Thursday, November 1, 2012

Food, drink I really miss

One of the inevitabilities of getting old is that you spend more time looking into the past than into the future.

Last night I got to thinking about some of the foods and drinks that I enjoyed in the past, but that I may never have again until the day that sweet chariot swings low to take me home.

I realize the cravings for these victuals is really a lament for my lost youth.

This train of thought left the station when I saw some mention on television of Halloween cookies. That got me to thinking of Everix Bakery Cookies.

I'm sure if I tried enough bakery sugar cookies, eventually I'd find one that replicated the taste of this childhood favorite.

While I'm sure my mother did her share of baking, nothing stands out in my memory like Everix cookies.

Everix was a family bakery in my home town of Fond du Lac, Wis. The building was a long, narrow brick structure, with its glass entry doors on a diagonal where the front corner met. The shop portion was also long and narrow, with glass display cases down one side and across the back.

The holiday cookies were always in the back case, strategically placed on a shelf about child-eye level. The cookies were large, at least in relation to the size of my hand back then. They were probably a standard sugar cookie recipe, but it was the frosting that gave them their special taste. It was thin, hard and colorful.

There were yellow egg shapes at Easter, red hearts at Valentine's, orange bats at Halloween, orange and brown turkeys at Thanksgiving and green trees at Christmas. The bakery probably offered the same cookies year-round without the fancy shapes and colors, but as I remember it, Everix cookies were only a holiday treat at our house. Or, on even rarer occasions, a perk while accompanying Mom on her errands.

My memory of what happened to Everix is foggier than my recollection of the taste of those cookies. I seem to recall that by the mid- to late-1960s, the family had expanded the enterprise to one or two other locations around town, perhaps also into some of the supermarkets that drove the mom-and-pop neighborhood groceries out of business in that era.

I do know that by the time I was a sophomore in high school, and occasionally walked past the bakery on my way to or home from school either the store was closed or had changed hands and I don't recall ever stopping in for cookies.

Another childhood favorite that seems lost to me forever is Post Oat Flakes.

We were not a bacon and eggs or pancakes for breakfast family. I don't know if it was a financial necessity, or just the time crunch of getting Dad off to work for 7 a.m., and five or six kids off to two or three different schools at varying times, but we were cold cereal kids.

In the early Fifties, I was partial to Sugar Pops, Rice Krinkles, Sugar Crisp and the like. Most of those cereals are still on the shelves today, though the word "sugar" has been replaced in the brand name.

In 1959, Post came along with Oat Flakes. I recall them as sweeter than Wheaties or Kellogg's Corn Flakes, and a spoonful of sugar on top made them even better. Another quality that I found appealing about Oat Flakes, but which was certainly never part of their advertising, is that they got soggy in milk very quickly. It's just a personal quirk, I prefer my breakfast flakes limp, rather than crunchy.

Of course when Post cereal began putting panels of baseball cards and football cards on the backs of its boxes in 1961, I became immediately brand-exclusive. Even though I had reached the age when going to the grocery store with Mom was a socially marginal activity, I did so every chance I got so that I could examine the boxes for Milwaukee Braves or other cards I didn't have.

I don't know when Post first stopped producing the original Oat Flakes, or when I stopped eating them. I probably stopped when the card-backs ended, and by the time I was in high school, I had switched to Quaker Puffed Rice.

Twenty years later, I learned that because of the relative unpopularity of Oat Flakes among kids, the cards that were exclusive to that brand were among the scarcer of the Post cereal issues. Unfortunately, by then I had long since gotten rid of most of my childhood collection.

Oat Flakes made a brief comeback in its original form, if I recall correctly, in the early 1970s. I enjoyed them once again, but wish I'd have stocked up while they were on the shelves. I see by google-searching that Post revived its oat flake cereal again in the late 1980s with the name Fortified Oat Flakes. I never tried those. I have, however, on occasion, tried other brands of oat flakes that caught my eye in the cereal aisle, but none of them ever measured up my memories of the original.

As it now looks like this nostalgia trip is going to take longer than I originally anticipated, I've decided to break it into several entries.

I'll close this chapter with a reminiscence of a favorite brand of pop. During my childhood, there was a brand of soda called Howdy's. I'd guess they were a state-specific or Midwest regional company. I recall they made orange soda and root beer; probably a few others.

It is Howdy's root beer that I remember with such fondness. I'd describe it now as crisper and sweeter than Dad's or A&W.

I'm sure Howdy's was sold all over town, but my specific memory is of buying a bottle on many early mornings from the vending machine outside Moses Hardware store in my neighborhood while on my paper route. It provided the necessary sugar rush to get me through my Milwaukee Sentinel deliveries so I could get to school on time. 

Looking back, I'd guess that I gave up Howdy's root beer about the time Dr. Pepper began to make an impact as far north as Wisconsin. I regret that now; maybe if I hadn't made the switch I could more clearly remember the taste of Howdy's root beer.

I've read on the internet that Howdy's was bought up by 7-Up. Whenever I see a story on TV about that store in Los Angeles that carries hundreds of obscure brands of pop, I always wonder if I get a Howdy's root beer there.

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