Belly Flops and Ronald Reagan


I’ve been wanting to take the Jelly Belly factory tour ever since we passed it the first time on I80 between Berkeley and Davis.  This past weekend, we finally made it.

Unfortunately, we were not allowed to take photos on the tour, which disappointed me, as I had been looking forward to capturing vast vats of shining cinnamon beans, but I can definitely say that we learned a few things we hadn’t known before.  For example, when you walk in, it is hard to determine if the mascot of the candy company is a big red bean, or President Ronald Reagan.  Eventually, one finds out that the former president is pretty much single-handedly responsible for the popularity of Jelly Belly jellybeans in the United States, having made them the candy of choice in both the California governor’s mansion, and later, in the White House.  They must have had at least five different jellybean mosaic portraits of him displayed prominently next to Washington, Lincoln, Franklin, and Monroe (Marilyn, not James in this case).

Here are two of them, and one I was particularly drawn to of young Queen Elizabeth:


Throughout the tour, at different stopping points, they give each member of the group a single bean. This is a particularly effective way to make everyone salivate for a bag by the end, and as I nursed my second bean, a bubblegum-flavored uncured morsel of sugar and cornstarch, I remembered learning about fasting at church in Connecticut.  Our Sunday-school teacher told us that while amateurs will rush for a hamburger after a several-day fast, her brother, who had apparently become quite good at it, would spend his first post-fast hours cherishing a single raisin.

I must admit that I was far more in tune to the subtleties of the three beans they gave us on the tour than the many we ate (way too fast) after we were released and able to purchase a two pound bag of Belly Flops, which are the beans that are rejected from the conveyor belt for being either too big, too small, deformed, or discolored.  (I have compiled a little collection of the more extreme examples from our bag above.)

And that, my friends, is a sweet way to spend a rainy weekend in California.


  1. Mabel January 28, 2010

    Hi Ellen! Love this. Sounds like an excellent excuse for a trip out west!

  2. Muv January 28, 2010

    What great stocking stuffers these Flops would make!….is there such a thing as a Valentine stocking?

  3. Cathy Heck January 28, 2010

    I remember the Ronald Reagan jelly beans! In fact, we received two crystal “jelly bean jars” for our wedding … however, I decided to fill them with mint lentils, (which are sort of like pastel-colored mint m&ms) because they matched our carpet better. :-)

  4. shari January 29, 2010

    I have had the good fortune to tour the Wisconsin Jelly Bean factory twice! Once when it was still in very north Illinois in their very cool outdated building/factory and once in their new fancy compound in southern WI. We love the jelly bean train, but no one shared a single bean with us till we arrived at the gift shop! We did get very cool hats to wear on the tour. Also, Ronald Reagan was there, but not nearly as predominant :)

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