Never heard of a Violet Crumble? Don’t worry, because neither has most of the rest of the world outside of Australia, Hawaii and parts of the U.K. But personally, I’m somewhat obsessed with the stranger extremes of the confectionery arts and have spent many an evening wandering around the dry-stock shelves of import stores searching out freak tastes from across the country and around the world.
And while many of these (candied baby crabs, Botan rice candy, Turkish Delight, digestive biscuits, sickly-sweet milk chockys, jellybeans that taste like cut grass and veal) have been completely and totally disgusting, I did become thoroughly addicted to a bar made by Nestle Australia.
This would be a Violet Crumble -- a chocolate-covered honeycomb bar with a texture like biting dry plaster, which shatters into shards as sharp as glass. Sounds delicious, right? But that’s the trick, because it is delicious -- tasting of smoked raw sugar, of deeply sweet and dirty honey, of a sugar cube soaked in Liquid Smoke, then veiled in milk chocolate. It is such a bizarre flavor that the only proper way to eat a bar is over days, taking a nibble here and a nibble there, never allowing yourself to become accustomed to the essential strangeness of biting into something that tastes like cigar-ash-and-honey dressed in chalk.
Of course, I rarely evince that sort of self-control. Which is why I would often buy them by the double-fistful whenever I wandered into a Cost Plus World Market -- the only place in the area I knew to get them until one day a few weeks back, when I found the shelves empty and a dimwitted stock boy explaining to my wife how he’d heard the store would no longer be carrying them.
Those of you who regularly read my columns probably know that I have a somewhat addictive personality. I have the things that I like and when I can’t get the things that I like, I tend to go a little bit Pacino-at-the-end-of-Scarface with the giant pile of blow and the grenade launcher and the “Say hello to my little friend.” So needless to say, I freaked out a bit when I heard that I wouldn’t be able to get my Violet Crumbles anymore (without ordering them by the case from Australia, at least) and immediately set about trying to find a new dealer who could provide me with my fix.
I found my connection in Boulder, at Powell’s Sweet Shoppe, all the way in the back corner of the store, beyond all the flashy candy dispensers, the old-timey apothecary cabinets full of salt-water taffy and candy cigarettes, past the far end of the soda counter, to the left of the coolers (where bottled Coke, grape Nehi, Faygo and Orange Crush are all for sale) and at the other end of the back wall from the television playing an endless loop of Coke, grape Nehi, Faygo and Orange Crush.;
For those of you who haven’t yet discovered Powell’s, named Best New Store on Boulder’s Pearl Street Mall in the Best of Denver 2007, it is a candyfreak’s vision of heaven -- a cluttered, overloaded, overcrowded store designed to look like some kind of small-town candy shop ripped straight out of the pre-Dustbowl Midwest and slung through time to land here and now on the Pearl Street Mall.
Yes, it’s a franchise operation -- a tiny chain looking to go big that now has five California locations, one in Boise, one in Boulder and six more Left Coast outposts planned for 2007. Yes, there’s something slightly creepy about founder Michael Powell’s insistence that new franchise locations only be opened in “Main Street, USA” type areas (how that moniker applies to Pearl Street I’ll never know) where the surrounding real estate matches his image of the small-town candy-store neighborhood. And yes, I fully expect to read in the paper one day about the SWAT team being called in over some employee going mad, stripping naked and assaulting customers with a giant Pixy Stick because the background music in the place is Gene Wilder singing that Willy Wonka song “Pure Imagination” over and over and over again. But who cares about all that, right? What matters is that I now have a dependable source for my Violet Crumbles and for just about any other candy I can remember ever being sold anywhere in the history of the English-speaking world. As mentioned above, there are candy cigarettes (which I’d thought outlawed by the Fun Police long ago) and bubblegum cigars, shelves full of salt-water taffy, M&M’s in all the weird colors, more jelly beans than you can shake a diabetes test strip at. There are buckets of Cherry Mash, stick candies, cherry sours and humongous all-day lollipops; gelato behind the counter, root-beer barrels by the bag and all manner of regional, long-gone, impossible-to-find or better-off-forgotten candies piled up willy-nilly on every flat surface available.
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The Boulder store has been open just a few months, but already, serious addicts (like me and about half the crowd on the floor last Saturday afternoon -- the other half being bewildered tourists and the sticky children of bewildered tourists) have begun lining up. I dropped about forty bucks before I was through, and even then had to be dragged to the register by my wife, who felt as though two baskets full of candy ought to be enough for any reasonable man. But when I mentioned to the woman working the register how happy I was that I’d found another place carrying Violet Crumbles, she said how she was having some trouble getting her shipments.
“It’s funny, though,” she said. “You’re like the third person today who’s come in looking for those.”
I immediately went back and bought a half-dozen more bars.
You know, just in case. – Jason Sheehan