For those of you who were expecting this a month ago, I apologize for the delay.
The 2014 JuJu Heart crop was slow to be harvested. I awaited samples of the new vintage from the usual sources, but some never appeared. So, with Valentine's Day nearly here, I'll tell you what I found.
Even though I'm writing this between snowstorms, I know that spring is coming.
Each day we get a few more minutes of daylight. Five p.m. now comes during the day, not at night. The earth is warming. Crocuses will be popping in a few days. Later on, the cover comes off the pool, and my ancient and beloved bright-red 1978 Fiat convertible comes out of the garage. (I may have to push it out because there's a good chance it won't start. Turning the key on an ancient Fiat is like playing Russian Roulette.)
The best thing about this time of can be found in chain drugstores like 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 was reincarnated as a mostly-Latino concert venue and then a mega-church, 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 in 2012 or $1.99 for 12 ounces at RiteAid for the past few years.
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 fixes of 2012 and 2013 were at CVS, which had 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. This year CVS offers only sugar-coated gooey hearts, and cinnamon-cherry gooey hearts, not traditional JuJus. No thanks.
Walgreen's this year is selling 20-ounce plastic tubs of "Love is in the air Cherry Jube Jel Hearts" for $2.99, sometimes with a 10% discount. When I opened the container, instead of having a delightful whiff of cherries, I was whacked with an odor that reminded me of what I smelled when my wood floors were stained earlier this year. Yuck. Once the stink cloud blew away I was able to taste the candy. It's good enough, but not great. I'll give it a B grade.
In 2014, 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." It gets an A minus. The A grade is reserved for Krum's, which theoretically will never be equaled.
The Brach's taste and texture are nearly perfect -- a bit chewier than the 2012 vintage and just a tad sweeter than the 2010 vintage, but not as sweet as 2011. (I have samples preserved in my freezer.) There was none of the weird smell I couldn't identify when I first opened the bag or waxy texture of 2012.
Stop & Shop strangely had two very different offerings for 2013 but had none when I checked this year. Walmart, too, had none.
Some basics: 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.
2014 is not a great year for JuJu Hearts, but 2014 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 at Candy Favorites. I have not tasted them. Amazon offers several varieties.