Once upon a time, in a Magic Kingdom far, far away, a Mississippi family went on a ride. Some of them did, anyway. Three of the four family members claim to have floated around in the dark watching hundreds of happy mechanical children sing, over and over (and over), about the unusually small size of the planet. The fourth, given that he has no memory of the event, was apparently wandering around in the park, a nine-year-old with no supervision, unnoticed by the normally hyper-alert safety-first park attendants. Or perhaps he was handed a mouse-eared ice cream bar and told to “wait here.” The point of sharing this memory or lack thereof is just that – childhood memories can be fickle. I’m still not convinced that I rode the Small World that year, but the rest of my family is absolutely certain.
Food memories, as strong as they are, can also be unintentionally revised by the passing of years. Or perhaps the memories are reliable, but our taste buds have matured. Maybe, just maybe, the Chocolate-Coated Sugar Bomb Cereal with the prize inside, which our parents only let us have once in a blue moon (or which we ate at our lucky friend’s house), was not the bomb after all. I wondered if my kids would enjoy some of the same fun foods I favored as a youngster. I wondered if I would still like them, too. This summer I put it all to the test.
This adventure begins and ends with sweets. On our way to the vacation cabin this July, we came across several vintage candies including Zotz, Ice Cubes, and Fruit Stripe Gum. Zotz candies are fun – they look like a plain piece of hard candy, but have a sizzling/bubbling powder that oozes out of the center as it dissolves in your mouth. They were as fun as I remembered. Daughter loved them; Son said they were just “good”. Ice Cubes were a big disappointment. I had flashbacks of silky chocolate that melted in the mouth like an ice cube (thus the name). What I found this time was more of a slimy, chocolate-like block that left a post-melt aftertaste. This one got a “horrible” from Daughter, but a consistent “pretty good” from Son. Daughter was the only real gum-chewer in the car that day, and pronounced a deep affection for the Fruit Stripe Gum.
A few days later I prepared a special lunch. The kids were wary, but fairly willing to try some new things. Fairly. First out of the can were the Vienna sausages. What kid doesn’t like Vienna sausages? Mine, apparently. It’s not like they were the meat on the holiday platters of our youth, but I know we had them around the house every now and then. Straight out of the pop-top, Son pronounced them “nasty” – Daughter went farther, noting that even with ketchup they tasted like cat food. My adult taste buds could hardly disagree. And the next canned meat on the buffet did not improve their opinion of the genre. I pulled this memorable treat from the vault of early family vacations to Dauphin Island, Alabama. We would take coolers and an electric skillet to the Holiday Inn and eat lots of hotel room picnics. One of those meals involved deviled ham. Son said it was edible, and I’m pretty sure Daughter didn’t even attempt it. I ate one bite on a saltine and we gave the rest to the cat.
Somewhat more successful were the hot dogs wrapped and baked inside a crescent roll. I think I even went deluxe on them, slicing the hot dog down the middle and adding some cheese. If you’re going to have a hot dog, this is still a pretty good way to do it, and it doesn’t take much prep. Be warned though, that encasing a Vienna sausage in the same buttery flakiness does not disguise it a bit.
The biggest success, at least in Son’s opinion, was the broiled bologna sandwich. I developed this one personally once I was old enough to operate the oven without setting off the fire alarm. It begins with a piece of bologna, cut a few times around the circumference to prevent excessive curling, and crisped under the broiler. Once the first side was sufficiently browned, I flipped it over and added cheese, broiling until the cheese melted. When the sandwich was first under testing, I added dill pickle slices (post-broiler) and toasted the bread. For my kids, I skipped the pickles. Daughter was not interested in bologna (no shock there), but Son declared it “amazing”. I expect we’ll be digging that one out of the archives again soon.
Dessert was Dunkin’ Stix (which go by many other names) and Hostess Orange Cupcakes. I do remain a fan of Dunkin’ Stix as a whole, but the cheap brand I happened to find that day left us with a strange mouth feel that Daughter described as “gummy”. Next time I’ll buy the good kind and just eat them myself. The Orange Cupcakes were a bigger hit and have the advantage of being a family favorite, too. My brother is such a fan that I think he has pinpointed all the convenience stores in his metro area that carry the orange delights. Once he pulled into a gas station at what seemed to be a random place and time – apparently nobody was thirsty nor had a need for the loo. His wife asked him what he was doing. His reply was simple: “They have the cupcakes.” No word on whether or not he shared them with his girls.
Jay Reed is a local foodie and pharmacist. The culinary tastes expressed here are his and do not necessarily reflect the appetites of the Starkville Daily News or individual members of its staff. He welcomes your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org .