Tag Archives: Food

Hi-C Ecto Cooler is back and it’s….

…Glorious!

image1ssdBut before I get to that, let me back up a second.

One of the most bittersweet nostalgic experiences is the yearning for food and drink products that are long gone from this Earth.  I mean, so many other things can easily be revisited.  The prints and master tapes of long lost television shows and movies are typically stored in studio vaults and can be re-released at will (well, as long as it’s profitable.)  Old books and magazines are all floating around in dusty second hand and comic shops (or in the middle of a precariously stacked section of trash in a horder’s bedroom.)  Any pretty much every toy, video game or or plush doll is available on eBay, Etsy, or digitized as a rom for your downloading pleasure.  But defunct food and drink products become extinct by design.  Sure, there are actually plenty of old, full boxes of cereal, cans of pasta and cases of soda readily available for purchase, but it is all beyond safely consuming (not that some amazingly brave souls aren’t trying.)

So where does that leave a generation of kids who grew up loving certain tastes and textures?  It leaves us mostly unfulfilled.  Hey, no one ever promised us we’d have Keebler Pizzarias, Quackers, Fruit Corner branded fruit snacks, Bonkers candy, or yes, Hi-C Ecto Cooler forever.  And on the scale of things that one needs to survive in this world, re-experieincing the flavor sensations of old junk food is pretty low.  That being said, when left to our own devices we will try pretty damn hard to recreate those products.  Whether it’s finding the closest possible substitutions (did you know that El Sabroso brand Salsitas chips make a pretty damn good stand in for Keebler Pizzarias?)…

pizzaria substitution…or trying our best to recreate the recipe.  About five or six years ago an Ecto Cooler recipe started floating around the internet.  I’m not sure who originated it, but I scoped it at my bud’s site, Strange Kids Club, and tried it myself for a special Halloween treat.  It consisted of 1.5 cups of sugar, 1 packet of orange Kool-Aid mix, 1/2 packet of Lemonade Kool-Aid mix, 3/4 cup orange juice (with no pulp), 3/4 cup of tangerine juice, 14 cups of water, and 4-5 drops green food coloring.  The concoction tasted pretty close, but it was way off in consistency and because it used orange and tangerine juices as a base it was way too opaque.

homemade ecto coolerAnd backing up again for a second, why is Ecto Cooler so beloved anyway?  Where did this drink originate? Well, it might be a bit of a surprise to some but Ecto Cooler as we know and love it is actually a rebranded version of one of Hi-C’s earliest flavor varieties from 1965, Citrus Cooler Drink (which was the same green, tangerine-flavored 10% juice drink…)

Image courtesy of Dan Goodsell

Image courtesy of Dan Goodsell

That’s right, kids and families have been chugging that sweet green tangerine drink since the 60s.  In 1986-87, as part of a deal to work a Real Ghostbusters cartoon promotion into the Hi-C drink line the Citrus Cooler was rebranded to Ecto Cooler and featured everyone’s favorite ugly spud Slimer on the packaging.  Though the actual drink was not new, it was one of the coolest and longest lived of all the Ghostbusters merchandising tie-ins that not only outlasted the cartoon series it was shilling, it far exceeded the company’s expectations fandom-wise.  Even if it was just a rebranded Citrus Cooler, a who generation of kids thought it was new and amazing.  It was like drinking citrus-flavored ectoplasm, or as I used to think of it, the essence of Slimer. It’s such a simple tie in that fit so perfectly that it became a part of the fabric of so many kid’s lives for a full decade (from 1987 to 1997.)

old ecto 1 Old Ecto 2In 1997 the Slimer and Ghostbusters promotional aspect of the drink was dropped and it was again rebranded to Shoutin’ Orange Tangergreen for the next few years.  In fact, back before I started Branded in the 80s, around 2001 or 2002 I was doing some research online to try and find out if Ecto Cooler was still being manufactured when I stumbled on a site called X-Entertainment (run by Matt from Dinosaur Dracula.)  Pretty sure it was there that I learned that the drink was now called Shoutin’ Orange Tangergreen, and after reading his article I just had to have a taste of Ecto Cooler again.  Unfortunately no stores in my area at the time stocked it, so in what seemed like a very desperate and insane choice at the time I ended up contacting a store in upstate New York and had them ship me a case down to Georgia.  I think I paid something crazy like $40 in shipping for $9 worth of the drink, but for a couple months or so I had my Ecto Cooler nostalgic drink fix.

Since it was so expensive to procure, I didn’t try and order any more, so I was unaware until recently that the drink had one final rebranding back in 2006.  The Coca Cola Company brought the drink almost full circle by renaming it Crazy Citrus Cooler before finally retiring it for good a year later in 2007.  I think it was pretty safe to say that up until the announcement of the new Paul Fieg Ghostbusters movie starring Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Leslie Jones and Kate McKinnon, Ghostbusters and nostalgic food fans had given up any hope that we’d ever have a taste of that electric green tangerine flavored beverage.  Thus, the fan concocted recipes began bouncing around the internet and a hundred online petitions to Coke were created.  Every time there was a whisper of a potential Ghostbusters 3 movie in the works all of us fans would speculate as to whether it would be a big enough deal to raise Ecto Cooler like a spectral form from the junkfood graveyard.

