By BRADEN LAMMERS
Imagine asking a non-native to make Indiana’s trademark pork tenderloin sandwich, or explain what, exactly, is a Hoosier?
It’s akin to what Warren and Jill Schimpff are being asked to do when they head to Gränna, Sweden.
The Schimpff’s Confectionery owners will be facing an uphill task in trying to recreate a Swedish peppermint stick known as a polkagris, or polka-dancing pig, in an inaugural international candy-making competition being held in Gränna, Sweden. They will be the only U.S. candy-making team taking on the challenge Aug. 9 and 10 to make the famed red-striped peppermint sticks after being invited by event organizers.
“It’s the first time they’ve had an international competition,” Jill Schimpff said. “For about 15 years they’ve done it just within Sweden.”
Participants from Sweden, Poland, Germany and Denmark, along with the Schimpffs, will compete to make the best polkagris.
“It’s not too dissimilar to what we make here, a barber pole, other than a little bit for the consistency and the process by which they make it,” Warren Schimpff said. “The technique is all the same; it’s just how you get to an end result.”
Jill explained the barber poles, or peppermint sticks, that customers would find in Schimpff’s Confectionery on Spring Street in Jeffersonville are harder and have a much glassier appearance.
“If you bite into this, it’s kind of chewy,” Warren said.
Jill added it is an item tied to the identity of the town, like saying Mackinac Island and fudge, Atlantic City and saltwater taffy and, of course, red hots and Jeffersonville.
“It’s a town that’s very famous for this kind of candy,” she said.
Warren added it was just an honor to be invited to compete, but it’s a daunting task.
“Being invited over there to make their specialty is kind of like being a chef and being invited to Japan to compete in a sushi-making contest,” he said.
Admittedly anxious about the competition, he explained the candy will be made by the competitors on a stage, in the open, in front of hundreds of people, on the second-largest lake in Sweden. The candy makers will be competing in teams, but the competition requires a main candy maker. Making the challenge even more daunting is that all Warren will have to create the sweet, dancing pig is a little station with a slab of marble and a hook. The hook is used to pull the candy to get it to the right consistency, size and color.
In addition, there are a litany of rules and criteria upon which the Schimpffs will be judged in the competition.
All competitors will be given about four pounds of sugar and will be asked to produce 32, 1.8 ounce pieces of candy. The sticks will also be wrapped in the traditional packaging in Gränna and will be judged on the brightness of the white, the color of the red in the peppermint stick, the flavor and the consistent diameter of the candy.
“It’s kind of like what they did with the [Great] Steamboat Race — it’s not who finishes first, it’s who can jump through all these different hoops and all these different hoops have different points,” Warren said.
Jill explained the judges will randomly select four sticks to judge out of each batch of polkagrisar. And on the first day, 20 participants will be whittled down to five that will move on to battle for the championship.
While the Schimpffs are keeping their expectations in check, they have been practicing making test pieces of candy.
“Saturday’s batch was pretty darn good, so we were happy with that, but we may do another to make sure it wasn’t a fluke,” Jill said with a laugh.
Even with the managed expectations, the Schimpffs know they’ll get something out of the trip.
“We lived in Sweden for a year-and-a-half,” Warren said.
The couple said they are going to take the opportunity to visit with friends and they have not seen in decades when they both worked in Stockholm in the early 1970s. And they do have some insight about the town and its candy.
“My interest in candy wasn’t quite what it is today, but we visited the town and saw them making [polkagrisar] in 1973,” Warren said.
They are also hoping their visit will inspire some of those attending the competition to visit Jeffersonville.
“It’ll be interesting to see if we get somebody coming back this way,” Warren said.
To find out more about the Gränna contest, go to www.candychampionships.com.