If you’ve got a sweet tooth, then the small town of Gränna, Sweden, may be your idea of heaven. Tucked away on the eastern shore of Vättern, the country’s second-largest lake, Gränna (population approximately 2,600) is known primarily for one thing: the polkagris, a striped candy cane (or peppermint stick) that has been made here for more than 150 years.
It all began in 1859 when Amalia Eriksson, an impoverished local widow, began making polkagrisar to support herself and her daughter. Eventually others followed suit, and today there are a dozen or so polkagris bakeries lining the main street of the town. Visitors can watch the candies being made, try a hand at the baking, and, of course, sample some of the finished product.
To make polkagrisar, the first step is to mix sugar, water, and vinegar and heat them to a 150°C (302°F). The molten sugar is then dumped onto a cooling table, where color is added to small pieces that are separated out and set aside.
Once the dough has cooled a bit, the peppermint is added and the dough is stretched to let in air, which gives it its texture and white color. This used to be done entirely by hand, but nowadays hand cranks are used to help in the stretching process.
Next, the dough is kneaded into a loaf shape and the smaller bits with the color added are placed on top in stripes.
The dough is then rolled and twisted for several minutes until it becomes long and thin and the stripes come out right. When the bits of dough become too long, they are cut into shorter pieces.
Once the dough has cooled, it hardens and can no longer be manipulated, so each stage of the process must be carefully timed. While the dough is still soft, it can be cut and shaped into a variety of forms, from bite-sized pieces to twists mounted on wooden sticks like lollipops.
These days the candies come in many colors and flavors. It’s fascinating to watch the bakers at work creating the different varieties. But remember: only the red-and-white striped ones are considered true Gränna polkagrisar!