April 22nd won’t amount to a hill of beans unless you’ve got a sweet tooth and are ready to celebrate today’s food holiday. We honor a tasty treat that comes in dozens of creative flavors and was adored by a former President. It’s National Jelly Bean Day!
Jelly beans were inspired by a Middle Eastern treat called the Turkish Delight, consisting of soft jelly covered in confectioner’s sugar. Exactly how and when they were reinvented is a mystery, but in America they can be traced back to 1861, when a Boston candy maker by the name of William Schrafft urged his customers to send jelly beans to soldiers during the Civil War. Nice idea, but bullets work better. In 1905 an ad in a Chicago newspaper advertised jelly beans on sale for 9 cents a pound.By the 1910s the slang term “Jelly Bean” was used to describe a young man who would dress stylishly in order to attract women, but had no additional redeeming qualities other than his clothes. Men like this were also called “dandies” or “fops” and were, essentially, famous for being famous. Like Paris Hilton. In the 1930s jelly beans became synonymous with Easter because they were shaped like
rabbit turds eggs.
In 1960 Herman Goelitz Rowland, a fourth-generation candy maker in Oakland, was looking to carry on the family business but times were tight; the candy corn they were known for just wasn’t keeping them afloat. Probably because candy corn pretty much only sells during Halloween. He decided to take a chance and expand the product line to include Gummi Bears and jelly beans. Not just any jelly beans, though – gourmet jelly beans using the most expensive, finest ingredients, and flavors cooked into the center (previously only the shells were flavored). These jelly beans caught the attention of California governor Ronald Reagan, who became a big fan and was known for always keeping a jar of jelly beans in the White House. Reagan famously wrote, “we can hardly start a meeting or make a decision without passing around the jar of jelly beans.”
In 1976, David Klein had an idea for jelly beans made with natural flavorings. He contacted Rowland, whose company was now called Jelly Belly, and the two collaborated on a new type of intensely flavored jelly bean made with natural ingredients. They were a hit right from the start, beginning with 8 flavors (Very Cherry, Lemon, Cream Soda, Tangerine, Green Apple, Root Beer, Grape and Licorice) and eventually expanding to more than 50. Some of the more exotic flavors include Chili Mango, Cantaloupe, Cappuccino, Margarita, and my favorite, Buttered Popcorn. Today, Jelly Belly is the #1 seller of gourmet jelly beans.
For this challenge, I was more than happy to pick up some Jelly Belly Buttered Popcorn jelly beans. I love them! Tara is not quite as fond of jelly beans as I am, but she tried a variety of Jelly Belly flavors herself – watermelon, coconut, and ice cream – and declared them “okay” and said they “tasted fine.” Hardly a rousing endorsement, but at least she didn’t spit them out.
Jelly Belly’s Buttered Popcorn flavor.