Saturday, January 6, 2007

The best thing about January is February candy

January is named for Janus, the Roman god of doors. I'm not sure why the Romans needed a door god; but they had loads of gods, so they could certainly spare one to watch the door. Maybe Janus was the first bouncer.

Anyway, January is the door to the year, and I like January a lot.

Annoying election advertising is a distant memory. Annoying Christmas music is fading fast. 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 (even though it's 72 degrees here in Connecticut, and we haven't had any winter yet).

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 12 ounce bag, but addicts don't care about the cost of their fix. (If you're willing to spend $50, you can get JuJu Hearts for as little as $1.09 per pound from Metro Candy & Nut.)

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.

JuJu history
  • 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.
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. The hearts come from Canada and are distributed by Mayfair Candy, in Buffalo, NY. Beware of imitators. Over the years, I've encountered some really crappy copies. Mayfair has the real thing. My dog loves them, too -- and he's very picky. UPDATE: strangely, there are two (maybe more) kinds of JuJu Hearts distributed by Mayfair. The "original" version is sold by Rite-Aid (and possibly others. I discovered another inferior version for the first time in 2007, at CVS. The individual candy pieces are smaller than the originals, and they have a second heart shape molded onto the front of each piece. They don't taste nearly as good as the originals: they're too sweet and not as chewy. Strangely, the same packaging, with same ingredients and same stock number, is used for both. I'll try to get an explanation.

Special thanks to Philip Heide,
and Roger McEldowney of Mayfair.


Anonymous said...

Yummy yummy yummy, I have love in my tummy. Thanks for the memories. I didn't realize JuJu hearts were still made. I'll be at CVS as soon as they open.

Anonymous said...

JuJube NOT good for dogs.
I can't believe the JuJube is so soft. The thing I loved about the original JuJube was its hardness. I also liked its old flavor...Sorry for the change.
I still get them, even though I am disappointed in every bite I take.

*tif* said...

We searched and searched this year for any form of Juju hearts. I am glad to learn so much about them, they are my favorite Valentine treat. I did get some in bulk so I don't know the brand name but they had the smaller hearts on the front like you said, I loved them still. I guess I need to find the originals and see how much more I will love them. It's sad that we can't find them any other time of year, I'm glad they are still made though. They are just divine!