Then a few months ago something amazing happened.  With all the hubbub surrounding the new Ghostbusters flick taking the internet by storm, a lone empty can of Ecto Cooler popped up on eBay that very possibly signaled the return of our beloved juice drink…

the canIt looked official, was obviously not vintage (because of the calorie count shield and the 2016 Coke copyright), and was hotly bid over.  In fact, it topped out at about $200.  Now this is noting new for empty Ecto Cooler packaging.  There are routinely empty cases, juice boxes, and even full 32 ounce cans popping up on the auction site for up to $300.  But at the time no one was quite sure if this was an elaborate ruse or the real deal.  And if it was the real deal, wouldn’t it be less impulsive to wait until the movie came out to get cans at retain for way cheaper?  But this is the life of Ecto Cooler fans, and really all nostalgia fans.  We pay crazy amounts of money for tangible evidence of our pop culture obsessions.

Well, it turns out that that can was in fact the real deal, and we can fast forward back to the present and this past Thursday when a handful of bloggers and websites received care packages from Hi-C containing a very special advance shipment of one of the most desired soft drinks of the past 30 years, Ecto Freaking Cooler!

box 1I have to hand it to the marketing department on the production of this advance giftbox.  Having it designed to look like a cross between a ghost trap and a containment until was pretty rad.  The two doors on top flip open to reveal the contents inside, a single can and juice box of the newly released Ecto Cooler…

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Rounding out this set is a small barrel of toy slime which as you can see in the first picture above made for some great photo opportunities…

image3sdsd    pour

So how about the taste?  How closely was the Coca Cola Company able to reformulate the original taste of Hi-C Ecto Cooler?  Perfectly.  To me it tastes the same as it did back in 2002 when I last had it, and as close as I can remember to those hazy days in the 80s when I was drinking a 32 ounce can every week.  In fact, I had pretty much no doubt in my mind that it would taste the same as it’s a specific product variety that they’d manufactured for over 40 years before they retired it in 2007.  I mean, it’s only been 9 years since it was last on store shelves, though it feels more like 20 since it wasn’t called Ecto Cooler since the late nineties.

glass 1    glass 2

It was hard getting accurate pictures of just how green this amazing drink is, but rest assured, it looks exactly as you remember it too.  As an added bonus, the Hi-C logo on the can changes colors when the drink inside is chilled.  Pretty nifty little design element.

The cans and juice boxes should be hitting retail chains on May 30th.  I’m going to go ahead and say that your best bet will probably be checking out your local Target or Wal-Mart, which typically carry specialty movie tie-in merchandise like this.  My hope is that much like the original launch of Ecto Cooler, this one outlasts the movie that it’s tied to and that it hangs around for the next decade.  But just in case, stock up because it’s advertised as being a limited run only…

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So, are you excited for the return of Ecto Cooler?  Any plans to do anything crazy with it, like making popsicles, mixed drinks, or baking?  Will you be checking your local stores on May 30th?

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My name is Walter Kellogg, Cereal Detective…

From time to time I find myself flipping through 30 year-old issues of various Mom magazines looking for inspiration and cool ads to scan for the site.  Over the past couple years I kept running across a series of ads for Kellogg’s Honey & Nut Corn Flakes that tugged at my mind, but I wasn’t quite sure why.  There’s nothing all that special about the ads except for a cartoon crow mascot (aptly named the Honey Nut Crow), but even he seemed more like the hillbilly cousin of Sonny the Cocoa Puffs bird and nothing that would really make for an interesting article on Branded.  Then out of the blue this past week I encountered the perfect storm of coincidences that finally led me back to those ads and a weird realization about how insanely complex and difficult the marketing of branded products must really be.

  

Let me back up a bit to 2010 and a free box of the newly launched Kellogg’s Crunchy Nut cereal that I received through Amazon Vine.  For those that don’t know, Amazon Vine is a goofy program where you can get early access to select products in exchange for reviewing them.  It’s mainly ARCs (advanced reading copies) of books, but from time to time there are DVDs, toys, and the occasional newly launched food item.  Basically the companies that publish or produce these products offer them to Amazon customers for free so that they can get product reviews (positive or negative.)  When I see food pop up I tend to grab it because I’m all for saving money on the grocery tab (and it’s hard to pass up free eats.)  I thought it was a little weird when the Crunchy Nut cereal popped up because I couldn’t imagine that cereal reviews on Amazon really make any sort of difference in the grand scheme of things.  Books and DVDs are one thing, but who stops while browsing the cereal aisle to look up reviews on the web, let alone Amazon?  Anyway, it was free, so I ordered it and ended up really loving the Crunchy Nut (it basically tastes like Cracker Jacks in cereal form.)

