Anyway, January is the door to the year, and I like January a lot. Each day we get a few more minutes of daylight. Five PM now comes during the day, not at night. The earth is warming. Spring is coming. Crocuses will be popping soon. In about 85 days, the cover comes off the pool.
But the best thing about January can be found in chain drugstores like CVS. 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 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 mostly-Latino concert venue, Grandma Del and Krum's are long gone, but JuJu Hearts are as good as ever. The price has gone from 15 cents a pound to 99 cents for a 9 ounce bag. Each year, we get a bit less for our money, but addicts don't care about the cost of their fix. (If you're willing to buy 30 pounds, you can get JuJu Hearts for as little as $1.28 per pound from Metro Candy & Nut. I haven't tried them.)
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.
Unfortunately, I am sad to report that the 2009 vintage is not up to the previous standards. The current crop comes from Brazil, not Canada like last year. The hearts are a bit bigger, and not as good. They are less sweet, and have 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. Better luck next year.
- 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.
Special thanks to Philip Heide,
and Roger McEldowney of Mayfair.