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Thu, Dec. 05

Jelly beans stand test of time, name conflict

With Easter coming, it's time to do some serious thinking about jelly beans, the world's most versatile candy.

First, we have to understand clearly what we're talking about. "Jelly beans" seems to be the most accepted title for the colorful little candies, but they go by other names, too. How about jelly eggs? Or birdie eggs? I had an aunt who called them birdie eggs, and that suited her personality just fine. I wouldn't call them birdie eggs but, for Aunt Ruth, that sounded appropriate.

Once, you saw jelly eggs only at Easter time but nowadays you can find them virtually year round. That's why they're so versatile.

One thing you soon find out about jelly beans is the variety of ways you can eat them. Anyone who has experimented with the sweet little eggs knows that. I suppose everyone started by just popping one in their mouth and chewing it up. That's the frontal attack.

Then you have the dissolve and swallow method. You put a jelly bean in your mouth and then hold it there, ever so carefully, until the outer coating melts. Then you can chew up the jelly inside.

I remember as a youth dipping jelly eggs in a glass of water, then painting my lips with the wet confection. The red ones are best for this, but black ones make an interesting variation. Pink, yellow and green ones don't do much in the way of coloring, but the flavors develop interestingly.

Speaking of flavors, mixing jelly beans at random is a fun thing to do, too. To make the game most interesting you should pop several into your mouth at the same time, without looking to see what colors they are, then guess from the flavor that develops, what colors you selected.

Of all the colors, black is probably the most interesting. I can never tell the flavor of pink ones, but black is always distinctively licorice. Yellow is pretty positively lemon; green is lime; and red, the best for painting lips, is often something hot and spicy. Purple is nice; it has a pleasant grape flavor.

White is a nothing. They may as well not make white ones, and you may as well not eat white ones. I eat them only if every other color is gone.

Now, comes the question of how jelly beans come into our hands. President Reagan reportedly always had a container of them on his desk, but those of us who didn't get in to see Ron didn't get them there. I never had the pleasure.

You can buy jelly beans in plastic bags, then keep them handy in a jar or dish. Somehow, though, when they're visible like that they go in a hurry.

One of the most common ways to get jelly eggs, or at least it used to be, is to get them in an Easter basket. Somehow, we accept them as a sort of "packing" in a basket that contains luscious chocolate eggs and bunnies, marshmallow peeps and even hardboiled eggs. Considering the competition, we often ignore them.

About the time you get around to jelly beans, the Easter goodies are pretty well gone. That makes jelly eggs pretty common. But one thing is worse. Have you ever found one of last year's jelly beans among the grass in the basket when when you pull it out of the closet for the current holiday?

Last year's jelly bean is about as appealing as seriously leftover pie. It has shrunk since last seen; it is hard; it may be discolored; and its flavor is often seriously impaired. But it won't hurt you, so don't throw it away. Well, if it's a white one you might want to get rid of it, but otherwise leave it where it is.

Remember, a 12-month-old jelly bean gives us another option in the Easter basket. Yes, it's hard and not so flavorful, but what else do you have to look forward to when all the fresh goodies are gone?

(John Schwartz is a longtime area resident and a freelance writer.)

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