originally published October 3, 2013
With the cold claws of a vicious flu scraping against bone through my unguarded skin, I find that only the visions of the sweet satisfaction of treats long past can de-throb my head and un-ache my sedentary muscles. Though it’s true, my innards are craving only some tea, soup, and maybe a long-overdue nap, I’m more drawn to the happy glow of that gustatorial euphoria of my favorite candy moments. It’s more about that “Wow, this is good” feeling than the actual flavor itself.
But rather than devote today’s kilograph to a thousand-word digression about that particularly exquisite packet of Big League Chew I enjoyed when I was fourteen, I instead opt to approach the task with a sense of fairness.
I spent yesterday’s essay boasting giddily about candy that shuns the Lower 48 and calls Canada (and, let’s face it, England) home. But it would be an act of flagrant deceit not to admit that certain American confections have tickled my buds in past visits. Some of these I have tried, others simply look too intriguing not to be worthy of a hunt next time I find myself in the Land of the Free. These are the yankee candies that won’t wander north.
Without question, the bar that first prompts a hungry lunge of my candy-grubbing arm when I travel down south is the Whatchamacallit. This bar incorporates the holy trinity of candy bar essentials: peanut butter (flavoring the ‘crisp’ things), caramel and chocolate. Sure, peanuts are fine and nougat is nougat, but a blend of these three items is the stuff of rectangular delicacy. Canada has something called Special Crisp which I’m told is identical, but is notoriously hard to find in these parts. So when I dream of peanuty crisps and caramel, the word Whatchamacallit is always on the wrapper.
At least for now. In 2008 Hershey opted to make the same dreaded cost-cutting asshole move that Nestle made with Oh Henry!, namely replacing the chocolate with non-chocolate. Actually there is still chocolate in the Whatchamacallit, but with no cocoa butter they are not allowed to call it milk chocolate. Sure enough, a close-up of a modern wrapper will show the words “rich chocolatey coating” where “milk chocolate” used to be.
Oh, the fickle fallen dreams of a misspent youth.
Maybe the good people at Zagnut have the right answer (also run by the Hershey company since 1996) – just do away with any pretense of chocolate altogether. Since its inception in the 1930’s, the Zagnut bar has a touch of cocoa in the mix, but nothing that any foolhardy tongue would mistake for chocolate. This treat is all peanut butter, toasted coconut, and chocolate-free crunch.
Well, that’s not all it is. You also have to remember your sorbitan tristearate, your artificial flavors and colors, and stuff called TBHQ and PGPR, which seems a little vague for an ingredients list. But then if you were looking for healthy foods, you probably wouldn’t be fixated on the candy shelf.
I’ve never sampled the Zagnut, but I’d wolf one down, freakish preservatives be damned.
How about a Chick-O-Stick? The name sounds like you’re eating candied poultry, but the look is pure fossilized turd. Again, I’ve never tried one of these so my mockery – which is based purely on aesthetics – is subject to the vocal dissent of billions of satisfied taste buds, should they speak up. I accept that. But look at this thing. It looks like a dog treat, like some chicken-flavored Pupperoni.
Actually, that confusion had an effect on the product, which used to be packaged with a cowboy-hat-wearing cartoon chicken on the wrapper. They dropped the character in order to remind people this is a peanut butter and coconut treat, not a protein stick. Kudos to the Atkinson Candy Company though, for having a nationally-placed snack product and not having yet been bought out by either Hershey or Nestle.
And just as the Chick-O-Stick is not chicken, the Idaho Spud is not a potato. This treat is shaped like a potato, but healthily believes that anyone gazing upon its coconut-flaked exterior would have a hard time mistaking it for a starchy, tuberous crop. This too is marketed by a small-time player in the playground of Big Candy: the Idaho Candy Company. If the name seems to suggest a reliance upon its spudular star confection, well you’d be right. Though the Idaho Candy Company has produced over 50 various candy bars, only three – the Spud, the Old Faithful and the Cherry Cocktail – are still being made today.
The Idaho Spud and Old Faithful are both constructed around a marshmallow center, an ingredient that finds itself frolicking in too few bars on the shelf in my opinion. How long this little 108-year-old candy maker will remain in a marketplace dominated by two corporate titans, I don’t know. But the Spud is still a top-seller, so I suppose they’re doing fine.
A warning though. The Idaho Spud uses compound chocolate, not the real deal. For you purists out there, this could be a deal-breaker.
The Take 5… perhaps the most ambitious of all chocolate bars in this, the golden age of snacking. We had it here for a while under the name Max 5, but I think its complex blend of sugary awesomeness may not have coalesced with the average Canadian palate. This is a melding of five astounding ingredients: peanuts, caramel, peanut butter, pretzels, and chocolate. Okay, chocolatey coating. This is Hershey and while they’ll retain the purity of the Kiss and the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup, second-tier treats like the Take 5 get the cheap stuff.
But what a blend. This bar fires so much flavor at you, you’ll regret not having buckled yourself in before that initial bite. I’m not one for mucking about with successful candy formulas, but I can imagine the variants on the Take 5 – a cookie instead of pretzels, a peanut butter coating instead of fake chocolate, marshmallow instead of caramel or an epidermal white chocolate layer – would be similarly fantastic.
Such happy thoughts have helped pull my murky, disease-ridden brain up from its pillow of self-pity and multi-symptom uckiness. Soon, hopefully within the next few months I’ll once again be perusing the offerings at an American convenience store, expanding my palette with one or more of the forbidden candy-shelf treasures.