April 20th, 2014

The perfect jelly bean

There is only one jelly bean worth eating at Easter or any other time of year.

No, not those weirdly flavored “gourmet” Jelly Bellys (I consider the term “gourmet jelly bean” to be an oxymoron). The traditionalist in me abhors them, despite Reagan’s reported fondness. As for those jelly beans placed on the endless supermarket aisles of Easter treats that tempt us from Valentine’s Day until tomorrow—when the remnants go on sale and those get scarfed up as well—the vast majority should not be consumed by anyone above the age of four. Maybe not even by anyone below the age of four.

What should? I submit these, which are a tad more expensive but probably will not break the bank:


Traditionally fruit-flavored, made with smooth and succulent pectin, with a lovely and slightly translucent sheen, they go down easy. Maybe too easy; it is possible to eat quite a few before realizing what’s happening. Take it from one who knows.

How did jelly beans come to be associated with Easter? It seems a no-brainer because of their egglike shape, but apparently the tradition didn’t really get going until the 1930s. Jelly beans are far older than that, however, making their debut as the confection promoted by Schrafft of Boston for sending to Union soldiers during the Civil War (a crafty man, that Schrafft).

A little-known jelly bean fact (at least to me) is that, “in United States slang in the 1910s and early 1920s a ‘Jelly bean’ or ‘Jellybean’ was a young man who made great efforts to dress very stylishly, presumably to attract women, but had little else to recommend him…The word was also used as a synonym for pimp.”

Returning to the actual candy, I offer a caveat: there is hardly anything worse than the shock of thinking you’re biting into a normal fruit-flavored jelly bean and getting a spicy one. They should be identified by special markings, like those insects that are bad to eat, as a warning to others. I suggest racing stripes.

But if you buy the Russell Stovers, there’s no need to be on the spice alert. And remember: Monday the sales begin! Although, come to think of it, it’s a sign of this particular jelly bean’s superiority that not only are they generally available year-round, but at most stores they are exempted from the post-Easter markdowns. They’re that good.

[NOTE: This is a repost.]

13 Responses to “The perfect jelly bean”

  1. CapnRusty Says:

    There’s no black ones in that bag!

  2. lacune Says:

    Can’t go wrong with Russell Stovers.

    The early 1900’s meaning of “jelly bean” may explain Kobe Bryant’s father’s nickname when he was an NBA player in the 1970s–Joe “Jelly Bean” Bryant. Outlandish, “pimp-style” clothing was the norm for athletes back then.

  3. Charles Says:

    Actually, I do like one of the gourmet flavors – the Root Beer jelly bean! yea!

  4. expat Says:

    Jaybean is obviously the world’s finest jelly bean expert. Maybe I should change my name to Champagne truffle.

    Happy Easter everyone.

  5. KLSmith Says:

    Guess I’m a Jelly Belly weirdo. I love their buttered popcorn flavor. Tastes like butter and sugar. A few years ago they had a specialty box of gross flavors – dirt, worms, rotten eggs, pizza, etc. Now those were weird. I bought a box as a gag gift for my niece and nephew.
    Happy Easter!

  6. vanderleun Says:

    “Traditionally fruit-flavored, made with smooth and succulent pectin, with a lovely and slightly translucent sheen….”

    That’s it! I must have a bag or five. I shall hunt high and low hoping to find this most succulent of all pectins!

  7. Lizzy Says:

    I love Jelly Bellies, and my favorite flavors are popcorn (caramel corn is good, too), grapefruit and cappuccino.

    *KLSmith – Those gross flavors sound inspired by Harry Potter. Yuck!

  8. Ralph Kinney Bennett Says:

    Dear Neo Neo,
    Your eminently sensible writing has enthused and informed me for some time now. But there are those rare — one might say, sublime — moments when one knows that their thoughts are on the same higher plain with another person, and that they are dealing with a mind that is cool, dependable, wholesomely sensitive, sure-footed and equal to any challenge. Such was my feeling when I read of your shock — yes, shock — when your pectin-bedazzled tastebuds are blindsided by “a spicy one.” That sealed it! When the balloon goes up, I want you in the trenches beside me.

  9. Tara Says:

    I like both Jelly Bellies and “regular” jelly beans, but they’re so different that they seem like two completely separate candies.

    Haven’t tried this kind, though, and they DO look tasty… and we’re going into town on Monday… hmm.

  10. KLSmith Says:

    Lizzy: Yes, they were from the Bertie Bott’s / Harry Potter collection. We were even brave enough to try a few.

  11. csimon Says:

    Was away from home and I couldn’t find my Russell Stover’s jelly beans this year! 🙁

    And it figures I had a craving. Don’t know how many decades (?) ago I discovered the Stover’s pectin jelly beans, but since, like Neo, they are the ones for me
    I barely even glance at the chocolate bunnies anymore, and Peeps — they’ve become a running joke between a close friend and me. I don’t eat them but I have a friend who LOVES them…so long as they are stale! The staler, the better!
    At some point it became a tradition: when I’m hitting tthe stores to see if I can find a forgotten stash of my yummy beans, I collect a few boxes of of those sherbet-colored bunnies and chicks to send! And, no hurry. I understand that the staler they are, the better!

    CapnRusty, no black ones is only one of the reasons I love them! (obviously, not a lover of black licorice). Nothing like expecting fruity flavors and then biting into the black (licorice, ugh)! No thank you!

    Perhaps I’ll be lucky tomorrow when browsing the Easter sales and find a forgotten stash of my prized pectin eggs for my treat…..

  12. SCOTTtheBADGER Says:

    Pink jelly beans are Badger Approved! Man, I like those!

  13. CV Says:

    Agree that when it comes to jelly beans, it pays to buy the good stuff. Pectin seems to be a defining quality. Here in Pittsburgh I seek out the pectin beans made by local candy maker Sarris (the beans are a bit smaller than the Russell Stovers but just as delicious). Love the fruit flavors but also have a special place in my heart for the spice variety and black licorice too. I just don’t mix and match among the three 🙂

    Those cheap jelly beans in the drugstore aisles are terrible! Makes my teeth hurt just thinking about them.

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.

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