Though I really dug that cereal, it was way sweeter than the stuff I typically buy so I haven’t actually bought any more in the past two years.  This past week though, I was suckered into picking up another box as there was both an amazing sale on Kellogg’s ($2 a box), and if you bought two boxes of cereal you could get a free branded cereal bowl (from an in-store display), and I really wanted the entire set of four bowls.  Eight boxes of cereal and one embarrassing trip through the checkout line later I was the proud owner of four cheap character bowls and a couple boxes of Crunchy Nut flakes.  Later in the week I found myself inexplicably humming the commercial jingle to the extinct Nut & Honey Crunch cereal (I say inexplicably, but let’s be honest, this is the type of crap that is constantly floating around in my brain.)  Anyway, this all leads up to yesterday when I was flipping through some 1982 issues of McCall’s looking for something (I can’t even remember right now), and I came full circle back to one of those Kellogg’s Honey & Nut Corn Flakes ads featuring the Honey Nut Crow, and then all of a sudden it dawned on me that all three of these incidents were connected.  It was like that moment at the end of the Usual suspects, only I was flipping through a 30 year-old woman’s magazine while stuffing my face full of cereal…

I grabbed my copy of The Great American Cereal Book to confirm it, but was slightly devastated that there was no entry for Kellogg’s Honey & Nut Cornflakes.  There was an entry for Nut & Honey Crunch though, and listed as a bit of trivia was that the Honey Nut Crow was a former mascot associated with the cereal (though I don’t remember the Nut & Honey boxes ever featuring that character.)  I did a little digging on the internet this morning and sure enough, all of these cereals (Honey & Nut Corn Flakes, Nut & Honey Crunch, and Crunchy Nut cereal) are one and the same.  I’m pretty sure it was also marketed under the name Honey Crunch Corn Flakes (marketed with the Kellogg’s green rooster mascot.)  How could this one cereal keep popping up in my life under so many different circumstances?  And why did I never make the connection before?

It’s kind of hilarious when you look back over the cereal’s sordid merchandising timeline between its introduction in 1979 to today.  Whereas most cereals have stayed pretty consistent for decades, this one seems to be one hell of a hard sell to the public, even though it had a semi-successful ad campaign at one point (the “Nuttin’ Honey” commercials of the late 80s, early 90s for Nut & Honey Crunch.)  Why has the product been in need of re-branding no less than four times?  I mean, it’s nut and honey covered corn flakes?  How much simpler can you get?  I can see how the Honey Nut Crow was a misfire as he resembles Sonny the Cocoa Puffs bird a bit too much perhaps, but outside of that issue the tone of the marketing has been all over the map.  Initially the campaign focused on a “see it, hear it, taste it” motif (as seen in these two commercials from 1980.)  Then there are a series of commercials that tried to sell the cereal as “so good it needs to be stolen” (as seen in these two commercials from 1986 and 1989, as well as this British ad starring Hugh Laurie from 1985.)  In 1987 there seemed to be a pretty major fracturing of the ad campaign as it’s rebranded as both Crunchy Nut Corn Flakes (aimed at adults and placed in a black box, a food packaging no-no if there ever was one), and as the afore mentioned Nut & Honey Crunch (here are a couple more commercials from 1987.)  Then by the mid to late 90s it had been re-branded again, this time as Honey Crunch Corn Flakes (I guessing that nuts weren’t cool in the 90s after grunge rock hit.)  Now we’re back to the Crunchy Nut branding, though they’re dropped the Corn Flakes from the name.  Honestly, judging by their all-over-the-board advertising for the current branding I’m not convinced they know how to handle it even today (I mean, Inception and She-Males?!?)  Also, thank goodness for the archive of cereal commercials on youtube…

All of this leads me to the weird realization that in a way I’ve been able to taste the past.  When I first came across the old ads in the McCall’s magazine I was curious about what that cereal tasted like and was bummed that so many cereals have been retired by companies like Kellogg’s.  This was compounded by reading a tome like The Great American Cereal Book (filled with exciting extinct brands), and all the recent hoopla surrounding the bankruptcy of the Hostess company and thinking about the possibility of a product like the Twinkie disappearing from store shelves.  The idea that I wouldn’t be able to taste these things was sort of sad, but in realizing that some of these cereals still exist, just under different branding is sort of cool.  It’s like having a time machine for my mouth.  Anyway, I’m glad to have finally closed the book (the proverbial cereal book) on this flaky caper.  I’m going to call this one, The Case of the Honey Crow that Couldn’t Sell His Damn Cereal for Nuts…

The most powerful cake pans in the universe!

While cleaning up and organizing Branded HQ I found a handful of loose catalog pages that my good buddy HooveR sent me awhile back.  They were from the 1987 Wilton Yearbook of Cake Decorating, and featured their line of pop culture cartoon figural cake pans.  Since I’ve sort of been on a food-centric nostalgic kick of late I thought this would be the perfect thing to share.

