Wednesday, April 5, 2006
Lifesavers are known for being highly-flavored hard candies. If there were a candy model that Jelly Belly might have gone off of, it was probably Lifesavers - here is a hard candy, a little smaller than usual, but super-flavored and in a huge variety. Lifesavers got into the gummi game a while ago and I tried them when they first came out, but didn’t think much of them. I decided to revisit them, especially since they changed the flavors out on the five flavor tray.
The 5 Flavor variety bears little resemblance to the hard candy rolls that have been around since 1934. The flavors in this roll are Cherry (an original flavor), Watermelon, Green Apple, Blackberry and Strawberry. No orange, no lemon, no pineapple. Drat! The candies are much larger than the hard version, they’re soft, if a little greasy on the outside to prevent sticking and are positioned upright on a clear plastic tray inside the wrapper.
The Cherry is just as you’d expect it, great woodsy cherry flavor with a good tart bite. I’m not fond of cherry flavored stuff, but I actually find Lifesavers rather acceptable, probably because the flavor doesn’t seem as artificial as many others. The Green Apple, the lighter of the two green flavors, is rather mild, not too sour but good overall flavor. Watermelon is a darker green and bears little resemblance to real watermelon flavor but has a nice tart bite to it without that overwhelming fragrance that many watermelon candies have. Strawberry was a bit disappointing. It was sweet and had only the slightest hint of a berry flavor to it. I’d tell you about the Blackberry, but this roll had none. I think they’re dark purple. I’ll hazard that it’s the same blackberry flavor in the Wild Berries below.
The Wild Berry mix held more promising flavor for my tastes: Cherry Berry, Strawberry, Red Raspberry, Black Raspberry, Blackberry and White Grape.
The colors are a little bland, but I guess when you’re making a dozen different flavors you’re going to run out of primary and secondary colors. The White Grape was my favorite. Soft and delicate, it’s just a bit tart and has none of that artificial grape note that I only seem to like in Tootsie Pops and SweeTarts. The Cherry Berry was remarkably similar to the Cherry in the 5 Flavor, but I’m not complaining. The Blackberry is the only one that seemed opaque, a lustrous dark purple it was tart and fragrant but hardly had a flavor different from the other berries. The Strawberry was the same as above. The rather lavender looking one was, I think, Black Raspberry. It was sweet and tart like the others and much more perfumed, as raspberries tend to be. The lightest red one was probably Red Raspberry and was similar to the Black Raspberry one, but perhaps a little tarter.
The good thing about this mix is that the flavors all blend together well, you can eat them one after another without the flavors fighting or combine them if you’re so inclined.
I like to eat gummies when my throat is bothering me, and I’m just getting over a cold (so if my tasting is a little off, it’s some sort of leftover malaise). They’re soothing and not too sour, so I don’t have to worry about burning my tongue like I often do on my overdoses of SweeTarts. I bought these in a Christmas Storybook on an after-holiday clearance for 98 cents ... so I certainly got my money’s worth for five packages of these.
While these flavors all have merit, I’d really like to have my favorite Lifesavers flavors - Lemon, Orange, Tangerine, Banana, Pina Colada and Pineapple. Actually, I’d be game if they wanted to try a Butter Rum gummi, too!
Tuesday, April 4, 2006
I’ve searched high and low in Los Angeles and have not found them. There are a few places that sell them online, but you have to buy a case of 24 (except for Old Time Candy) and I kept rationalizing that I had plenty of candy to try. The thing about Valomilks is although they’re made with care and of fine ingredients in the freaking dead center of the country, they’re rarely found over the Rockies for the simple reason that they don’t travel well.
When I went to Pittsburgh in February, I was invited to visit Candy Favorites (also known as McKeesport Candy Co.) just southeast of Pittsburgh on the Monongahela River. The fact that the largest internet candy store is based in McKeesport was incredibly fortuitous. I was already planning a visit to my sister’s, in Mechanicsburg, and McKeesport was pretty much on my way.
Well, the thing about Pittsburgh is that it’s wrapped in some sort of a time warping field. My husband jokes that the announcement on the airplane when you land is “The local time is 1958.” He’s not far off, really. For a big city it still has much of its old charm and architecture but has managed to reinvent itself economically since the loss of the steel industry. The geography itself has had its hand in shaping the community as well, by creating barriers of all sorts that segregate areas and isolate the whole Three Rivers area. There is less “urban sprawl” here just by virtue of the Allegheny Mountains hemming the city and surrounding communities in.
I’ve always found Pittsburgh and the area to be exceptionally confusing to navigate, which is due to the hills and gulleys, rivers and historic highways that thread among them. It doesn’t help that the area has never embraced signage. After being lost for nearly an hour and fifteen minutes (on a drive that should have taken 25 minutes), I nearly threw in the towel, but I realized I was just as likely to find my way to the candy company as I was to the turnpike so I persevered. I tossed the map aside and just tried to figure it out as best I could using the sun and the river as my guide.
