Like any family, when I was growing up, we had snack foods in our house, but throughout the year, these were pretty basic; (mostly) homemade cookies, chips, ice cream. But at Christmas, the grocery cart would fill with more premium brands. To this day, it doesn’t seem like the holidays to me without certain items; notably a can of Poppycock, a tin of Quality Street chocolates; Coca-Cola; and Bits and Bites. These were the more expensive versions of things we would otherwise buy, but probably because they were more expensive, they only showed up at our house in December. It got me thinking recently as to whether these items were really better than their rest-of-the-year counterparts, or whether the novelty of having them at holiday time simply made them seem better.
Poppycock versus Cracker Jack
I can’t find an ingredients list for either of these versions of candy/caramel corn, but I’m going to post one in the Poppycock column without too much debate. Freshness seems to be a key here, plus premium nuts as opposed to peanuts, but it’s really the coating that wins it. Without seeing an ingredients list (and after coming across ingredients for some of the “Indulgence” varieties of Poppycock that includes cottonseed oil, I’d rather not know what the stuff includes, to tell the truth) it at least seems as if there’s a more “buttery” flavour to the premium brand. Cracker Jack, on the other hand, although available year-round, was often stale and hard and cheap-tasting. Googling “Poppycock” actually gave me a number of recipes, so I might try to appease my urges this season with some homemade stuff instead.
Coca-Cola versus Pop Shoppe
In the past few years, someone has revived and rebranded Pop Shoppe pop as a high-end product, but back in the 70s and 80s, it was the cheapest of the cheap soda, available in a rainbow of flavours for literally pennies a bottle. I drank a lot of lime rickey, cream soda and root beer as a kid, while my parents suffered the subsequent dental bills to vouch for my efforts. During the holidays, though, there was always a bottle of Coke in the fridge. This was less as a treat for us kids than to be be offered as mix for guests drinking the ubiquitous down-east rum and cokes, but we always managed a glass or two before the bottle was gone.
Bits and Bites
I have no idea why I associate this snack product with the holidays, and back in my childhood, there wasn’t the alternative General Mills version available. And despite hating the little cheese sticks with a passion (still do), I always get a craving for this when Christmas rolls around.
Quality Street Chocolates
Now, it’s not that we had chocolates in the house all the time, and our family always had a habit of sticking with a box of good old Halifax-made Pot of Gold come Christmastime. But because they were considered “fancy”, someone always bought my Grandmother a big honkin’ tin of Quality Street for Christmas. I mean the biiiig tin – like, 5 pounds at least. On Christmas day, siblings and cousins jostled for a seat as close to the crystal candy dish as possible, waiting and fidgeting until we were offered one of Nanny’s special chocolates. The braver ones (or more fool-hardy – or more sugar-obsessed) would sneak an extra one or two, but only if they had been smart enough to wear something with pockets so they could hide the extra wrappers.
Admittedly, I still buy these, although only at Christmas. I feel less guilty about it now that they’re trans-fat free. These used to come from my other Grandmother, who had a pile of kids and grandkids to feed out of a tiny kitchen with a kerosene stove. The rest of the year we had either homemade cookies or typical things like Oreos or Pirate cookies, but I waited for Christmas and those almonette cookies, all doused up with fake almond flavouring and dusted with powdered sugar that left a trail down my shirt and throughout the house. Fortunately the husband had a Voortman cookie childhood too, so he’s always happy when December hits and I bring home the Voortman cookies – still 2 packs for $2.50.
Cranberry Jelly from a Can
Since I’ve lived on my own I’ve always made my own cranberry jelly. But growing up, we had the stuff from the can. My Father didn’t like the chunky version, and the concept of cheesecloth and straining a jelly seems not to have been invented at that point in history, so the can always made an appearance at Thanksgiving and Christmas. My Mother wouldn’t just open the can and spoon it into a dish, though. She would open both ends and leaving one lid covering the jelly would push the contents out the other end – and slice it! Thus, cranberry jelly appeared on our plates as a round red disc, jiggling heartily as we all cut our meat. My homemade cranberry jelly, made with orange rind and a touch of cloves, tastes far better than the canned stuff, but sometimes, I miss the jiggle.
I’m sure there are probably more things that I could dredge up, but I’m not sure my brain can find room for a craving for one more thing right now. As I’ve gotten older, Greg and I have created our own holiday traditions, and most of these have not survived. Mostly. Certainly neither of us would complain if a can of Poppycock or a tin of Quality Street showed up under the tree.