The long-lost recipe for cult sweet fizzle sticks is worth a fortune to our real-life Willy Wonkas, writes Mark Keenan
Don't care how . . . they want them now! Ireland's confectioners and a wave of retro sweetshops are thriving thanks to our newfound taste for bullseyes, sherbet fountains and milk teeth -- but when it comes to one particular sweetie, it seems the candyman just can't.
In a poetic reversal of Roald Dahl's famous children's tale, Ireland's Willy Wonkas are vying with one another in the search for their own golden ticket -- the lost formula for fizzle sticks, Ireland's favourite penny sweet of the 1970s and 1980s.
"We've scoured the earth for them, from trade fairs in Germany, America, Switzerland and even to the Arab Emirates," says Tony Linehan, who, with his dad, Danny, runs Shandon Sweets of Cork.
"We would appeal to anyone who has the recipe -- or an original retailer's box with the ingredients on the side -- to contact us as a matter of urgency. There's a retirement fund in it," says Linehan who believes the true formula could make €100,000 or more for the finder.
"They were four-inch-long sticks that looked like pastel-coloured chalks, slightly oval in profile, a damp crumbly chalky texture and soft to bite. The taste was absolutely unmistakable: particularly fruity and fizzy. We think they were imported by a Dublin confectioner named Tom Keoghegan based at Robinhood industrial estate."
Another hard-bitten fizzle-stick hunter is Mayo-born accountant David Jordan who turned from bean counting to jellybeans and chocolate coins when he founded the 11-strong Auntie Nellies chain selling traditional loose sweets.
"I am not exaggerating when I say that between 35pc to 40pc of the people who come into our shops ask us for fizzle sticks."
Not surprisingly, a stream of entrepreneurs anxious to supply this market has made imitations. But they've failed.
The country's undisputed number one outer of fake fizzle sticks is Ray D'Arcy of Today FM, a childhood fizzle fan whose radio show found itself quite by accident participating in one of its longest ever running threads.
"It started with a text in 2010 from a guy whose girlfriend offered him €100 if he could find her some fizzle sticks. Over the next year the search went all over the world. People started sending in different versions. I must have tasted more than a dozen but we never found the real thing before it sort of, em, fizzled out." says D'Arcy.
Attempting to swizzle the public with a counterfeit stick is not without its risks. "If you sell an imitation -- and that's all we can get -- some customers actually become visibly angry," says Jordan.
For this reason Robert Walshe of Kandyland in Courtown, Co Wexford, issues a warning with his "fizzle sticks", which are sourced in the UK. "I'd say three out of five of our customers over 25 buy fizzle sticks. But I always warn them saying: 'Some people say these taste like the originals and some say they don't. Bear in mind that we can't say either way.' I wonder if it's to do with nostalgic memory -- that a sweet will never taste like it did when you were a kid."
Jordan agrees: "I think it's the ultimate in taste nostalgia. In the same way people strive to recreate their childhood Christmases, they strive to rediscover those tastes. And because the fizzle stick was such a hugely popular sweet in the '70s and '80s, it has become the taste of childhood to anyone who loved their sweets in those years."
'That's why I've sent people out looking for them to the UK, Europe and I've even sent someone out to the Emirates. While we've been scouring the UK, they've had their people looking for them over here. "
The hunt goes on in cyberspace where a contributor to one forum asks: "Anyone know if it's possible to get Fizzle Sticks anywhere???"
Another pleads: "I have been looking for these for the past 15 years now, they are nowhere to be found. I have had people searching every cash and carry in Britain. I would kill for them."
Internet chatrooms that fizzle on the subject assert that the sticks disappeared, along with their Dutch inventor who guarded his formula so zealously that he took it with him to the grave.
Thus far in the great global fizzle stick hunt, the hottest lead comes from an anonymous contributor to one online forum who appears to have posted the only known picture of "true" fizzle sticks in a box which clearly carries the label "Festoon," the Holland-based confectioner which most believe made the sticks. This supports the theory of the wonky departed Dutch confectioner.
Ultimately, however, all may be in vain says Jordan: "Sweets from times past were full of ingredients that are completely banned today. If we do finally locate that lost formula -- it might actually be illegal to make them."
To Ireland's long-questing Willy Wonkas, such an outcome would be the ultimate in everlasting gobstoppers.