Monday, February 15, 2010

Hooray. Hooray. It's half-price candy day!

(I won't dump on vanity publishers today)

Today, some people will be celebrating Presidents Day by sleeping late and contemplating Washington, Lincoln, snowballs, sledding, bargains on flat-screen TVs, and a day without school, mail or banks.

I'll be thinking that Spring is just over a month away. There's still snow on the ground here in Connecticut, but the earth is warming. Each day we have another 2-1/2 minutes of sunlight.  5 p.m. now comes during the day, not at night.  Crocuses will be popping out of the frigid ground in a few days. In about 50 days, the cover comes off the pool.

  • But most importantly, today is the day that stores will cut in half the prices of some delicious cherry and chocolate candies to make room for the pending arrival of Easter bunnies and eggs.
Since babyhood, I've been addicted to JuJu Hearts, the magical chewy-gooey red cherry candies. 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 Lowe'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 Lowe's Paradise has been reincarnated as a concert venue, Grandma Del and Krum's are long gone, but JuJu Hearts are still with us. The price has gone from 15 cents a pound to 99 cents for a 9 ounce bag, but addicts don't care about the cost of their fix. Each year, we get a bit less for our money, brand names and country of origin change, and each vintage has a slightly different flavor.

JuJu 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 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.

Mayfair has been the big brand name in JuJu. Sadly, their 2009 vintage was not up to the previous standards, and came from from Brazil, not Canada as in 2008, or the USA as in ancient times. 2009 hearts were a bit bigger, and not as good as the oldies. They were less sweet, and had a somewhat waxy taste. I did buy ten bags on the first day, and managed to eat eight and give away two, but it was a lot less delicious than in the past. Last year was the first time I encountered JuJu hearts from candy behemoth Brach's. They were better than Mayfair's.

This year, strangely, the Mayfair brand was nowhere to be found at the usual chain drugstores. CVS is selling their own private-label JuJus, and based on taste, I'm willing to bet they were produced by Mayfair. Through yesterday, big bags were selling for $2.50 each, but today the price should be half that. I plan to load my freezer, and ration them out until next January when the new crop comes in.

JuJu history
  • The JuJu name apparently comes from the jujube, a red fruit first cultivated in China over 4,000 years ago. It 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.
  • Some of the first JuJu Hearts were made by the Henry Heide Candy Company, founded in 1869 by Henry Heide, who immigrated to New York from Germany. Heide Candy became known for Jujubes, Jujyfruits, jelly beans, Red Hot Dollars, Gummi Bears and Mexican Hats, which have been perennial favorites in movie theaters and five-and-dime stores.
  • The business stayed in the Heide family through four generations, and was sold to Hershey Foods in 1995.
  • In 2002, Farley's & Sathers Candy Co. acquired the Heide brand products from Hershey. While Farley's & Sathers makes lots of candy, they apparently do not make JuJu Hearts.
Special thanks to Philip Heide, and Roger McEldowney of Mayfair.


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