Have you ever seen a town dedicated to candy with sweets shops wherever you turn? Neither had I until I visited Gränna – a small town in Sweden, lined up with colourful houses luring you in to take a look how polkagris candies are made and pick up a few from a variety of flavours and shapes.
The origins of making candy sticks can be traced back to 17th century Germany, when a choirmaster of Cologne cathedral started giving candy for kids during long nativity service before Christmas to keep them quiet in the church. The shape of bent candy sticks meant to symbolise canes of shepherds in the nativity scene. Back then the candy was plain white and didn’t taste much apart from its sweetness. Peppermint flavour was not added until much later.
There is no clear evidence, how had the recipe of peppermint candy got to Sweden, but it all started in the kitchen of Amalia Eriksson in 1859. A young widow had to sustain her family, so she applied for business permission to make candy – polkagris, that literally means “polka pig”. It is hard to tell how pigs were related to the candy, but whirly polka dance was quite popular around that time hence the name.
Peppermint candy was a real success and other women in Gränna started making it too. A great advantage was that one of the main country roads connecting Stockholm and Göteborg was going through Gränna, so there were a lot of people driving past. Housewives sent out their kids to sell the candy on the sides of the road and business seriously took off, attracting Swedes and travellers alike.
Polkagris shops started popping up one by one, making Gränna a synonym of candy heaven. Up to this day polkagris candy is made by hands here and if you are lucky to come passed during the first half of the day, you may witness candy making process in the storefront windows: kneading the mix of sugar, water and vinegar, stretching it, shaping and cutting into smaller pieces and cooling them down before wrapping and stocking the shelves up.
Today there are around 20 stores selling polkagris around the town with a variety of candy beyond one’s imagination. While red striped peppermint flavoured candy remains a true hit, there is an abundance of other flavours and colours, starting with tutti frutti and finishing with more exotic Turkish pepper or violet.
The most traditional shapes of Swedish candy are sticks and little square pillows, but you can also get lollipops, canes, love hearts, roses and the like. Curly spiral shaped candies are pretty popular too, sold in small bags in different flavours.
Not a big candy eater or need a present for adults? Pick up a bottle with Swedish candy sticks in it and top it up with vodka for an aromatic polkagris infusion.
Gränna town is well worth a visit, but if you can’t make it there, you can always pop into Gamla Stan Polkagriskokeri shop in Stockholm old town.