But the best thing about January can be found in chain drugstores like CVS and Rite Aid. That's where you can get JuJu Hearts, the magical chewy-gooey red cherry candies I've been addicted to since babyhood. If I close my eyes when I open the package, the sweet aroma transports me to Cherry Blossom Time in Washington DC -- or at least to my grandmother's apartment in the Bronx.
When I was a kid, my Grandma Del would buy pounds and pounds from Krum's -- the pre-eminent candy store in the Bronx, or maybe in the world.
Some years she even arranged to buy the huge pile of hearts on display in the window, at a special price after Valentine's Day. We grandchildren would get a few pounds in February, and Grandma would stash the rest in her freezer, to be gradually defrosted and doled out throughout the year. (In later years, when Grandma Del moved to Florida, I provided JuJu Hearts for her.)
Krum's was famous for its candies and ice cream sodas, and used to be on the Grand Concourse between 188th Street and Fordham Road. In the front of the store was a huge display case of chocolates and other candies, and farther back you could sit and slurp. The landmark Loew's Paradise Theater was across the street, and before McDonalds and Taco Bell came to town, teenagers went to Krum's for a post-picture snack.
The Loew's Paradise has been reincarnated as a mostly-Latino concert venue, Grandma Del and Krum's are long gone, but JuJu Hearts have survived. The price has gone from 15 cents a pound to 99 cents for a 9 ounce bag in 2009, to $1.59 for 12 ounces in 2011 to 99 cents for 6 ounces at CVS or $1.99 for 12 ounces at RiteAid in 2012. This year, Walgreen doesn't have JuJus.
In most years, we get a bit less for our money, but addicts don't care about the cost of their fix.
Product names, candy size, flavor, retail availability, manufacturers and even the country of origin vary over time.
My first fix of 2012 was at CVS, which has their own brand on small expensive packages. When I opened a bag, it smelled a bit too sweet. The candy also tasted a bit too sweet, and was too sticky. I quickly adjusted.
Rite-Aid is once again selling Jujus with the "Brach's" brand -- which now belongs to candy giant Farley's and Sathers. F&S now supplies such vital foods as Chuckles, Jujyfruits and Jujubes. The product name has morphed, too. It's now "Jube Jel Cherry Hearts."
The taste is fine -- just a tad sweeter than the 2010 vintage, but not as sweet as 2011. (I have samples preserved in my freezer.) There is also a weird smell I couldn't identify when I first opened the bag. Texture was a bit waxy, but after about four pieces they seemed OK to me.
JuJu/Jube Jel Hearts' taste and texture are unique: sweeter and softer than red hot dollars, but not as sweet or slimy as Gummi bears or worms.
Strangely, the JuJu/Jube Jel Heart formula doesn't seem to be used for anything else, at any other time of year -- not even for JuJubes or Jujyfruits. But that's OK. JuJu Heart season is only a little longer than the bloom of the Cherry Blossom. The rarity makes them more special, and less destructive to teeth and glucose levels... and freezers make it possible to prolong the pleasure.
2011 is not a great year for JuJu Hearts, but 2011 is a pretty good year -- except for the price -- and it's much better than the dreadful 2009).
JuJu Hearts are like pistachio nuts or sex. When they're great, they're fan-tastic. When they're pretty good, they're good enough; and when they're bad, they're terrible.
- The JuJu name apparently comes from the jujube, a red fruit first cultivated in China over 4,000 years ago, that can be used for tea, wine, and throat medication, or eaten as a snack.
- A jujube tree in Israel is estimated to be over 300 years old.
- The jujube's sweet smell is said to make teenagers fall in love, and in the Himalaya mountains, young men put jujube flowers on their hats to attract hot Sherpa babes.
- In West Africa, a Juju refers to the supernatural power ascribed to objects or fetishes. Juju can be synonymous with witchcraft, and may be the origin of the American voodoo.
Although F&S owned Heide, they did not produce Heide's hearts.
Through the 2009 season, the hearts were distributed by Mayfair Candy, in Buffalo, NY. Over the years, I've encountered some really crappy hearts. Mayfair made the real thing. My dog loves them, too -- but he never refuses anything that's remotely edible.
Strangely, there were two (maybe more) kinds of JuJu Hearts distributed by Mayfair. The "original" version was sold by Rite-Aid (and possibly others). I discovered another inferior version for the first time in 2007, at CVS. The individual candy pieces were smaller than the originals, and they had a second heart shape molded onto the front of each piece. They didn't taste nearly as good as the originals: they were too sweet and not as chewy. Strangely, the same packaging, with same ingredients and same stock number, was used for both.
You can get JuJu Hearts online. Metro Candy offers 5-lb and 30-lb batches from Ferrara Pan. I have not tasted them
Special thanks to Philip Heide,
and Roger McEldowney of Mayfair.
Loew's photo from http://www.agilitynut.com/