Living: Hill of Beans

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Reagan's favorite candy

Except at Easter, when they cling glutinously to countless baskets of green plastic grass, jelly beans have never ranked high in the American sweet-tooth sweepstakes. Now, with Ronald Reagan in the White House, they seem fated to achieve the luster that the praline of sugar and nuts enjoyed in the court of France's Louis XIV.* Jelly bean consumption is jumping, not only in the capital but throughout the rest of the country as well.

The type most esteemed by the President is brand-named Jelly Belly, which —addicts vow—is to the ordinary jelly bean what foie gras is to liverwurst. About one-fourth the size of the Easter-basket staple and three times as expensive (up to $4 per lb.), Bellys come in an array of 36 flavors. Their manufacturer, Herman Goelitz Co. of Oakland, maintains that the flavors are so delicate that the beans should be eaten one at a time, not by the vulgar handful. How else to appreciate the richness of the coffee mocha, the tang of the pińa colada, the bouquet of the strawberry daiquiri? Aficionados are encouraged to eat a few select Bellys two at a time, however. Popping a coconut and a lemon simultaneously produces a taste resembling lemon meringue pie.

While several other candy companies have joined the beaning of America, 60-year-old Goelitz tops the pricey market (the leading mass manufacturer is E.J.

Brach & Sons of Chicago). Goelitz has been supplying Reagan since he became Governor of California 14 years ago. In those days, Governor and visitors consumed two dozen 1-lb. bags every month or so (there are 425 Bellys to the bag).

Now Goelitz has a standing order to ship up to 60 cases (720 bags) of Jelly Bellys to Washington each month. They go to the White House, to Capitol Hill and just about every Government agency. While John F. Kennedy favored Callard & Bowser toffees, and British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan would seldom venture abroad without his kippers, neither statesman's penchant influenced popular taste as Reagan's Bellys have.

Genus jelly bean is a descendant of Turkish delight, a gelatinous confection dating from biblical times, and a French technique called panning, in which the soft centers are hard-coated with syrup and sugar; the process takes up to two weeks. Goelitz plants in California and Chicago are now on six-day weeks; new orders take two months or more. Unless you drop in at the Oval Office.

* Invented during the Sun King's reign by the Marshal Duplessis Praslin's chef, pralines today are a specialty sweetmeat of Louisiana, the state named for Louis.