If you want to make your own crackers visit www.oldenglishcrackers.com and you can use the recipes for Christmas Sweets and Treats in the Wine and Christmas category of my blog (you will find a recipe for sugared almonds there too).