By BRADEN LAMMERS
Schimpff’s Confectionery has brought an international candy competition to Jeffersonville — sort of.
The owners of Schimpff’s Confectionery, Jill and Warren Schimpff, competed in an international candy competition in Sweden in August. During the competition they were tasked with making a Swedish peppermint stick called a polkagrisar. The candy is similar to barber poles or candy canes — minus the hook — but with a chewier texture.
Warren Schimpff said the pair had so much fun in the competition, even though they didn’t win, they wanted to extend an invitation and the hospitality to a Swedish candy maker. And what better time for a visit than during Jeffersonville’s holiday open house on Thursday?
That’s why Swedish candy maker Carl-Johan “Calle” Arnesson found himself at Schimpff’s downtown store demonstrating how to make the polkagrisar — though it wasn’t quite the high stakes of an international competition.
Thursday was the unofficial kick-off to the holiday season for Jeffersonville merchants as many local businesses celebrated by hosting people for the city’s annual holiday open house event. Warren Schimpff said years ago many of the downtown businesses held their own separate events, but those business owners eventually collaborated to host the open houses on the same night. The event that helps highlight local business is now in its 10th year.
“It brings in a lot of people in,” he said. “It gives people an opportunity to see what people have.”
Highlighting the open house for Schimpff’s customers was Arnesson’s skills on display. Arnesson, 34, is a native of Granna, the town where the inaugural international candy competition was held earlier this year. The town of about 2,000 has 14 small candy shops that specialize in making the peppermint stick.
While he now works full-time as an engineer, Arnesson is well practiced in making the polkagrisar — or Swedish dancing pigs. He started making candy when he was 14 years old.
He has been demonstrating how to make the polkagrisar at Schimpff’s all week and demonstrated the technique for a group of culinary students with Sullivan University on Thursday, and also held demonstrations during the open house.
Becky Woehrle, culinary instructor with Sullivan University, said it is a unique experience to see how the candy can be manipulated and offers the student a different view of what can be done with sugar, vinegar and peppermint.
“This is so cool for them to see,” Woehrle said. “It’s an art.”
While Arnesson was demonstrating how to make the traditional Swedish candy, it wouldn’t be Schimpff’s without a little cinnamon. So the confectionery has also been making a cinnamon version of the polkagrisar.
The idea of seeing what traditions exist in other countries is one the Schimpffs and Arnesson help to continue to foster.
“I think it makes people come closer, that’s the thing,” Arnesson said. “I basically grew up in stores like this. In Granna this is not a special thing. Everybody knows what a polkagrisar [is], everybody knows how to do them. Then suddenly you realize that this is something special. That’s kind of an eye-opener for me.”
Warren Schimpff agreed and added that he would like to continue the effort of an international candy exchange, as it helps candy makers share ideas and cultures with one another.
Since he arrived in the United States Friday, Arnesson said he has experienced some of the local candy traditions.
“I hadn’t tried one of the candy canes — the crunchy ones, so that’s new,” he said. “Red hots were new to me as well, now we’ve made a red hot polkagris, so I’ll take that home and see if it hits the market.”
Beyond candy, the shop itself is something that Arnesson said was unique.
He said many of the Granna shops aren’t as large as Schimpff’s Confectionery and they don’t have the extensive museum collection the Schimpffs have in their store.
“This is really unique and Jill and Warren are really unique people,” Arnesson said. “They are really fantastic.”
Arnesson will be at Schimpff’s through Nov. 16 demonstrating how to make the polkagrisar.