This is part one- of a four-part series: “DO YOU EAT VINTAGE FOOD / NEW FOOD / CULT FOOD / REAL FOOD?”
This post is dedicated to VINTAGE FOOD. And by vintage food, we are referring to food that once existed that no longer does. Food that was widely used and no longer is. Food that needs to go away forever. Food that makes us ask our parents and their parents… “why?” And of course, and this is our favorite: food that is nostalgic and has an interesting story behind it.
Crisco. Mmmm. Beloved in kitchens of America’s deep south—the secret ingredient in real southern fried chicken and other old school all-American recipes like apple pie. Just like we like to call all hardened lip balm in a tube “Chapstick,” we like to call all shortening “Crisco.” And the Chapstick comparison is not too far off. Hardened oils like those we use to soften our lips is kind of exactly what this product is made out of.
Crisco is a created from gas. The name “Crisco,” came from the phrase “crystallized cottonseed oil.” Sounds tasty. The intention of the process that created this type of product, the hydrogenation of organic substances (or oils), was initially meant to be used for soap making. It was later understood that these fats could remain in solid form and stored at room temperatures. Bingo! Crisco soon after found a home in kitchens across America. But what is it? Simply, it is a butter or margarine replacement used for frying and baking. But maybe it’s not so great on toast.
For the last 25 years, we have been taught that the stuff is just bad for us—bad for our arteries, for our hearts, our waistlines, and our general self-esteem. Hmmm, maybe mama was right when she said (as do many nutritionists) that Crisco may be bad for our health. In 2004, “Crisco Zero Grams Trans Fat Per Serving All-Vegetable Shortening,” (phew, that’s a long one!) was introduced, but was discontinued in 2007 when all Crisco products were reformulated to contain just one gram of trans fat per serving. Today it consists of a blend of soybean oil, fully hydrogenated palm oil, and partially hydrogenated palm and soybean oils—not quite the same as the original cottonseed oil (lard), making this item #1 on our list. I think we can all safely agree that this food in its finger-licking good original form is vintage to the bone.
Gelatin. “…a translucent, colorless, brittle, flavorless solid substance…” mmm. Gelatin—Mmmmm!! Don’t forget the “various animal parts” like intestines and connective tissues. Anyone got an Altoid? I like horse hooves with my minty freshness.
Okay, to dial it back a notch, gelatin is actually used as a stabilizer, thickener, and/or texturizer in many foods that most people eat on a daily basis such as yogurt, cream cheese and margarine. It is also an ingredient in one of our favorite cult foods: Conversation Hearts. But what brings gelatin to our vintage list is one little recipe that rose to popularity in America in the 1950’s: aspic. This delicious molded-meat-jelly has been around since the Middle Ages—it doesn’t really get more vintage than that. A detailed recipe for aspic can be found in Le Viandier, a recipe collection written around 1375BC.
Miracle Whip. “Mayonnaise alternative.” It was developed in 1933 by Kraft and marketed to Americans and Canadians as a less expensive alternative to mayonnaise. Okay, mayo is made of oil and egg—not expensive ingredients. So what gives?
Kraft archivist Becky Haglund Tousey, said that Kraft first created the product using “an emulsifying machine” that was [invented by Charles Chapman] to create a more affordable salad dressing by integrating many more spices to create better flavor. It was called “boiled dressing,” eventually named “Miracle Whip.” It premiered at the “Century of Progress” World’s Fair in Chicago and became an instant success.
TaB. You probably won’t find this soda at your local mart. Popular in the 60’s, 70’s and early 80’s, this diet soft drink was the Coca-Cola Company’s answer to The Royal Crown Company’s “Diet Rite” soda, which was at the time of creation, the only sugarless soda on the market. A successful marketing campaign for TaB included slogans such as “…keep ‘tabs’ on your weight.”
TaB got a bad wrap when scientists surmised that the soda’s main sweetener, sodium saccharin, could possibly be an animal carcinogen. This finding resulted in the placement of mandatory warning labels on the soda from the 1970’s on. Many research studies followed, uncovering truths in the connection between saccharin and cancer in humans. Eventually, though, it was concluded by the (FDA) that there was no connection and mandatory labeling was finally revoked in 2000. In 2010, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency removed saccharin from its list of hazardous substances.
