While in Wisconsin, Jason and I paid a visit to the Jelly Belly factory, which isn’t so much a factory (as nothing is made there) but a warehouse distribution center with a tour and tastings. As a person who enjoys both tours and tastings, I felt it was a worthwhile stop. Jason and I arrived just as a tour was starting, and so we rushed to the back to hop on the tiny train that drove us around the warehouse (already a thrilling adventure, to be certain). We were also handed ridiculous paper hats and told to wear them. The people in the car in front of us were too cool to do such a thing, and just before we were to drive off on the wee train, the conductor said that if they didn’t wear their hats, we couldn’t go anywhere. Given that all of the candy in this warehouse is already packaged AND hats like this are useless in terms of food safety, I can only assume that the train is fueled by public humiliation and reduced sex appeal. Can you ever truly desire someone again after seeing them wear a paper hat? Also, we were not allowed to take photographs on the tour itself, as photography apparently causes mini trains to burst into flames.
The tour consisted of riding in the train around the perimeter of the warehouse and watching three videos about Jelly Belly brand beans: their rise to popularity (beloved of Ronald Reagan! First jellybean in space!), the production process (which is astoundingly long for something you can eat in a second, 7-21 days!), and other products made by the parent company (candy corn! taffy!).
After the tour, we were given a bag of complimentary beans, a poster, and sent out into the place where I’m a Viking: the gift shop and tasting bar. We visited in the middle of the day on a weekday, so aside from the other family on the train, there was no one else there, we were the only people at the tasting bar, and the employee there was eager to give us whatever we wanted. After trying their new candy corn bean, I was on the lookout for other flavors I hadn’t tried, and I spied with my little eye a sausage flavor bean.
“Sausage? It doesn’t really taste like sausage, does it?” Lickety-split, the employee handed over a bean, which I dutifully popped in my mouth. “Oh my god, it does taste like sausage! I assumed they’d just called it sausage to make it fit in with the Bertie Botts’ Every Flavor Bean theme but that it would actually taste like a more normal bean flavor.” Rambling on, I made a terrible error: “Well, if the sausage tastes like sausage…what does the centipede flavor taste like?”
Quick as a flash, a centipede flavor bean was in my hand before I could protest. And once it was cradled in my palm, it was like a bean-based gauntlet had been thrown. I couldn’t throw it away: that would be wasteful. No. The bean bar woman had dared me and thus I must put it in my mouth.
As I chewed, Jason asked “So how does one decide what a centipede tastes like, anyway?” “Our chemists start with the smell and work backward.”
I can believe they started with a smell…the smell of Hell. When I say to you that this was the most foul thing I’ve ever had in my mouth, I would hate for you to think I was exaggerating. My dog has emitted farts so pungent that I could actually taste the air and this was worse. Much worse. If pressed to describe the flavor, the best description I can conceive is “dirty curdled blood”–it was an strong earthy base with a sharp metallic tang and an awful creamy something tying it all together. The only way they could have made it worse is if there was a thick liquid core and it popped like a zit in your mouth…and that would only be barely worse.
Still, I tried to swallow. I chewed and chewed and chewed, but my pharynx said “NO, MA’AM”. That wretched bean lady smiled and offered me a napkin in which to spit the horrid thing out. What did she give me as a chaser? A mouthwash flavor jelly bean. Oh HA HA, bean lady.
After the bean incident, we walked out onto the front lawn to take Jason’s picture in front of the Jelly Belly sign, but all the while, I thought of the flavor of centipede. Even through the mouthwash, I could still taste it, crawling over my tastebuds with its awful rancid legs. My stomach roiled, and I thrust my camera and bag at Jason while desperately trying to will myself to remain calm. Calm isn’t my thing, and this is the story of how I ended up vomiting in front of the Jelly Belly warehouse in plain sight of a highway.
Even though he had my camera, Jason didn’t document me chundering into a bush because he doesn’t understand anything about posterity. He is, however, a man who has seen me in a paper hat AND throwing up a mixture of jellybeans and chinese food in the same day and somehow still wants to marry me, so I’ll cut him some slack. I probably wouldn’t have posted a picture of me vomiting online, anyway: it probably wouldn’t have been a very flattering shot of my butt.