Though I have plenty of memories seeing this style of cake pans in grocery stores back in the day, I was never treated to a cake baked in one during my childhood.  It’s not for lack of asking mind you, just that my mom wasn’t keen on that level of preparation and patience when it came to birthday cakes.  She always bought something at the store and put some special candles or action figures on my cakes.  There’s still a part of me that kind of wants to track one of these down and do it myself one of these days…

I’m not sure if it’s the date when the catalog was printed, or if Wilton didn’t have a huge licensing department, but I was kind of sad not to see any Transformers or Star Wars cake pans in the pages.  That being said, there are still some pretty cool franchises represented in sugar and flour, not the least of which are He-Man, General Hawk from G.I. Joe, Superman and Batman.  I love how these came with plastic faceplates so that some sort of recognizable figure would emerge from even the sloppiest cake decorator’s piping tip.  I also love that apparently Superman and Batman were more or less interchangeable when it comes to their cake-y bodies…

  

By far, the majority of the pans in this catalog were geared towards girls with Rainbow Brite, The Poppels, Cabbage Patch Kids, Care Bears, Barbie, and the Wuzzles represented.  Makes me feel like there should at least be a Thundercats cake pan in the mix, but again I’m not sure if it was licensing or when this was released.  Can you imagine the fun that would come from piping out Lion-O’s red frosting hair!

   

For all those curious about getting some pointers on just how to go about frosting one of these beauties, here’s a spotlight on the Snoopy and He-Man cakes…

The weirdest thing about these cakes for me is the extremely sharp and spiky nature inherent in this style of frosting a cake.  Granted, it makes it much easier to keep the colors from mixing, but it always seemed weirdly antagonistic to me.  Is it just me?

Is that Kraft Mac and Cheese under that pepperoni, or do you just want to die for dinner?

It’s been awhile since I dipped into my collection of old advertisements I clipped from my collection of 80s era Woman’s Day magazines, so I thought it would be fun to take a look at one of the crazier ads from 1983.  Alright, raise your hand if you’ve been to a Ci-Ci’s or Stevie-B’s pizza buffet.  C’mon, I know we’ve all tried it at least once, I mean quality aside, it’s the best damn pizza value in town.  Seriously though, for anyone who has eaten at one of these pizza buffets in the last 20 years you’ve probably noticed that they have all sorts of weird pizzas to please kids and parents alike.  Whether it’s the taco pizza (replacing the sauce with salsa and adding lettuce and sour cream as toppings) or the baked potato (sour cream sauce, topped with cheddar cheese and slices of baked potato), there’s usually some funky stuff to keep it interesting and as unhealthy as possible.  The craziest buffet pizza in my opinion is the Mac ‘n Cheese pizza which has a cheese-based sauce, pasta, and loads of extra cheese to boot.  Not only is it a little slice of heart-attack, but there’s enough carbohydrates in one slice to make the pickiest vegan into a diabetic.

Well, while flipping through a 1983 issue of Woman’s Day I found an ad that puts the Stevie-B’s pasta pizza to shame. How about a pizza where the crust is entirely made out of Kraft Macaroni & Cheese!?!

That’s right, who needs working arteries when you can taste the awe-inspiring scrumptiousness that must be a slice of pizza made entirely out of Mac ‘n Cheese!  I’m so tempted to make this monstrosity, but I’m not sure my mouth can withstand the insanity.  What were the ad reps at Kraft thinking when they came up with this idea?  I can only assume these are the same geniuses that convinced KFC that fried chicken would made an awesome substitute for bread in a sandwich.

So has anyone out there ever experienced this gastronomical indulgence?

Easy Cheese Part Deux, I love the smell of cheese in the morning…

A couple weeks ago I wrote a piece taking a look at the general history of that crazy canned, pasteurized, spray cheese known as Easy Cheese (or Snack Mate circa 1966-1984 or so.)  Though I don’t remember when I first came into contact with this wonderfully odd product, I do know that there always seemed to be a can in our pantry.  Actually, now that I’m thinking about it, I don’t remember my mom ever really using it for snacks and meals, so I’m wondering why she always bought them?  Regardless, I have a lot of fond memories of artistically playing with Easy Cheese in the attempt at creating some sort of impressionist cheese masterpiece on top of a Ritz cracker canvas.  Years before Ritz Bits hit the shelves I was drawing happy faces on crackers, marveling at my work for a second, and then smashing down a second cracker to make a creamy cheese and cracker sandwich.  I also seem to remember also having contests with friends to see who could squirt the most cheese into our mouths without suffocating to death.

Looking back, even though Easy Cheese’s frilly decorative snazzy origins didn’t really stick around very long, it’s interesting to note that Nabisco was still trying to push the canned product as an important addition to any home cook’s pantry as late as 1981 with the release of the Quick’n Easy Ideas with Snack Mate cookbook…

Again, I learned about this cookbook from an old ad I found in Woman’s Day, and I couldn’t imagine writing an article on Easy Cheese without tracking down a copy of this tome to share on the site.  Luckily, I managed to find a copy being sold by an mom and pop cookbook website, and I quickly snatched it up hoping that there were a bounty of mind blowing canned cheese recipes between those 30 year-old covers.  After receiving it and cracking it open I was a little disappointed.  I should have seen it coming, but of the 62 “recipes” contained in this 18 page leaflet, almost every one can be condensed to the following phrase, “…and top with Snack Mate cheese.”  Hey, grab a Triscuit and top with Snack Mate cheese.  Hollow out a cherry tomato and top with Snack Mate cheese.  Boil 4 ears of corn and top with Snack Mate cheese.  The list goes on and on of the various stuff you can top with Snack Mate cheese.  I’m not sure exactly what I was expecting, maybe a bunch of cheese sauce recipes or some actually cooking, but again, I should have seen it coming.  Actually, one of the most disappointing aspects is that there was no mention of anything like the Twinkie Weiner Sandwich (which I’ll get to below)…

