Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Like submarines speeding, engines set to full throttle, we'll shoot through the depths like corks from a bottle. - Louie-Bloo Raspberry

I find it amusing that the Pop Tarts generated so much chatter. Such vehement opinions for such a lightweight food. Just for the record, the chocolate ones with white frosting are my favorite, followed a close second by the frosted brown sugar ones. And they MUST be toasted.

Poptarts are a food of my childhood – along with Otter Pops, Hershey bars, cherry-flavored Kool-Aid, Wonder bread or Ritz crackers spread with Jif peanut butter, and hot tea with lemon and tons of sugar when we came home from swimming on Friday nights. Like the parents of most other children growing up in the seventies, my mom thought nothing of stocking the kitchen with Captain Crunch, Lucky Charms, and Corn Pops, bologna (fried bologna sandwiches were a Friday dinner staple), potato chips accompanied by Lipton’s onion dip, Tastykakes (the peanut butter TandyKakes were a particular favorite of mine, although my mom favored the butterscotch Krimpets and my dad liked the little rectangular pies that came in their own little paper sleeves), Entenmann’s chocolate donuts and raspberry cheese Danish, Keebler fudge striped cookies, M&Ms (plain or peanut, none of these fancy-schmancy flavors they have now) – all kinds of junk (and none of these things do I allow my children to eat on a regular basis).

Some of my childhood’s foods are nostalgia-in-a-wrapper, and I wouldn’t think to eat them just for their own sake – Cadbury cream eggs, red Swedish fish, butter cake with whipped cream icing, fudgsicles. Some of them I would love to still eat but they can’t be found or replicated– I have been unable to duplicate my childhood next-door neighbor’s butter brickle cookies, and I only make her cheesecake (really more of a sweet heavy quiche) when my little brother can come help me eat the thing. Rumor has it Coca-Cola Slurpees have returned, thank God for small favors; Pepsi ones are an unholy abomination. Uneeda Biscuits are well nigh impossible to find these days, but what else am I supposed to eat when I am nauseated? Dell’s Iced Tea frozen concentrate is no longer manufactured; I used to return to my apartment here with a cooler full of 40 or 50 cans in the trunk of my car. Sweetzel’s spiced wafers can be found but only on the East Coast. Same with Zitner’s Butter Krak eggs, an Easter staple. When I was pregnant with Primo, the Rite Aid near my job had these, next to the more typical Easter candy. I spied them and bought the entire box of twenty-four eggs – all the stock they had – at once. I can still mail order them from Zitner’s in Philly, but delicious as they are, they are no longer the candy of my childhood's Easters – the insides are not as creamy, the eggs are smaller and much more uniformly shaped, with less craggy sticky-outy toasted coconut bits.

Some confections I can still get, but I sort of prefer to keep them in my memory as the nectar I remember –
Duffy’s Fluffy Ruffles (Duffy’s Delicious Candies is a teeny candy store in my hometown that makes all their own candy, including these coconut-cream, rolled-in-chocolate, then rolled-in-coconut delights. My mother bought all of our Easter candy there, including gigantic 2-lb coconut cream eggs with our names iced on top, and solid milk chocolate airplanes and trains for my little brother who doesn’t like coconut. )
Bayard’s double-dipped mints (H found a chocolate store on the street where he works that makes a decent, if only single-dipped, substitute.)
I bought a case of Goldenberg Peanut Chews when we were down the shore last summer, and yes, they were ok, but not as good as I remember - lying on the couch on summer afternoons, in the dark, frigidly AC-ed house, reading and munching my way down a sleeve of peanut chews. (The Philadelphia soft pretzels washed down with a Slurpee, or a Wawa coffee, did hold up as close to the perfect breakfast, however. And if you think those rounded, plump pretzels you can get at carnivals are proper soft pretzels, you do not know what you are missing – Philly pretzels, preferably bought from a street vendor equipped with a cart and a big bottle of yellow mustard are doughy, and chewy, and substantial – they stick to your ribs!)
(Don’t even think of getting me started on what other parts of this country think passes for cheesesteaks!)

