Out & About: Freshly minted

They call it candy with a conscience, but when you have one of Jubilee Chocolates’ small, square confections in your hand, all you can really focus on is the candy—and getting it in your mouth as quickly as possible. The Philadelphia chocolate company, begun by a Penn grad and a former Wharton staffer, is known for giving back to the community. It’s also known for a line of gourmet chocolates that has garnered raves—from O: The Oprah Magazine to the New York Times—since it burst onto the scene four years ago.

Of all Jubilee’s chocolates—the lineup includes lavender honey, lemongrass and coffee whisky—mint is the flavor that’s drawn the most attention. Gourmet magazine called the mint chocolates “the best we’ve ever had,” and one bite of these dark, bittersweet morsels, filled with a creamy mint-scented ganache, is enough to tell you why. One of the reasons they taste so good is that Jubilee eschews peppermint oil for fresh mint leaves, which are grown locally in the University City High School Garden at 37th and Filbert streets as part of a health education project begun by Penn’s own Urban Nutrition Initiative (UNI).

Working with the community has always been integral to Jubilee’s mission. Husband and wife owners John Doyle and Kira Baker-Doyle Ged’99 met while John was working at the White Dog Café and Kira was pursuing a Masters degree in the Graduate School of Education. A mutual love of food and service drew them together and the couple began experimenting with chocolate making in their Powelton Village home. The Doyles still live in the neighborhood, but now run their business in the former Goldenberg Peanut Chew factory in North Philadelphia.

Growing skills

Doyle says the decision to involve school students from West Philadelphia in his fledgling business was easy. Kira was working with UNI when they met, and together they had witnessed the transformation of a bleak parking lot into a garden that could be used by students from the high school and nearby Drew Elementary School. “I watched it come to life,” he says, “and I thought how I’d love it if I could figure out a way the kids might be able to help us.”

Four days a week, a half dozen high school kids show up to tend the garden as part of an after-school program. The idea, says UNI Garden Coordinator Johanna Rosen, is to “increase their access to healthy food” and help them develop horticultural and business skills. Sometimes they meet at the garden, where mounds of silvery sage share space in the raised beds with other herbs and vegetables as well as clumps of cosmos and zinnia and towering sunflowers. Sometimes they meet in a rooftop greenhouse in the high school, where they learn hydroponics and winter growing techniques.

The students sell to several area businesses, and on Saturdays set up a neighborhood farmer’s market at Lancaster and Powelton. They get a share in the profits, too, which keeps motivation high. The work is fun, says Jason Lewis, 17, who has worked in the garden since 8th grade. “I like being around nature, and it teaches us how to help the community by starting a garden.”

Flavor of the week

Rosen and her student gardeners experimented with several kinds of mint for the chocolates, including a peppermint that, she says, proved “too overpowering,”before settling on the flavorful but mild Kentucky Colonel variety.

Every Monday at 4 p.m., the Jubilee courier arrives in his red pickup truck to collect a pound of mint. The kids scramble to pick the fuzzy leaves off the plants and weigh the aromatic herbs with a hand scale before sending their crop on its way in plastic zipper bags.

Once the mint arrives at the chocolate works, Doyle and his staff of nine steep the leaves in cream, pour the liquid over 40% Valrhona milk chocolate and add a little sugar. Once the creamy center has set, it’s enrobed in a thin layer of dark chocolate. While the chocolate is still soft, a criss-cross design is swiftly stamped on top with a dipping fork, both as decoration and to identify it as an official Drew Elementary Garden Mint.

For more information about Jubilee Chocolates, go to www.jubileechocolates.com or call 800-747-4808.

Originally published on December 9, 2004