That doesn’t mean that there aren’t some crazy stand-out ideas in this guide book.  In fact one of the weirder revelations was how often the Nabisco test kitchen urged the reader to mix the canned cheese with unlikely products like fresh fruit or desert items.  One reoccurring theme was mixing Snack Mate with canned pineapple, which is about as unappetizing a thought as I can muster, and I’ve eaten a Twinkie Weiner Sandwich (seriously, I’ll get to it in a minute…)  There are also a couple of recipes that call for squirting Easy Cheese on raisin bread, which is just wrong!

 

Well, even if Easy Cheese never really caught on as the home chef’s answer to amazing dinner party preparation, it has achieved a sort of cult status as a weird, truly American product.  I’m sure there are a ton of people who have dreamed about pulling out the little black stopper on the bottom of the can, but have held back because they feared that it would explode like a cheesy hand grenade.  I’d also bet that somewhere out there someone has coined a hilarious term for the hardened nub of excess cheese that forms on the nozzle between uses.  More importantly, Easy Cheese has popped up on the silver screen in a few classic films including the Blues Brothers…

  

Actually, the appearance in the Blues Brothers has kind of stirred up some weird controversy in the pasteurized cheese fan community (and if you through Trekies were nuts.)  Basically, there’s a scene with Jake and Elwood coming home to their apartment and there’s an old guy who stops them and says, “Where’s my Cheez Whiz, boy?”, after which Elwood (Dan Aykroyd) reaches into his pocket, pulls out a can of Snack Mate and tosses it to the geezer.  This one silly miscommunication has led to a belief that the king of pasteurized cheese products, Cheez Whiz, once came in a pressurized spray can.  I can’t disprove the rumor 100%, but I can say for a fact that the can in the movie is indeed a can of Nabisco Snack Mate and not Cheez Whiz.

Here’s the thing, in the zeitgeist of the year 1980 (when the film was released), the Cheez Whiz brand name was, and probably still is, the most recognized term for a pasteurized cheese product known to mankind.  It’s also 3,000% more funny than the phrase Snack Mate, and thus I’d guess that it won out in the wording of that joke (whether it was thought-out and scripted or if it was a spur of the moment ad-lib on set.)  Vice versa, the appearance and packaging of Snack Mate is 3,000% more iconic and side-splittingly hilarious than the Cheez Whiz bottle, not to mention more handy for keeping in one’s pocket and much easier to throw without hurting anyone.  So just by breaking down the logic, I’d have to say that it was an unfortunate amalgamation that gave birth to a rumor that honestly no one really cares about.  Except me.  And this guy.

Another notable appearance of Easy Cheese on the silver screen was in an animated form in a couple of scenes in the Goofy Movie…

  

One of the side characters, Bobby Zimmeruski (voiced by Pauley Shore), was a bona fide cheese-a-holic who can be seen making his own Easy Cheese art and eating the product by the can-full.  A special thanks goes out to Devin who helped me find this scene…

Personally, the most classic and famous appearance of Easy Cheese on the big screen was during one of my favorite all time flicks, Weird Al Yankovic’s UHF!  It’s in this wondrous film that I was introduced to the majesty that is the Twinkie Weiner Sandwich.  After losing yet another menial job, George Newman (Weird Al) tries to cheer up his best friend Bob by making him one of these legendary sandwiches.

Step one, cut a slit down the center of an upside-down Twinkie, taking care not to cut all the way though the cake.  Step two, place a standard hot dog wiener, fresh from the package, inside the slit…

   

Step three, apply a liberal amount of Easy Cheese on top of the hot dog.  Step four, dunk the sandwich in a mug of milk, and enjoy!

   

Actually, there should be a step five, which would consist of making a second sandwich and giving it to a friend…

   

Weird Al mentioned on the commentary track that he probably ended up eating 7-8 of these sandwiches to get the iconic sequence on film.  He even enjoys one of these amazing wonders of culinary delight from time to time, though he’s a vegetarian these days and substitutes the hot dog for a tofu dog.

No article on Easy Cheese would be complete without making my own Twinkie Weiner Sandwich, which is what I did this past weekend with the wife.  I decided to change mine up a bit as I’m not a big fan of eating cold, unprepared hot dogs, so we broiled ours first.  We also went with a more New York deli style hot dog as we generally prefer them to the standard Oscar Meyer wieners.  The resulting TWS was no where near as pretty as Al’s was in the film, but they were still a sight to behold…

So how did it taste you might be asking?  Well, it was both unlike anything I’ve ever eaten, and not nearly as bad as the description makes them out to be.  Actually, it reminded me a lot of eating sweet northern cornbread with barbeque.  The Twinkie was an adequate replacement for a bun, though there was an unfortunate side effect of broiling the hot dogs that we weren’t prepared for which resulted in the Twinkie basically melting and falling apart halfway through the sandwich.  On the upside though, the heat from the dog made the filling inside the Twinkie taste like toasted marshmallow.  The final verdict?  Eating a Twinkie Weiner Sandwich is a lot like what I expect eating one of the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man’s fingers might taste like.  Meaty, sweet, and full of unholy rage!  But more important, the Easy Cheese tied the whole thing together…

Before this cheese was Easy it was the perfect Snack Mate!