Holidays (especially Thanksgiving) are rife with pure comfort food, tasting EXACTLY the way (my) Mom made it, which includes slaving in the kitchen all day and then not eating a bite of her own cooking, so sick was she at that point of everything: wild rice (Uncle Ben’s boxed, doctored up with celery and onion and powdered sage); cranberry marshmallow salad (repulsive, don’t ask); also, straight-from-the-can Ocean Spray jellied cranberry sauce, dumped unceremoniously into the pretty pink Depression glass dish; turkey roasted and basted with white wine and brandy; candied sweet potatoes (complete with buckets of butter and a marshmallow top); pumpkin chiffon pie (made with a frozen crust and Dream Whip – just what the hell is Dream Whip anyway?); the skinny After Eight mints in their paper sleeves which my mom handed around after dinner, and the little pastel-colored jelly-filled dinner mints that stuck to your teeth with which she filled the cut-glass candy dish before every one showed up.

There are restaurant recipes I try to duplicate – the brownies they sell at Kiva Han that are baked by little nuns in the church basement of Church of the Crucified One (I’ve come very close to perfecting this recipe, and in fact, mine are better as they don’t suffer from even occasional freezer burn), the pad thai at the old Lulu’s Noodles, the raspberry shortbread bars at the now defunct Bunznudders, the bacon blue cheese burger at Tessaro’s. But I have all of my mom’s recipes, no need to attempt duplication there. She wrote everything down in excruciating detail, in a little notebook (sometimes I lose my patience and say Dammit, Mom, no wonder you hated to cook! and throw the basil into the beef stew right as it’s *beginning* to simmer. Gasp!) Good thing she wrote them down because someone has to be able to recreate my grandmom’s halupchis, my mom’s meatloaf and beer bread and rum cake and chicken with rice, for my brothers and their wives and kids. Not to mention the whipped cream icing for which I have found a suitable substitute recipe but never the original.

Then there was summer camp food – nine years of camp, several as a kitchen worker, the last one as a counselor. Our camp food was amazing; the cook was called Mother Knarr and she made an incredibly delicious coffee cake (in giant sheet pans, with a crunchy cinnamony top and yeasty underneath), cinnamon toast you’d have sold your mother for, and this sort of damp granola with Golden Grahams that she mixed up in fifty-five gallon plastic garbage cans and sold at the Trading Post (where you could also buy ice cream cones and candy bars if you weren’t lucky enough to have a parent stock you up for the weeks – but of course, I was). I have kept in touch with some of my summer camp buddies, but not one of us knows where Mother Knarr is - indeed, she must be close to ninety now, if she's even still alive.

Proust nailed it with his madeleine; there are very very few things that can fill me with nostalgic longing for my innocent suburban childhood like a taste - or even the remembered taste - of a beloved childhood food. Eggs-on-horseback; frozen custard with rainbow jimmies; toast limp with butter and rolled up on itself; purple cows and Ballpark franks cooked on the grill and devoured at the picnic table; red licorice laces bought from the Little League concession stand; Wrigley’s Juicy Fruit gum; egg-in-a-cup (looks revolting, tastes wonderful, and it’s the perfect sick food); potato salad made with Miracle Whip and sweet pickle; hoagies with salami and oil-and-vinegar on chewy Italian rolls from Del Buono’s; sweet Jersey corn; Shriver’s salt water taffy (my poor father was the only one who’d eat the peanut butter ones); Greenbriar’s clown sundaes...in fact, you might be surprised to learn that I was a sickly-skinny child, all elbows and knees and stick legs. They probably could have fattened me up if they’d just fed me some fruit and yogurt.

Now I am starving.

8 comments:

Joke said...

Ah, the food of our youth.

-J.

Bec of the Ladies Lounge said...

So much of this is foreign to me: in a way that gozleme and rice paper rolls and wasabi and pide and laksa are NOT in our multicultural feast of a city!

But this was written with love, and food love I understand, in any language!!

blackbird said...

yeah!

thanks...

Joke said...

Bec,

This is how food cross-pollination starts!

BabBab,

http://tinyurl.com/svyue

-J.

Sarah Louise said...

Coke slurpees are available in SOME markets, including Falls Church, VA, last time I was there. But Pgh still uses Pepsi. If you go to the 7-11 website, they seem to allow for differences in markets, as a drink is a drink, not a Coke or a Pepsi. And come to think of it, I don't think that Pizza thing that was supposed to be at 7-11 came to Pgh--at least I never saw it. (But I don't go to 7-11 very much anymore in Pgh since they don't carry Coke Slurpees...)

telfair said...

I was so excited to see the friendly faces of the Otter Pops on your blog!

I love those guys.

Suse said...

I barely understood a word of this post.

But it still made me nostalgic.

Peg said...

I don't know why I was so surprised to see Duffy's was online, but I was. Surprised and delighted both. We got Duffy's eggs for Easter too. My mom's favorite was the Irish potatoes.