It has to be one of the humblest of all confections. The lollipop is simply a small piece of hard flavored candy on top of a stick. With absolutely no nutritional value. Its sole purpose is to offer a modest measure of sweet joy to the consumer and perhaps allow them some brief time to enjoy its diminishing glistening sweetness in their hand as it is slowly licked into oblivion.
For Guinness champion Ashrita Furman, who has often taken on simple child like pleasures and escalated them into herculean accomplishments the task of constructing the world’s biggest lollipop seemed like a worthy challenge.
On the anniversary of his spiritual teacher’s birthday he has often turned to creating extraordinary sweet treats to honor him. In what would have been Sri Chinmoy’s 77th birthday last August 27th he and a large group of students created a birthday cake with 47,000 lighted candles.
This year he says he wanted to honor Sri Chinmoy’s birthday, “with the sweetest item we could think of.” This was a gigantic task of course because the previous record was an incredible 4,759 pounds. Two weeks earlier the process of making a bigger one started in earnest. Ultimately Ashrita believes that something like 50 people volunteered to make this sweet dream a tasty reality.
Steve Guy from Cambridge England worked just about non stop for 10 days on the lollipop. He found himself working on sugar preparation almost from the moment he arrived in New York. But like most who look forward to participating in one of Ashrita’s great adventures each August, working on a lollipop came as no surprise. Two years ago he worked with a team that created the worlds largest popcorn cake. He says of this project, “We knew the proportions for the sugar, we knew the temperature, we know how to rotate the cooking of the pots.” All this experience was crucial, in that the sugar, which was also mixed with corn syrup, color, and flavoring needed to be cooked to the correct temperature. To add to this, the pots of syrup needed to be created in a steady stream, and then transported down the street to a wooden mold on top of a flat bed truck. The most important ingredient in this recipe according to Steve is, “we knew how to work together, and be cheerful, all night long.”
Steve believes that over his week plus of volunteering he put in 10 – 14 hours a day on the project. He knows that as strong as the hardened sugar may appear to the naked eye it is also very temperamental, “it can be very strong but at the same time it can just shatter.”
He says for him the best part of the whole project is, “how it unfolded. There was a certain idea of how it would start, a vision. That was changing daily, sometimes hourly. You were only taking a step forward and the path would then appear in front of that step. That is an amazing experience. You have to surrender to the moment. You have to put all your energy and cheerfulness into that moment, and it all just unfolds.”
There were times in the boiling process when the batch, for no apparent reason went bad. The tell tale sign was a poor pale color of the mix. Most often of course when the correct temperature was reached, in a reasonable interval, the mix would be a bright red.
Mark Royden an aeronautical engineer from New Zealand has also used his talents on several of Ashrita’s large projects. He had literally just gotten off the plane, and was looking for accommodation, when he had a chance encounter with Homagni Baptista while coming out of the local health food store. He recalls that he mischievously smiled at him and inquired, “are you busy?” What he was not anticipating was finding himself involved non stop for the next 2 weeks in helping out with the project.
He says that in no time he was, “head to foot in candy.” He says in the early stages it was all about design and logistics. A small core group had to sort out how it would work, what was the easiest way to do it, and what would be the right amount of steel to include so that it wouldn’t collapse.” The destructive power of sugar is well known to dentists but is not so formally understood by engineers. The group simply knew that when building a giant lollipop, “It needed something. It has a similar behavior to glass,” said Mark.
He said that creating a horizontal lollipop would have been infinitely easier. But none of the group wanted to create a reclining candy that simply lay flat. It must be strong enough to be raised aloft just as though it was to be enjoyed by a very large, and hard to determine the size, gigantic individual.
He says he knows from first hand experience that the candy can easily shatter. He said he did the test personally by hitting a large block of candy with a hammer. He had also worked, like Steve, on the largest popcorn cake. An experience he calls, “an adventure.”