A couple weeks ago I was in a rush during the morning routine.  For some reason it seemed like I had two hundred things to do before running out the door to go to work, and right when I thought I’d finished everything, I remembered that I’d intended on updating Branded with a quick post during lunch.  What was I going to write about though?  There was nothing on the hopper and I didn’t have time to sit down and get a bunch of screen caps from a cartoon, so I quickly ran into out home office and grabbed a magazine advertisement blindly from a stack on my desk and stuffed it into my bag.  Problem solved, or so I thought.  When I got to work and got a second to catch my breath I pulled out the ad to see what I’d ended up with.  It was an ad for Nabisco Snack Mate, the spray cheese we know as Kraft Easy Cheese these days, from a 1981 issue of Woman’s Day.  I’d originally torn it out because I thought the artwork on all the little cheesy hors d’oeuvres was fun and it made for a striking image overall.

So I scanned the ad on my lunch break and got ready to fire off a few short thoughts about Easy Cheese when I noticed the small section at the bottom that featured a mail-away Snack Mate cookbook.  How weird I thought, that a culinary product this mocked and reviled had an entire cookbook dedicated to it.  I took a second to try and postulate what sort of interesting concoctions one would come up with that included spray cheese.  Then a scene from Weird Al Yankovic’s UHF popped into my head, the one where his character George and his friend Bob both get fired from their umpteenth lackluster job and in trying to cheer Bob up, George makes him the heartburn-inducing delight known as a Twinkie Wiener Sandwich!  I figured there was no way something that crazy was in the mail-away cookbook, but I couldn’t help but wonder what was in that book.

Before I knew it my lunch was over, I hadn’t eaten a thing, and I suddenly realized that this quick post for the site wasn’t going to happen without some more research.  I felt I needed to get some screenshots of Weird Al building a Twinkie Wiener Dog for starters, but if I was going to mention that, it seemed only natural to mention some other theatrical appearances of Easy Cheese.  Since I was digging that deep I figured I might as well go a bit farther and track down some other Snack Mate ads, as well as trying to figure out where this amazing cheese innovation got its start.  Most importantly I needed to get my hands on a copy of that cookbook!  By the end of the day I’d put the wheels in motion to do just that.

Today I’m just going to concentrate on the history. In addition to the ad I found (at the top of the article), I managed to locate a few more that date back to the introduction of this pressurized pseudo-dairy treat which was introduced sometime in 1966.  The oldest ad I was able to track down is from a 1967 issue of Life magazine and features three of the four original flavors, American, Cheddar, and Pimento (Nabisco also offered the cheese in a Swiss variety.)  From what I gather the canned spray cheese phenomenon began as an affordable and easy way for families to prepare nicely plated and pretty hors d’oeuvres for dinner parties.  Burgeoning household gourmands were popping up everywhere in the 60s, and Nabisco wanted a piece of that action, as well as creating a product that would require purchasing their mainstay line of snack crackers.  Design-wise, I actually think the decision to include the frosting-esque applicator tip was a stroke of genius and it beats the hell out of melting your own cheese and trying to scoop it into and dispense it from a piping bag.

It’s also interesting to note the difference between what was considered pretty and chic (in food presentation) back in 1966 versus what we typically think of today.  Plating was a lot more architectural or sculptural in nature 55 years ago, and the idea of building up a cracker with mounds of immaculately sliced olives (pimento included), lump crab meat, and a heaping yet frilly helping of creamy processed cheese so that it looked like a work of modern art was the goal.  If watching 7 billion food-centric shows on TV has taught me nothing else, today’s presentation is more about simplicity and sparseness.  I’m betting the Easy Cheese (which, let’s face it, would never make it to the plate unless we’re watching an episode of Chopped) would be applied in a single dollop only to be smeared in a pleasing arc along side a crisscrossed stack of two grilled baguette croutons over a bead of lightly blanched asparagus.  Or something like that.

I think by 1969 the idea of using pasteurized, processed cheese in a can for froufrou parties wasn’t catching on and as you can see in the next advertisement Nabisco was having a little more fun with dressing up their crackers.  Now the user was encouraged to make cheesy smiley faces, more along the lines of pleasing one’s family instead of guests.  We also get to see a new option of cheese, French Onion.  Also notice that in the line-up of cracker options there is still a Nabisco bacon variety.  I remember eating these, or something similar, as a kid and marveling at the baked-in bacon bits.  In today’s salty-pork belly obsessed world, I’m surprised these haven’t made a comeback.  I mean Chicken in a Biskit crackers are still around, why not Bacon in a Biskit.  I wonder if that rings too much with a dog treat sort of feel?

The only Snack Mate ad I could locate from the 70s was this next one featuring a much more robust line of spray cheese varieties.  Unfortunately I can’t make out the new varieties, though it looks like one might be a Swiss/American blend.

