I recently fell victim to another of those internet lists I unsuccessfully try to ignore. Actually, three or four similar lists sucked me in, all with instructions to find what was popular during the year of my birth. The topics of these lists were related: snack foods, food trends, junk foods. Curious about what I might find – or maybe I was just hungry – I charged ahead and read every single list.
For my birthyear of 1948, I found Reddi-wip listed. I love a little sweet cream in my coffee when pretending to drink cappuccino. And Reddi-wip is real cream as opposed to the chemically-engineered conglomeration that substitutes often are. I am, however, surprised at the year listed; Reddi-wip seems more modern in its pressurized can with the fluted tip. Old, new – it offers the taste and convenience I prefer.
Then I checked the birthyears of my siblings. My West Virginia sister was born in 1949, the year Junior Mints arrived. The inventor named his candy after a favorite Broadway play, Junior Miss, and later connected the names to its film version and radio series. Talk about product placement: still today I imagine many moviegoers consider a box of Junior Mints the perfect cinema snack.
Swanson introduced its frozen pot pies in 1951, the year my Tennessee sister was born. This addition to American cuisine could never compare with an ancient Roman version containing a live bird that broke through the crust. Instead, Swanson simply brought a staple aboard military ships ashore to the family dinner table.
1953, the year my Urbana sister joined the family, was also the year Eggo Waffles began showing up in grocery stores. The original product, Froffles, was renamed to reflect the eggy flavor. Although the breakfast food seems much newer, postwar families during the Baby Boom were also looking for less fuss and more convenience in the kitchen. Eggos fit the bill – with its tagline: L’eggo my Eggo!
With the birth of my Oxford sister in 1957 came a product my mother used: Dream Whip – and we are back to whipped cream again! Mother seldom made real whipped cream – lots of messing around for a dessert topping. And as I remember, she only made whipped cream for her luscious, home-baked gingerbread. Dream Whip was more convenient – more likely to be successful. The powder base contained a veritable lexicon of unpronounceable ingredients, to which Mother added fresh milk and vanilla. It certainly was tasty atop her gingerbread!
My brother in Arkansas was born in 1968, the year Pringles were invented. Although Kellogg’s now produces the potato-based crisps, the whole idea started when Proctor & Gamble tried to counter customer complaints about greasy, stale, broken potato chips. What a daunting task: new shape, new recipe, new container – and lawsuits galore about what Pringles really were. Even the name origin is cloudy: Mark Pringle listed on a patent? Pringle Street in Finneytown where two admen resided? Plucked from the Cincy phonebook? We know how to stack them but not how they were named!
I also uncovered random factoids about Cheerios and Spaghetti-Os, both of which share an appeal to children. The cereal that most children in America have eaten started as CheeriOats in 1941. Difficulties with a competitor led to the current Cheerios name. This heart-healthy cereal has long served as a transition to solid food as well as an aid to fine motor skill development. And, of course, there is always the chance of a wayward Cheerio under a cushion on the couch, isn’t there? When Campbell Soup introduced Spaghetti-Os in 1965, there were plenty of canned goods containing long strands of spaghetti. In fact, Spaghetti-Os were sent directly to stores without test marketing. The sudden hit was advertised as “the neat round spaghetti you can eat with a spoon.” Mothers and children cheered the new product, at one time also advertised with the song “Uh-Oh, Spaghetti-Os!”
Two other foods in the listings are related only by the suitcases that carried them between Ohio and Germany. I am referring to Nutella and Pop-Tarts.
The chocolate hazelnut spread my students loved has not always been locally available. Nutella originated in an Italian town known for hazelnuts. In 1946 a baker there first made Nutella in a solid block, then a creamy version. His son revamped everything to create a hit across Europe. My students did what they could to spread the good Nutella word to North America – one jar or one suitcase full of jars at a time!
Several kids from Springe took a similar liking to Pop-Tarts. The Post Company revealed their process of enclosing moist foods in foil for freshness, but Kellogg beat them to market in 1964. Frequently a box or boxes of the toaster pastries wound up packed in German suitcases for the lengthy transatlantic trip. Finally, most Pepperidge Farm Goldfish are manufactured up north, in Willard, population 6041. Daily, 700 workers bake eleven million crackers containing real cheese. And we live just a hundred miles from The Goldfish Capital of the World!
Breaking news: M&Ms were first manufactured in 1941 for American soldiers. In an uncontested 1995 election requiring no picture IDs, American consumers voted to replace the tan candy with blue. And now, the M&M characters have received makeovers to create a “sense of belonging and community.”
(Politically-induced makeovers for candy characters?
Handbaskets abound, folks, handbaskets abound!)