He worked on various parts of the project. He says that Bishwas and himself designed the steel frame and though an outside firm bent the steel. It was himself and Unmilan that did all the welding. It must be noted of course that the final weight of the lollipop will not include the steel. This weight will be deducted from the overall total in order to achieve the final finish weight. He tells me that the sugar alone used in the project weighs 4500 pounds. In addition there is another 2 and half thousand pounds of corn syrup. In the early stages a goal of 6,000 pound seems within reason. He adds as well, “it also has to look like a lollipop.”
Homagni has been working on trying to make sure that the syrup will not stick to the mold. It is a part of the project that no one knows for sure what will happen. It is extremely hot in the tent that he works within. There is also little ventilation and he is working with various sprays that make the conditions there, to be kind, challenging.
Homagni started working on the project very early on by doing test syrup boils in his kitchen. “I started with smaller mixtures and then got to larger batches. Ashrita and I then got started with larger pots in his back yard. The main problem in this process he says is cooking the mixture too much thus causing it to caramelize. “You end up with a gooey mess.”
He said that there comes a point in the planning when time runs out, “and there is no more time for experimenting.” The ultimate ingredient of the mixture of course is a lot of hard work by a large group of willing people. “We had a whole team of guys from all over the world.”
Once the mold is leveled than the constant parade of hot syrup begins its journey. It will take several days to finish filling the mold up to the top. A lot of good science has gone into the calculations but the final weight is far from certain.
|It is a scene that is repeated hour after hour for several days.|
All day and late into the night teams cook up the syrup and deliver it to the slowly filling mold.
The plan for having a two colored lollipop falls by the wayside as the internal barrier fails to hold back the red syrup. With little other options the lollipop becomes a single color. The surface decoration however will add lots of color. Fully candied letters are added to the surface. They are attached by melting them by heating them with a torch.
Everything is edible. The paint used on the Jharna Kala bird in the middle as well as the colorful topping applied to the 3d letters.
Once the mold has been removed the project is almost complete. It has yet to be officially weighed however, and more importantly it has not been lifted into the air. There is however, the not so small matter, of backing the truck out onto the street. One that was much narrower than when it first arrived.
“He asked if I could pick up a lollipop for him.” Russel Leach manages United Crane and rigging and he bemusedly recalls a phone call he received from Ashrita 5 days earlier. “It was a 7,000 pound lollipop, and I said no problem.” He has asked every conceivable question pertaining to the lollipop. He is concerned about how fragile the lollipop is but predicts that there is a great chance that it can be lifted and weighed. He particularly appreciates the internal steel frame adding strength to the candy.
He jokes that he had told his kids the night before what he was going to lift the following day. He says, “they wanted to come and eat it.”
Nick is the master rigger on the job and he has spent a lifetime lifting heavy difficult objects but had never before lifting a lollipop. He says that finding the center of the lollipop for him was a problem and also that because of the heat the candy began to change shape. He says, “It is hard work but its a lot of fun.”
Mike Nova is the operator of the crane on the job. He says, “I was really hoping it would work, I didn’t want to see it fall apart.”
The candy also appears to be melting in the hot August sun.
Russel Leach watches his crew closely. Each step brings the lollipop closer to being weighed. It is also clear that it is very soft in the middle and once the mold is removed it dramatically begins to change shape.
For Ashrita it is all great fun.
A little lopsided the lollipop is eventually hoisted into the skies. The initial weight by using the crane scale is estimated to be 6706 pounds. Later when weighed more accurately it turns out to be 6514. A weight which is 1755 pounds greater than the old record.
Mark speaks for everyone when he says of Ashrita’s Guinness projects, “I look forward to this. To me it is one great adventure. We do this a lot to inspire others. It pushes people beyond what they thought was possible. It is innocent good fun, and in the end this is what the world needs is this innocence and fun, and this, look what we can do if we work together. We can accomplish things that people think are impossible.”