By the 2000′s I know there were at least seven more varieties introduced including Nacho Cheese, Pizza, Shrimp Cocktail, Bacon, Sharp Cheddar, Roasted Garlic and Philly Cream Cheese.  The product was also known as Snack Mate up until the 80s when Kraft Foods bought Nabisco and rebranded the product as Kraft Easy Cheese.  Today there are only four varieties offered, Sharp and regular Cheddar, American and Bacon flavored.  I’m also kind of bummed out in that the Bacon option has changed over time.  From what I remember in the 80s, there were actual bacon bits mixed in with the cheese as opposed to today where there is just a smoky bacon flavor added to the cheese.  I’m sure it’s cheaper to produce, but it’s kind of a letdown.

Next week I’m hopefully going to have part two of this crazy article up featuring some of my own memories of the product, the various cinematic appearances of Snack Mate/Easy Cheese, as well as a the 1981 cookbook, and a bit of fun with the Twinkie Wiener Sandwich!

Learning to cook with the Muppet Babies!

Last week’s post on the DC Comics cookbook insert from the 1981 reminded me that I have another one that’s been sitting on my desk for almost a year.  I picked up a huge lot of old Woman’s Day magazines a year or so ago and I spent a weekend flipping through all the issues to pullout any interesting ads, article and inserts, and one of the things that really jumped out at me was a 4-page spread that was a mini Muppet Babies cookbook.  Don’t know why I haven’t gotten around to scanning this and sharing it sooner…

This insert is from the January 8th, 1985 issue of Woman’s Day and it features recipes presented by all the characters from the cartoon (well, except for Bean Bunny, but we don’t speak of that character here at Branded.)  Actually, now that I look a bit closer, whoever whipped up this insert snubbed Beaker, and added a drink by the tadpole version of Kermit’s nephew Robin (who did make some appearances on the cartoon), which is kind of irksome as well.  Oh well, Beaker usually gets the crap end of the stick anyway, so why not here as well…

  

Honestly, aside from Animal and Fozzie’s deserts, and the “mixed” drinks, there’s noting all that great to write home about in this cookbook.  In fact Skeeter’s Flying Saucer recipe reminds me of a noxious meal my friend/roommate used to eat all the time.  I lived with this guy for almost three years after high school and every night he’d prepare the exact same dish.  He’d put four pieces of whole wheat bread on a plate, cover two with a can of beans and the other two with a slice each of white American cheese.  Then he’d eat his two bean sandwiches in silence.  For three years.  Egads!

I wonder how many other mini cookbooks popped up between the covers of Woman’s Day back in the 70s and 80s?

Putting the banana in the Batman…

Thought I’d take a second today to share this great gift that I received in the mail in response to my TMNT postcard project from a few weeks ago.  Mr. & Mrs. McFavorite (of the fun podcast Open Your Toys) sent in this awesome vintage mini DC comics cookbook (ripped out of a July, 1981 issue of Woman’s Day magazine)…

Seriously, it boggles the mind.  There were so many geeky awesome kid-centric inserts and advertisements in these 70s/80s era housewife magazines that 30 years later they’ve become a goldmine for great vintage ephemera.  From insanely obscure Transformers comics and cool mail-away and in-store Tron merchandise, to the coolest jungle gyms known to man and advertisements for the one and only Nerd Tuxedo, Woman’s Day was apparently where it was at in the early 80s and I never knew.

This tiny cookbook is no exception and features some food art that I’m sure to try and replicate in the coming weeks at the house of Branded.  Nothing says “Um, um, Good” like a Mild Mannered hamburger…

 

Though in reality there is no conceivable way that the Superman insignia scrawled on top of the cheese would last past the placement of the Clark Kent bun-face, it’s still pretty awesome that the fella or gal in charge of writing this insert thought enough about the character to consider his patented transformation in the recipe.  I guess this is one burger that begs to be eaten open-face style.  As a side note, I never thought about adding wheat germ and bread crumbs to my hamburger patties.  I wonder if it gives the burger a more meatloaf like consistency?

There’s even a “recipe” for constructing an army of villainous Veggie Robots!

Well, at least I think they’re villains based on their threatening posturing and proclamations to destroy some of our favorite foods, healthy or not.  I also love the notation at the bottom that parents could order a copy of this army as a full-sized poster.  “Mommy, I can’t sleep under the paralyzing olive-eyed stare of Broclotron!”

 

Next up we’re charged with solving the case of the Invisible Banana French Toast with Batman and Robin.  Though the writers got a bit cheeky with this entry (“You get that taste by putting the banana IN the Batman…”), I did learn a new term, Alimentary.  By the by, it means of or relating to nourishment or nutrition.

Lastly we have Flash’s Quick Apple Crisp, that actually isn’t all that quick.  I mean, having to peel, core and slice up 5 apples and baking for over half an hour still seems like work to me…

Thanks again Mr. and Mrs. McFavortie, this was an awesome gift!

Molly ringwald wants you to eat your raisins!

