5

Peeps are Not Christmas Candy

I blame red “licorice”. At one time, licorice was black. It was made from licorice extract (a legume).  They added extra flavoring, beeswax for a shiny surface, and molasses to make it black. Some licorice candy was flavored with anise oil instead of or in combination with licorice root extract. Note that it contained molasses to make it black (and add sweetness). Then someone decided that the licorice extract wasn’t necessary and started making it in raspberry, cherry, strawberry, and cinnamon. Now you can even get it in apple, mango, black currant, and watermelon. Pretty much all I can find are Red Vines and  Red Twizzlers. But I digress.

In the Dark Ages when I was young (don’t you hate things that start like that), we had sugar plums and marzipan. Just kidding. But candy canes were peppermint, and came with red and white stripes. If you added a green stripe, it signified spearmint.

I went to the dollar store with my daughter this afternoon (I love the dollar store). While she was shopping for supplies to send to a child overseas she adopted for the holidays (you’d swear the holiday had something to do with love and charity), I looked around. The only full-size candy canes I found were blueberry and cherry. I’ve also seen sour candy canes (seems like an oxymoron), Jolly Rancher candy canes, and lime candy canes. They are candy, and they are cane-shaped. But it just doesn’t seem right.

I have also noticed that a lot of candy bars now come in Christmas versions. A Christmas Snickers bar is a regular Snickers bar with a special wrapper. If I dress a dog as a sheep for Halloween, it does not become a sheep. The only difference I can see is that the manufacturer needs to throw away all the candy that didn’t sell because it won’t last til the next holiday season (it probably would, but it would be embarrassing if they got caught changing the wrappers to pastel for Easter). You can buy Christmas Butterfingers, Almond Joy, Kit Kat, etc.

I won’t talk about chocolate except to say that some of what is masquerading as chocolate candy better make sure no one ever asks for its family tree. You can get chocolate-flavored and vanilla-flavored stuff for covering your Christmas goodies, like dipping your Rice Krispie treat in fake vanilla candy coating

All of this was traumatizing enough. Then I saw the Peeps boxes. You know what Peeps are – those bright yellow, pink, and blue (?) pseudo-marshmallow candies they sell at Easter in the shape of bunnies and chicks (peeps – get it?). Well now you can get brown peeps in the shape of Christmas trees. They are chocolate-mint flavored. There are probably others out there but I don’t have the heart to go over to the display. It was bad enough when they were stealing good candy ideas. Now we can get bad seasonal candy at all holidays.

So if you’re a traditionalist, you’ll want to look into the real barley candy at the Vermont Country Store. Of course, you’ll have to buy it on-line. There is no actual store.

2

The Return of Roka Blue

If I can get raspberries in February in Michigan, why can’t I get Kraft Roka Blue Cheese spread? Or pumpkin-flavored cream cheese spread? Or eggnog? If everybody hates fruitcake, why do we still sell all of that candied fruit? If there are still people out there who like it, why are they only allowed to like it at the end of the year?

A true indicator of the holiday season at Ralph’s is the arrival of the Roka Blue spread. It comes in one of those little 7 oz. glass jars that are so small in diameter that getting out anything past the first inch is a major accomplishment. I usually give those projects to my husband who has much more patience at it than I do. Don’t suggest that I just break the jar. I have dropped it from various heights at work, and the jar is indestructible. It’s easier to break a cream-cheese tub. Trust me.

Anyway, I digress. These spreads come in three flavors: Pimento, Old English, and Roka Blue (oddly, I couldn’t find pimento on the Kraft site). The Pimento and Old English are available year-round. We carry the Roka Blue for about four months around the holidays. Why the difference? Because people like to make blue cheese balls for the holidays. Huh? They also like to make cheddar balls for the holidays, but that doesn’t mean we only carry that part of the year. I can’t remember the last time someone offered me something with pimento as the main ingredient (but I think I was still in grade school). Pimento sells more poorly than either of the other two flavors. The Kraft website carries 20 recipes for Roka Blue and only 8 for Old English. I figure there must be a conspiracy against the blue cheese, keeping it off the shelf. Or parochialism. The “real” bleu cheese gets to stay all year.

The customers who are upset about the absence of blue cheese spread in the summer have kindred spirits with the people who like pumpkin cream cheese. It is an eagerly anticipated October arrival each year. I don’t really understand the attraction. But I don’t understand the attraction of vegetable cream cheese either. If I’m going to eat something as decadent as cream cheese, I don’t want it to taste healthy. It isn’t like the pumpkin industry isn’t doing it’s part to keep it on the shelves. There are recipes for pumpkin pancakes, soups, chili, and lasagne. Canned pumpkin is available all year. But pumpkin can’t seem to break out of the “seasonal food” category.

The one food that appears this time of year to the most fanfare is eggnog. You can’t go anywhere social without someone offering a glass of it. There are recipes for pancakes, cookies, cakes, and other treats. However, if there was ever a product that is associated with Christmas, it’s eggnog. Probably some leftover tradition from the days when people could only afford something that extravagant once a year (back when they actually used eggs and cream to make it – the alcohol continues to be authentic). You never see anyone being kissed under mistletoe in July either. Or having a cup of wassail.

We can’t have chestnuts roasting on an open fire anymore. Most of us don’t have open fires. And most of the chestnut trees were killed by a fungus at the beginning of the 20th century. But that’s OK with me. When I was little, my mother bought some roasted chestnuts from a street vendor. I don’t know whether it was the vendor or the chestnuts, but they were soggy and bitter.

I think marzipan has suffered a similar decline in popularity. My mother’s mother and aunts used to make mountains of marzipan oranges, strawberries, and other fruits. They were absolutely gorgeous. And tasted like bitter almonds. I do not have the time or patience to make something I don’t want to eat. Besides, who would want to eat something that looked like a fur-ball (which is as close as I’d get to making an orange)?

As I’ve been writing this, I realized that I don’t like most of these foods. I love bleu cheese, but think that cheese spread is mutant. I have tried eating various treats over the years and always gagged at the taste of pumpkin even when it wasn’t identified (a major surprise since I love squash and am addicted to sweets). Eggnog contains two of my least favorite food (eggs and milk/cream). I love almonds as a nut, but find them overwhelming in a lot of recipes.

So I’m wondering. Is there a way to make horseradish seasonal and get it out of my coleslaw (where it makes my tongue swell)? How about arugula? Of all the greens in the world, who decided that bitter was needed in salads for diversity? Maybe chocolate-tasting (not chocolate) foods?