An hour and a half late, I pulled up to downtown McKeesport. There I met Jon Prince, third generation in the candy biz (just as Russ Sifer of Valomilk is the third generation, see all this stuff it connected!). He showed me around his operation (another story ... maybe later this month) which is positively steeped in history (really, check out their website, the old candy ads are a hoot). At the end, in addition to urging me to take anything I liked from his huge warehouse, he presented me with a box of 24 Valomilks.
It’s the worst thing to happen to me in years. Here I was, traveling, without the benefit of my lovely candy photo studio, no one I was visiting had any interest in them (fools!) and worse, Valomilks were notoriously bad travelers. But there they were, in their gorgeous little box that also opened up to become a display for the buggers and I vowed to save every one of them.
Tomorrow’s episode: The Achilles Heel of the Valomilk
I’m not an energy drink person and I’m not one to start popping caffeine pills either. So what am I to do when I need a little pick-me-up?
A friend of ours who travels in Italy every year suggested Pocket Coffee! Basically it’s chocolate-covered Italian coffee. Because the sweet coffee center is concentrated, it only takes three chocolates to equal a single shot of espresso. Our friends like to get them for traveling as it’s more portable that hot coffee but has the same side effect. I’ve heard that it’s very popular with students, truck drivers and folks on night shifts.
Ferrero is a well-known Italian chocolate brand even here in the United States, with the elegant little Rochers and Nutella as their best-known products. In fact, I’ve never seen Pocket Coffee anywhere in the US before, but not for lack of trying. They’re not even made in the summer, so as a seasonal item it’s likely that getting one out of season means that it’s no longer fresh. But a no-so-fresh Pocket Coffee is just a different experience.
The candy is composed of a syrupy espresso center, then a light sugar crystal shell and then the chocolate. As the candies age the sugar shell will actually grow, taking sugar from the espresso syrup center to create a bigger shell. The ones I tried were a little old (purchased last fall) so they had the extra crystallized shell.
The coffee center is very sweet but smooth with a slightly acidic bite to it. The crystals provide a kind of funky crunch to it, but melt easily if you’re inclined that way. The chocolate is not too sweet and gives a good creamy boost to the whole mix. On the whole the candy is very sweet, a little too sweet for my tastes, but then again, it’s coffee candy. I’m not saying that I won’t eat it again ... though they are messy. If you’re driving, you’re obligated to pop the whole thing in your mouth but if you’re not, feel free to experiment with biting off a corner and sucking out the coffee first.
Finding them in the states may mean ordering online. They’re still being stocked at Capriflavors.com.
If only Cadbury Creme Eggs had a coffee version!
Monday, April 3, 2006
Join me this week as I chronicle my Valomilk Saga in five parts.
Daily candy reviews will continue as usual!
Ever since reading Candy Freak by Steve Almond, I’d been hoping to try a Valomilk. In Candy Freak, Almond goes on a journey to visit the last great independent candy factories in America. Among them are Goldenberg’s Peanut Chews, Idaho Spud, Twin Bing and Rocky Road. While I haven’t tried all of these candies (those without links), there was only one I really wanted to try because of the book. It was Sifer’s Valomilk.
Many of the “small manufacturer” candy bars aren’t very appealing to me. Sometimes it’s just because they’re not a good combination for me, marshmallow or cherries aren’t really my favorites. Part of it has to do with the ingredients they use. I prefer real milk chocolate to the waxy substance many of them use because of costs and I like a consistent bar. (Goldenberg’s are the only candy that violates that rule.) Most are referred to as nostalgic or regional candy bars.
Valomilks are the opposite. It’s as if the Sifer’s have gone out of their way to bring the most expensive and elusive ingredients (for a consumer bar) together into one little brown fluted cup. Real milk chocolate, premium egg whites, cane sugar and vanilla. Started in 1931, the Valomilk has an amusing and quaint history, which you can read more about in Candy Freak or on their website. The most important thing to know is that the Valomilk is a tall milk chocolate cup filled with a strong vanilla flowing marshmallow cream.
Now, Valomilks are by no means the only marshmallow cup, but oddly enough there are no plain chocolate and marshmallow candies made by the major three: Hershey, Nestle & Mars.
Each cup is about one ounce and swaddled in the brown fluted paper cup where it was born.
The other similar candy bars would be the Rocky Road, which is an actual bar containing fluffy marshmallow in a long and large plank covered in milk chocolate and cashews. Next there is the Boyer’s Mallo Cup (made in Pennsylvania - review sometime next week), which is a simple, flat milk chocolate cup filled with a flowing marshmallow cream with some coconut in the chocolate. This is not unlike the slightly larger Cup-O-Gold, which is made here in Los Angeles by Adams-Brooks. The Cup-O-Gold also has coconut in it. Then there’s the Idaho Spud, which is a chocolate flavored marshmallow covered in faux dark chocolate and coconut shavings. Naturally, it’s shaped like a potato.
Of course all bets are off on holidays as everyone seems to have a chocolate covered marshmallow shape of some kind.
But no one makes a candy cup like the Valomilk. Which probably explains why it exists to this day. Over the next four days, I’m going to take you on my journey through the world of the Valomilk.
Tomorrow’s episode: How I got a hold of my Valomilks.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.