When you eat your Smarties do you eat the red ones last?” “How do you like your coffee? Crisp!” “Sometimes you feel like a nut, sometimes you don’t!” “Double your pleasure, double your fun!” “Taste the rainbow”.
You know what I’m talking about – snack food – and if the weather doesn’t let up, there may be more snacking happening than is advisable (hello, Fudgeos!)
Snack foods I believe are taking over the planet. They’ve certainly commandeered the grocery stores.
While all the good stuff can be found on the outside aisles of most supermarkets, the inner lanes look like set designs for a Willie Wonka sequel.
There are dozens of options for the serious snacker just on the potato chip shelves alone – barbecue, salt and vinegar, lightly salted, sour cream and onion, ketchup, baby back rib and the Lay’s Canadian contest winner for 2013, Maple Moose flavor (which I hear is being pulled because we really did not favour the flavour).
We like to think that we invented snacking – but the phenom has been with us for quite some time.
In the first decade of the last century, those World Fairs were starting to introduce all kinds of new foodstuff to a hungry public.
Hamburgers, hot dogs, waffle cones, Dr. Pepper and cotton candy (your carnival food staples) were making an impact not only during the expos, but certainly afterwards.
Pizza, our beloved fast food staple, first came to North America in 1905 when Lombardi’s opened its doors in New York City in 1905.
“America’s most famous dessert,” according to the Ladies Home Journal, jiggled its way onto plates back in 1897; Jell-o was a quick hit with strawberry and cherry flavors, while coffee and cola did not last out the year (Jell-o trivia alert – the company offered each new immigrant stopping at Ellis Island in New York harbour in 1903 a free bowl of the dessert as a “Welcome to America!” gift).
One candy that came from that decade that frankly should have gone the way of coffee Jell-o are those icky chalk conversation hearts that some poor soul still thinks is okay to give at Valentine’s.
The next decade saw the invasion of the Oreo cookie, originally sold as part of a three-pack (the other two were the Mother Goose and the Veronese, but they were soon let go as the real star was the chocolate sandwich cookie).
Oreos were sold in glass jars for twenty-five cents a pound.
Lifesaver candies also made their debut in 1912, but they did not get their hole-in-the-middle until 1925, which begs the question – how were they a lifesaver without the hole in the middle?
By the 1920s snacks were just gaining their stride. Prohibition was sucking the fun out of a lot of things, so naturally candy and chocolates stepped up to the plate.
Oh Henry’s, Mounds, Mike and Ike’s, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, Nestles Drumsticks and Popsicles all became popular with a public whose sweet tooth was in full development.
Marshmallow Fluff and Kool-Aid rounded out the decade (and apparently many a behind).
Things were tough in the 1930s. The Great Depression was in full swing. Companies were motivated to create affordable food from cheap products and they were quite successful.
Twinkies, Snickers, Frito’s and Lay’s potato chips got their start during the height of the crisis.
Just a side note on potato chips – according to popular lore, in 1853, millionaire Cornelius Vanderbilt was lunching at a restaurant in Saratoga Springs (and acting like a royal pain in the you-know-where).
He ordered french fries but sent them back because he thought they were too thick – he did this little stunt no less than three times.
The by-now furious chef whipped out a potato peeler and proceeded the shave slim strips off a potato; he immersed these discs in hot oil, making them super crispy.
He doused them in salt and served them personally to the snooty millionaire who ate every one of them declaring they were the best thing he had eaten in years. The chef called his creation Saratoga chips and thus was born the potato chip industry.
From onion peels to kiwi seeds or even bits of chocolate, it seems any canvas is sufficient for Turkish artist Hasan Kale (previously) as long as it meets the requirement of being incredibly tiny.
Hasan delights in the challenge of depicting landscapes of his native Istanbul in the most infinitesimal of brush strokes, a feat that requires the use of a magnifying glass to appreciate the details of each piece.
While the longevity of each object he paints is questionable, the steadiness of his hand is impressive to witness.
Crash! The huge male orangutan swings over into another tree, searching for fruit.
He climbs higher, overlooking the canopy searching for another meal. Every day while following orangutans I notice how many different fruit trees they go to, usually around 15 or so.
They crash and clamber through the forest like hungry, hairy acrobats searching for the most nutritious meals.
One of the orangutan’s favourites is a fruit called durian.
Picture of a split-open durian fruit. The interior of a wild durian, split open with the sections of creamy flesh visible.
I am basically crazy about durian, maybe even more than the orangutans. Most people probably don’t even know what it is, especially if they don’t live in Southeast Asia.
Durian is a pineapple-sized yellow or green fruit that is covered in sharp spines. It grows on large trees and is cultivated by the local people in Borneo. The fruit has concealed sections that contain their seeds covered in edible flesh.
To open a durian, I have to carefully search for the place where the sections meet. Then I insert a large knife and twist, popping it open.
The orangutans however pry them open with their teeth and bare hands, seemingly with ease.
The pulp that covers the seeds is unlike any other fruit. It is creamy yellow or white. It tastes a little like butter with a hint of banana creaminess, but each fruit tastes different and it is virtually impossible to describe in words.
To really understand the taste and why I love them, you have to try them yourself
Picture of Russell Laman with an orangutan researcher examining cultivated durians at a fruit stand.
Each year that I visit Indonesia with my family, my first question is always, “Is the durian in season?”
It is sold all over the small towns in Indonesia. Probably the most popular fruit, it dominates the market. As I drive down the streets I am immediately aware when durians are near.
The odour that they release will clog your nose and overpower your sense of smell. Yet for me the smell holds the promise of durian, and so I have come to love a smell that many find so repulsive that the fruit is banned in hotels and on planes.
Photo: The combination of a well matured and baked dark fruit cake accompanied by slices of crumbly piquant cheese is a rare treat not to be missed.
The poor fruitcake has gotten a bad rap over the past few decades, and not just a cellophane wrap.
People misunderstand its booze-infused density and dank fruitiness, chalking up the decision to give such a gift as nothing more than a misguided antiquated ritual.
But Yorkshire natives will not be dissuaded from enjoying the holiday loaf and, furthermore, from topping the succulent slice with a thick layer of piquant cheese.
In England, a Christmas cake refers to the dried fruit–speckled, rum-soaked round that many other cultures simply call fruitcake. Ideally, the cake is made ahead of time—up to two months—allowing the ingredients to mellow and blend as they receive a regular dowsing of alcohol.
But how did cheese come to accompany the holiday treat?
According to food historian Peter Brears, the creative combo comes from the Victorian era, specifically in Wensleydale, Yorkshire.
Wensleydale is also home to an eponymous cow’s milk (formerly sheep’s milk) cheese that, at the time, was made only during the summer and reached maturity right around the Christmas season.
Folks found that the sharp and crumbly cheese—either perched atop or eaten alongside the cake—paired perfectly with the moist, rich baked good, and a tradition was born.
The Christmas custom has remained mostly a delight confined to Yorkshire, but has become very popular across the border in Scotland