Remember that first trip you took to Gumdrop Mountain with Lord Licorice hot on your tail? You made it though the Molasses Swamp and Lollipop Woods and you took that brief moment of solace high atop the peaks to soak in the sweet surroundings? That’s the sweet allure of the gumdrop. Or at least the promise of their public relations people. They do some good work at creating a positive image for the sweet treat known as a gumdrop.
The modern gumdrop was reportedly invented by a guy named Percy Trusdale. Gumdrops were originally created around the turn of the 19th century and were a soft gelatin-based candy that stretches like rubber when pulled. The candy became pretty popular but by all indications, they were not as tasty as the modern version and not as pliable. When ol’ Percy Trusdale came around in 1915, he started producing a gumdrop with an enhanced texture using a formula he developed while conducting experiments at Ohio State University. This formula became what we know now as the gumdrop. When Percy died in 1948, he had earned the nickname of The Gumdrop King for his candy invention. All hail King Percy. (Source: “The Invention of the Gumdrop” by John Green).
I’ve always been a fan of gumdrops and have always not been a fan of it’s evil cousin spice drops. Those are the gumdrops that are seasoned with spices like clove, anise, cinnamon and spearmint. Apparently the original gumdrops were flavored with those kind of spices, but I’ve always been partial to the candy flavors like cherry, orange and lemon (which are naturally the most popular flavors today). Sometimes when I was growing up, my mom would fill our candy dish with gumdrops and it was always like a game of Russian roulette when you reached in hoping to get a nice sweet cherry or orange and you bit down into a clove flavored one. It would be the modern equivalent of filling a candy dish with M&Ms and Skittles. The horror. My dad liked gumdrops. I think he was partial to the sweet kind, but I don’t think he minded the spice variety either. He would aways eat the licorice ones too which in my humble opinion, are the worst you can get in the gumdrop world. My dad would also enjoy the candy Chuckles too which are essentially gumdrop rings. There are a lot of candy varieties that derive from gumdrops. Chuckles. Dots. Gummy Bears. Even all the sour candy chews can find its roots in gumdrops. It’s an important part of candy history. You may not be a fan, but respect the candy.
I looked online for some ideas on how to celebrate this day. To my surprise, I found a recipe on how to make your own. It looked kind of easy. While it wouldn’t give me the gumdrop shape, it would give me a chewy piece that looked like it had the same gumdrop texture. (On a quick side note, did you know that NASA nicknamed their Apollo Command modules “Gumdrops” because of their conical shape? Gumdrops are everywhere.) The recipe was made using Jell-o, sugar and plain gelatin. I figured why not give it a shot? My other options were to make a gingerbread house with gumdrop decorations (too time consuming), some kind of gumdrop cookie (didn’t seem right) or just feast on a bag of gumdrops (always a possibility). The recipe was from a nice looking blog called Hoosier Homemade (always trust your Indianans when it comes to recipes). I got my ingredients and went to work.
It really is simple. You take your ingredients and combine them in a pot, then boil them. After they boil for about a minute, you pour it out into a pan and let it chill for a few hours in the fridge. I decided on Cherry Jell-O, so I used that along with plain gelatin packets, sugar, a little lemon juice and unsweetened applesauce. It was ready in about 10 minutes. You do have to watch the pot pretty closely and stir constantly, but that wasn’t too hard. Our kitchen was filled with a delightful cherry smell. I was also cooking some chicken in a hoisin sauce at the same time, so there was a conflict of aromas in the air, but the cherry overpowered the hoisin. I put it in the fridge to chill.
Later in the night, I removed it from the pan. It plopped right out and I had to carefully remove the parchment paper that had lined the pan which was now kind of stuck to the candy. That was kind of satisfying though, like peeling a giant fruit by the foot. After the paper was removed, I put it on a cutting board and began to cut it into slices and then small squares. It was really sticky and hard to work with. I thought I could just make a few cuts and be ready, but I really had to take it strip by strip. When I had a square, I placed it in a pan that had some sugar in it. I would then coat each piece in sugar. That made it easier to handle once it was covered. After they were sugared, I placed them on some wax paper on a pan to chill. This process took longer than I thought, but I eventually ended up with a whole tray of the candies.
Lola’s quote of the day came next: “I feel like I am eating a tongue.” That was based purely on texture and she was kind of right. It was a slab of gummy, red stuff that was super chewy. If you were a person who liked to dine on tongues, I’m sure this would be the texture of your bites. The taste however was pure cherry. I should say that Lola liked the taste too. It had a definite candy taste to it, although with a hint of Jell-O in there too. Maybe I was just overtaken by the cherry smell from cooking it that I couldn’t get the Jell-O flavor out of my tastebuds. The sugar coating really made it come together. It gave you a bit more texture, it made it easy to handle and added that extra sweetness. To be honest, it wasn’t exactly like a gumdrop. In fact, I thought I had been tricked into making Jell-O Jigglers. (Remember them?) For the record, the recipe for jigglers is not the same – this really was a candy recipe. I can say they got better with time too. I’d call it a success. A tribute to King Percy and his work.
Just like Buddy the Elf who found his way through the sea of swirly, twirly gumdrops, I too found my way to a new candy. I’ll have to get some other opinions on this before I give it the final judgement. No matter, I took time today to salute the gumdrop. If you would have asked me my opinion on the gumdrop yesterday, I would have said I can take it or leave it. Today however, after learning about gumdrops and looking at its influence on the candy world, I’m saying I’m a fan. I have seen the gumdrop mountaintop. I have seen the view from here, and it is as sweet as any in all of Candyland. The journey continues.
Next up: National Almond Day