NOW GIMME SOME CAN-DAY!
Candy is with us always, but there's something inherently nostalgic about the stuffnot least because the boldness of its packaging brings the mind's eye back to comic books, Saturday morning cartoons, the local fairground, and whatever other brightly colored childhood memories. But even a sugarholic gourmand would find a mountain of the stuff daunting. Not that this has stopped Cleveland's Groovy Candies, a mail-order service, from thriving. Visit their Web site (www.groovycandies.com) and your retinas will race even faster than your insulin levels: The company's gift packsdecade-themed, from the '50s Classic Candy Sampler to the '80s I Want Candy Grab Bagare visually overwhelming, and it hardly matters that most of the candy, like most candy generally, isn't actually very good. Sugar rushes almost never are. But they're certainly fun while they last.
The secret of the Groovy Candy formula is that all of the candy is, in fact, still being madeit's the way the boxes are curated that sets them apart. For example, you might have to search a bit to find every one of the items in the '60s Groovy Candy box: Bit-O-Honey, Charleston Chew, Good & Plenty, and Jujubes are easy enough to come across. But NECCO Wafers, Teaberry Gum, bubblegum cigarettes, and Crows are a bit harder to find at the local corner shop. Ditto the '70s Happy Candy box, which features Wonka Bars, Oompas, marshmallow ice-cream cones, Flipsticks, Root Beer Barrels, Satellite Wafers, and Fun Dip in addition to the more common Now and Later and Tootsie Rolls.
The '80s set is the smallest of the buncha bag of treats rather than a cardboard box (though there's also a '60s Groovy Grab Bag available). Somewhat paradoxicallyor not, the '80s being the '80s and allit's also got the biggest portions of individual product: The Haribo Gold-Bears, the first gummi bear product on the market, come in a 3H-ounce box, and there's a full-sized packet of Big League Chew, a roll of Bubble Tape gum, a box of Nerds, and a bag of Pop Rocks. The only thing missing is a beta copy of E.T., a skinned knee, and your mother telling you to be back home by 9.
For years, everyone in my family has been obsessed with finding an original pudgie pie maker. We once had two; both long gone, they are the stuff of legend. A pudgie pie maker is the ultimate tool for making toasted cheese sandwiches. Two circular, concave iron forms are hinged together, each half equipped with a long handle to facilitate sticking it in a campfire or over a stove burner. To prepare your pudgie pie, slather both sides of two slices of bread (the squeezable Wonder bread type works best), place one in half the iron, add your cheesy filling (leftover beef stew or baked beans work well, too), and top with the second slice; then clamp the pudgie pie iron tight, trim off the excess crust, and toast, until, omigod, you have a crispy, crunchy round rim encircling a toasty buttery pie oozing with melted cheese. We've been looking for years for replacements. Nothing we've found measures up. Even eBay hasn't come through for us. I have a motley collection of flat (what good is flat?), square (why square?) imitations. They didn't call it a pudgie pie for nothing. Help!
CANNED BEANS, PLEASE
One of the things I miss during the holidays is Campbell's Green Bean Casserole. You knowgreen beans, cream of mushroom soup, fried onions . . . the whole messy, middle-class shebang. It's a back-of-the-can childhood classic, and it mixes perfectly on the palate with a forkful of mashed potatoes (much in the same way, for those of equally discerning sensibilities, that baked beans complement a dollop of potato salad during summer festivities).
But this famous side dish is passé, apparently; even the commercials trying to promote the recipe don't know how to appreciate it: A current French's French Fried Onions spot has everybody showing up for a holiday meal with the dish made with fresh green beans.
Any moron can tell you that this is all wrong. Campbell's Green Bean Casserole is supposed to look like something you wouldn't serve your dog, and you have to make it with canned beans. My sister-in-law once tried to palm off the Campbell's casserole with fresh beans as her contribution to Thanksgiving at my mother's house. Everybody calmly refused to eat the thing. Some offered helpful criticism ("It just doesn't work without the canned beans," etc.).
Looking for fellowship on the Campbell's Internet site, I was met with the following, supposedly authentic posting: "While making Campbell's Green Bean Casserole one day, I realized we didn't have any cream of mushroom soup. I used cream of chicken instead, and now my family won't eat it any other way. Try it for yourself!" My dear woman, you are sadly misguided. Never mess with a classic.
WITH PICK AND CRACKER
One thing I remember most about the holidays of my childhood is the ubiquitous bowl of nuts. Almonds, filberts, and Brazil nuts. Half the pleasure came from splitting them open with the silver-handled nutcrackers, revealing the meaty treats within. The almonds were always first to go, followed by the sweet, chewy filberts. That left the frustratingly difficult Brazil nuts. While there was nothing more tedious than picking at their dark shell to dislodge that stubborn white morsel, there was also nothing more satisfying than the rare occasion when the shell fell away with ease, leaving behind a single, perfect nut.
People start asking for Rudolph cookies in July. The phrase "Christmas in July" is never so resonant as when strangers are snippily telling you over the phone, like you're 3 years old, to make sure the color of Rudolph's nose is red, not brown. I spent a college summer working at the Ann Arbor franchise of Cookies by Design. Their ridiculous "cookie bouquet" conceptseven cookies adorned to within an inch of their sweet little lives, then arranged like flowershaunts me to this very day. I liked to refer to myself as an "icing technician." It was my job to transform each cookie from its naked, Garden of Eden state into a small work of buttery art. Simple designs like roses and bells were no problem, but try making a Michigan cookie mapevery town, every road, every river marked in icingand tell me "technician" is too strong a word. And to all those obsessive types who insisted that Rudolph's nose be red: The joke's on youI used red-orange icing. Ha!
Mincemeat pie is a holiday standard, even though a lot of people won't eat it, saying it's "too sweet" or "mushy" or "cloying." If they only knew that the pie they're eating is all those things because it lacks the one ingredient essential to making it worth eating: meat! Yes, meatlean beef, to be exact, simmered until fork tender, then chopped or shredded and combined with other ingredients like chopped apples, raisins and other dried fruits, chopped nuts, candied citrus peel, etc., etc., etc., with a modicum of suet to moisten and bind. That may sound even denser than nonmeat mincemeat out of a jar, but it's not: The shredded meat lightens the mixture, makes the pie semisavory instead of sweet, and gives a marvelous, hard-to-describe aroma to the pie. Mincemeat is just about the only remaining example of medieval haute cuisine on the modern menuat the very least, all Renaissance Fayre and Creative Anachronism folks should strive for its revival.