Naturally nice

St. Pops is adding a touch of natural sweetness to the Twin Cities for the third year in a row.

Sophia Vilensky

 

Jennifer Helm’s son was always asking for popsicles.

Sick of providing Bomb Pops, Helm decided to take matters into her own hands. After years of corporate work, Helm was energized by the prospect of culinary creations.

A year later, St. Pops was born.

Fast forward three years, and the company is still growing. As dietary wellness grows in popularity, Helm is standing by the sanctity of healthy treats.

In a world of food intolerances, St. Pops popsicles are very “free.” They’re free of dairy, gluten, soy and nuts. A sugar-free flavor is always on hand, and no artificial colors are added.

The St. Pops season lasts from May to October. Local produce is used to make the pops, so the flavor selection depends largely on what is seasonally available.

The popsicles are made at GIA Kitchen, a commercial kitchen space in St. Paul. A Finamac Turbo 8 — a machine Helm ordered from Brazil, nicknamed “Bruna”— freezes 88 popsicles at a time in 20-30 minutes. After five hours of work, Helm leaves the space with five buckets holding 147 popsicles each.

Helm sells her popsicles at the St. Thomas More farmers market on Fridays, the Fulton farmers market on Saturdays and the Kingfield farmers market three Sundays a month. Popsicles are also sold at the Tin Fish on Lake Calhoun and on the 9 Yum Yum food truck.

In terms of flavor, Helm is always looking to try new things.

“I have a bunch of gooseberries in my freezer right now that I might try with lemon and lavender,” Helm said. “I could talk about flavors all day.”

Not all flavors are winners, however. Helm did not have a pleasant experience with pumpkin.

“Horrible. It turned out chalky every time,” Helm said.

Amanda Lovelee, city artist for Public Art Saint Paul, asked Helm to create an exclusive popsicle for the city of St. Paul. Helm created a sweet mint lemonade flavor, which is passed out for free at community Pop Up Meetings, a Public Art Saint Paul project that aims to increase participation and diversity in the city’s urban planning process.

Lila Jensen, 13, is one of Helm’s regulars. She has been stopping by the St. Thomas More farmers market every Friday for the last three years.

“I knew they were known for the Mary’s Lemonade [flavor],” Jensen said. “I tried it, and it was really good, so I just kept going.”

A warm community atmosphere is always present at St. Pops stands. As patrons stop by to purchase the tasty treats, conversations shift from debacles over honey popsicles to Jensen’s interest in role-playing games.

“I’m really fascinated by one game where instead of killing your enemies you can resolve everything with a peaceful conversation,” Jensen said.

Or you can just give them a popsicle.

At the St. Thomas More farmers market, a four-legged chalkboard stands in front of a cooler with the names of the day’s flavors. If you look closely, you can see the half-erased names of late-summer flavors. 

Watermelon-mint, crab apple-thyme and lavender — a reminder of what’s to come.

“I’d recommend the chocolate or the Mary’s Lemonade, but they all have their own charm,” Jensen said.