the jelly belly factory tour in fairfield, ca is fantastically fun. i like factory tours*, as it turns out. i enjoyed going on one in ohio for longaberger baskets, for example, in my way, way, way long-ago years. i am curious about and impressed by the efficient, quality-controlled systems built up over time.
unlike the crowded tour seen in the link below, our early-arrival group contained fewer than 10 visitors. instead of watching videos, we had the fortunate advantage of a tour guide talking us through our visit. he pointed out what was going on at the time in different areas of the floor. he told stories about which flavors were currently most popular and why, and how the preferences will go in cycles. he allowed us to examine and taste jelly bellies at different stages of their manufacturing process. he amazed us with his explanations of how flavors are incorporated into every part. though we were not permitted to take photographs during the tour itself, i will be hard pressed to forget the images of winding conveyor belts, metronome-precise mechanical arms moving to and fro, endless stacks of boxes, more than a rainbow of stunningly vivid colors, and gigantic tumblers for mixing or polishing or sorting out all but the perfectly-sized-and-shaped bean (the others are all "belly flops" and are unceremoniously packaged into bags, anonymously, to be purchased at half-price by cost-conscious parents like myself).
there's an art to this, he told us. just like grandmothers cooking their recipes in their kitchens, the employees pay very close attention to making these complicated confections. they have to inspect and test and verify and tweak each and every batch to make sure the candies don't stick together. ingredients, humidity, and other factors can make a difference. knowledge, experience, dedication, and a desire for things to measure up to jelly belly standards combine and culminate in morsels of unparallelled deliciousness. except for the beanboozled ones.
did you know there's a tasting counter?!
one of the things that stopped me in my tracks, though, were the massive mosaics. what an enterprise! so, of course i had to purchase a sufficient poundage of imperfect pieces as raw material for our art. and our consumption. ten pounds seemed reasonable at the time.
our at-home efforts were not highly ambitious. diana initially wanted to create carl sagan's head from jelly bellies. i suggested something smaller, to start with. at least.
|diana started sorting by color, on my recommendation. she ran out of room fairly quickly|
|those wonky shapes were so interesting|
shari had the brilliant idea of starting with a slightly sticky base to keep the pieces from moving around after they were placed. we put down clear pieces of contact paper, adhesive side up, onto the table. it was a bit of a pain to work with, like a large piece of unruly packing tape, but with enough hands and blue sticky stuff, we wrestled it into submission.
that was all well and good until it came time to remove the art from the contact paper. i had thought mod podge would be great - dries clear and hardens to a shiny shell. unfortunately, it also runs the color right of the candy. good thing we started with a sample.
|this had been an adorable vw bug before we inundated it with mod podge.|
we thought hot glue was worth a try. it worked, in that it did stick the candies together and did not remove the color, but it had the unfortunate effect of showing through the holes between the candies.
after consulting the google for ideas, we decided the next thing to try would be to coat a piece of cardboard with washable craft glue, then place it on top of the mosaic, allow to dry, and peel away the contact paper. we actually have yet to try that, and i'm fairly certain we have moved on to other projects enough that we won't be coming back to this. besides, i am not packing this art and moving it across the country, so i'm better off saving my cardboard boxes for moving instead of cutting them up for art. photographs are much better for preserving this art.
if you, dear reader, want to try your hand at such a mosaic, i highly recommend this set of instructions i came upon. i have several leftover bags of belly flops in case you need supplies.
* factory tours are not for everyone. it was quite loud while we were viewing the various machines at work. i asked our guide if the employees on the production floor needed to wear ear protection; he assured me that they could if they wanted, but that the decibel level was much higher where we were observing. perhaps we should have brought our own headphones to drown out the sounds. in any case, for those of us who prefer a quieter, less chaotic method of seeing how things are made, ander recommends watching "how people make things" in mister rogers' neighborhood at pbskids.org. he particularly likes the bread, fortune cookies, and crayons. i enjoy the music that accompanies mr. rogers' and mr. mcfeely's voices when describing what happens in the manufacturing processes.