I’m breaking out of my post Halloween downtime to remind everyone that back in 1982 Molly Ringwald and who I believe is a very young Emily Schulman (the nosey pugnacious next-door-neighbor on Small Wonder) wanted you to eat your raisins.   If raisins are like the red-headed step children of grapes, then I think the California Raisins Ad Council chose pretty well spokes model-wise.  I mean, Ringwald was one of the girls written out of the second season of The Facts of Life, and Schulman, well, for anyone who’s seen an episode of Small Wonder, is the poster child for red-headed nuisances…

This ad is kind of interesting for Ringwald fanatics as it’s an example of the type of work she was taking in-between leaving The Facts of Life and landing her breakout role as Samantha Baker in Sixteen Candles.  Aside from pimping raisins as Linda, founder of Linda’s Babysitting Service, Ringwald was also spending a lot of time recording vocals for Disney albums around this time.  Alright, back to working on the Up! Fair and junk…

The Great Pudding Pop Wars of 1982…

Thinking about some magical food moments from my past I can’t help but immediately gravitate towards the splenderferious invention that graced America’s freezers in 1982 (by my best educated guesstimates), the Pudding Pop.  Sure, there are other frozen treats that I love, Screwballs, Otter Pops, and Slurpees, but sucking on a pudding pop was like having a symphony in your mouth and it always played the theme to Star Wars.  Seriously though, there was something magical about the smooth, velvety texture of a good pudding pop that other treats (Fudgsicles and ice cream bars) just couldn’t match.

Growing up there was only one pop in my household’s freezer, the Bill Cosby endorsed Jell-O Brand Pudding Pops from General Foods.  Introduced in 1982, these frozen treats were originally available in three flavors, Chocolate, Vanilla and Banana.  Personally I was a vanilla man, though I have a vague recollection of eating a banana pop or two.  One of my favorite food related sense memories is of the thin coating of ice that would envelop the pudding pops.  It was always fun to see if you could loosen it in an entire sheet and slide it off the pop.   This ice coating also made for a great makeshift wall between the bottom of the pop and the stick so that the pudding wouldn’t melt directly onto your hand if you decided to savor the experience.

Though Jell-O was the only brand in my house, there were others available, in particular Swiss Miss, which had a much more robust variety of flavors…

I’ve had a tougher time trying to nail down the date that these Swiss Miss Pudding Bars were introduced, but I’m betting it was in and around 1982 as well based on this television commercial.  The ad above is from 1984 and features no less than eight different varieties including chocolate, vanilla, chocolate covered chocolate & vanilla, chocolate chip, fudge swirl, and chocolate toffee covered chocolate & vanilla.  There were also sugar-free varieties (mentioned on the back of this box in Jason Liebig’s collection.)  On a side note, I really dig the older style Swiss Miss mascot design because she was a claymation style puppet.  Drinking Swiss Miss hot chocolate back in the day was like sipping on a Rankin/Bass Christmas special, and ever since they switched to a more realistic rendering it’s just never been the same (even if it is only in my mind.)

I think it’s interesting that the print ads for Jell-O Pudding Pops strayed away from using spokesman Bill Cosby, and instead focused on the guilt-free aspect of the frozen treat.  As this above ad from 1984 showcases, the pops only had 90 calories and apparently were just as good as eating an apple or a banana.  Insane nutrition claims aside, I do have to admit that, that is one heck of an attractive calorie count.  It brings to mind the other Jell-O frozen treat introduced in the 80s (1981 according to the Jell-O website timeline which suspiciously doesn’t even mention pudding pops, but I’m betting it was also in 1982 alongside the pudding pops), the Jell-O Gelatin Pops as seen in this 1985 ad…

These fruit pops were only 35 calories and were a much slower melting bar because of the added gelatin.  According to the above ad, General Foods also produced chocolate covered Jell-O Pudding Pops, though I don’t remember ever seeing those for the life of me.

Unfortunately, sometime in the early 90s Jell-O Pudding Pops seemed to disappear from our grocer’s freezers.  My guess is that after the line-up of General Foods brands were merged in with the Kraft family of products in the mid 90s (as Phillip Morris owned both by that time), their frozen treats were dropped as Kraft didn’t really have a market share in the sweet end of the freezer section.  As far as the Swiss Miss bars go, your guess is as good as mine.  It wasn’t the last time we’d see Jell-O Pudding Pops though.  They made a small comeback in the early 2000s under both the Jell-O and Popsicle brands, but they weren’t the same product.  Offered in a slimmer Fudgsicle-like stick, the flavors and consistency just weren’t the same.  There’s also a Jell-O branded pudding pop maker for kids, though I’m guessing it’s not much different than sticking a pudding cup in the freezer.

Today there are still some brands of frozen pudding pops though, mainly Kemps and Blue Bunny, but this summer Coldstone Creamery is also presenting a variation on the Pudding Pop with Jell-O branded pudding ice-cream.  It’s not the same, but it’s as close as we’re going to get.

Here are some Jell-O Pudding & Gelatin Pop commercials to take you back to the 80s for a few minutes: 1982, 1983, 1984, 1984, 1985, & 1986.  I wonder if Bill Cosby misses these pudding pops as much as I do?

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