You can still find TaB—mostly in 6-pack cans or in two liter bottles—in parts of Africa, the United States, Spain and Norway.
Cracker Jack. Many food historians consider Cracker Jack to be the original junk food. It’s a little tame matched up to the junk foods of today—just popcorn and peanuts covered with candied molasses.
It was created in 1896 and in 1912, the young American candy company would make a move that would take Cracker Jack to a whole new level: they put a small prize in the bottom of the box.
The story goes that a man sampled the product at Chicago’s World Fair in 1893 where the candy was introduced and exclaimed “that’s crackerjack!” (a term of the time meaning ‘top quality.’) It was not long after that an ever enduring ballpark song would be written by Jack Northworth, giving the brand a lasting endorsement. That song: “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.” As in, “Take me out to the ballgame, take me out to the crowd. Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack…” Cracker Jack struck baseball lovers while the iron was hot and started putting baseball cards in the box—and the connection between baseball and America’s favorite popcorn candy took flight.
At the centennial anniversary in 1993, Cracker Jack was given to Cub’s fans at Chicago’s Wrigley Field for free. In 2004, the New York Yankees replaced Cracker Jack with more modern “Crunch ‘n Munch.” Well, you know how nostalgic New Yorker’s can be—they protested and that was quickly the end of “Crunch ‘n Munch” at Yankee Stadium.
Changes to the prizes and packaging continue to move with the times, but the original feel lives on.
Cool Whip: We used to eat this imitation whipped cream by the spoonful as children, but these days it is really only served on Thanksgiving Day with pumpkin pie. This North America exclusive “whipped topping” was originally described as “non-dairy” as it contained no cream or milk and no lactose. In 2010 both skimmed milk and light cream were added to Original Cool Whip. Cool Whip is definitely a cult food because its fans are die-hards who will will pay a little extra for the one-of-a-kind whipped flavor—Wired Magazine once reported that consumers are paying for mostly water and air at a price twice the cost of homemade whipped cream.
Twinkies. Have you heard the news? Twinkies are no more. A judge has approved Hostess’ plan to liquidate the company, all but assuring that the maker of Twinkies, Ding Dongs, Donettes and Wonder Bread will cease to exist.
It survived wars, the Great Depression, but Hostess was no match for consumers’ increasing demand of lesser-processed foods. And it was all a matter of finances—they didn’t have enough of them to survive a union-wide strike. Don’t cry for Hostess though, they have 2.4 billion dollars in assets to liquidate. Do feel bad for the 18,000 workers who lost their jobs in the process.
Urban legend says that this golden spongecake with creamy filling, first created in the U.S. in 1930, has a shelf-life of anywhere between seven years and five decades. This is not actually true, of course—the shelf life is about 10 days (+-). But it is believable when you read the ingredients. Most of them aren’t actually food.
Epsicle (later Popsicle)
The story of the Popsicle: 1905 in San Francisco, 11-year-old Frank Epperson mixed powdered flavoring for soda and water on his family porch where he lift it overnight with the stick still in it. Temperatures fell below freezing, and the next morning, the boy discovered the “Popsicle” (a combination of the words soda pop and icicle.) A patient Frank grew older and in 1922, he introduced the frozen treat at a fireman’s ball to rave reviews. He went on to sell it at Neptune Beach in California, and realized in 1924 that he would be wise to apply for a “frozen confectionery” patent. He first called it “The Epsicle Ice Pop”, later renaming it to “Popsicle.”
It was originally available in seven flavors and marketed as a “frozen drink on a stick.”
Jolt: “All the sugar and twice the caffeine.” Yikes! With a tagline like that, you won’t be surprised to hear that health nuts steered clear of this product from the beginning. And Jolt would continue to adapt their branding messages many, many times over the ensuing years.
Jolt was created in 1985. This fad soda came in and out of style rapidly and was mostly adored by children of the 1980’s and web coders and hackers. The brand went on to create additional soda flavors, and later, Jolt chewing gum. As time marched on and into the 21st century, Jolt Cola revamped its product line introducing a new logo and new packaging called “battery” cans, which make a loud popping sound when opened. Eventually, Red Bull won the coin toss and became the industry leading purveyor of battery cans. In 2009, Jolt Cola filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, but Jolt pop-culture support lives on.
Related: Vintage Restaurant Menus
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