I spent a few years feeling high and mighty, regarding those who regularly ate potato chips as weak-willed. As a snobby alternative I ate pretzels; so many that I had cankers from the rock salt, and a palate that actually adapted to enjoying things that tasted like salty wrapping paper and cardboard.
Some might peg my chip aversion to an incident at a roller rink when I was 10. It was Jeff Kellam’s birthday and his oh-so-cool parents had booked an afternoon of rollerskating with an intermission in the party room for hot dogs and a Dairy Queen ice cream cake. As part of the birthday celebration, the Hostess Munchie mascots were at the rink, on rollerskates! I don’t remember the song that I was expertly rolling along to with the speed and finesse of Dorothy Hamill—probably a Tiffany number, maybe Bananarama. What I do remember is the silent approach, the friction of red fun fur on my backside and the sickening thud as I slammed chin-first on to the rink floor. The red Munchie (all 11 feet of him or her) fell blindly on top of me as my eyes rolled backwards into my head. I had definitely broken my chin. I don’t remember any apologies (but maybe I couldn’t hear them over Banarama and through the mascot fur). I wasn’t even given a free bag of stupid Hostess chips to swerve me from a lawsuit. I skated off the rink, far from the bullying Munchie mascots and took off my skates and headed for the party room. I couldn’t even tell if I had bitten into the free birthday hot dog or not, my face was pounding and all I could taste was pennies from the blood in my mouth. God damn Hostess potato chips.
So it’s possible that I do have a chip on my shoulder from that encounter. I didn’t break my jaw at Jeff’s birthday party though, I was simply flattened by a dumb mascot in front of a giant crowd and forever humiliated.
My more favourable and flavourable chip memories come in the form of Munchos, a Frito-Lay brand potato snack introduced in 1973. They were pillows of cornmeal and potato starch that tasted like nothing else. They fell by the wayside though due to high production costs and I had to resort back to Hostess because they made the best finger-staining ketchup chips around. Odd that our parents weren’t concerned that a potato chip could stain our fingers bright pink for 48 hours. I suppose there weren’t any alarm bells at all because everything in the 70s could induce stains on fingers and cheeks. Like Kool-aid, Fun Dip, Freezies (especially the anti-freeze blue type), Kraft Dinner, C-Plus and Jell-o if you drank it before it chilled and set.
I remember (and this is like Grandma-walking-to-school-five-miles-in –the-snow kind of speak) Hostess chips in the foil bag for 25 cents. Fifty cents could buy a power snack of Coke and chips, which was the perfect accompaniment to an episode of The Facts of Life or The Dukes Of Hazzard on a hot summer’s day. My sister Kiley never strayed from her beloved Sour Cream and Onion. I waffled between Salt and Vinegar or Dill Pickle, enjoying how raw the seasoning could make my mouth. I think my brother Dax was the Ketchup chip eater, I will have to ask him. Often though, when we talk about childhood nostalgia, he confesses that he doesn’t really remember, and his memories might be superimposed from my memories.
What I do know is that we all ate chips in the same disgusting style, licking the front and back of each chip like a cat with a paw that needed cleaning. When the chip was wet and licked clean of flavour, we’d give it a few chews and swallow.
Chips that didn’t require licking were the Sour Cream and Onion Rings that were packaged in long skinny bags. They had a texture similar to Styrofoam and would pack up on your teeth like Honeycombs cereal used to. After a few handfuls you could no longer feel the surface of your molars, it was a layer of ground sour cream and onion ring paste that couldn’t even be removed with a toothbrush at times due to its supreme packing and sticking quality.
Shortly after the Rings, Salt and Vinegar “Fries” made a brief appearance in the chip aisle. Sometimes the vinegar quotient would be so potent that just opening the bag would induce a coughing fit. They were oily sticks that would evaporate on your tongue like cotton candy. Very satisfying because you could pack your mouth with about 10 of the fries and they would melt in moments–and you never needed lip balm because of the greasy residue.
Cheetos Crunchits were a hit in our family too. Our dog Xanadu would dry hump our legs for a single Crunchit. Denser than the Cheezies that went stale as soon as you opened the bag, Crunchits offered a powdered cheese punch that squeaked between your teeth and made your gum line appear as though you had deadly tartar.
In desperation, when my mother would buy PLAIN potato chips because it was my dad’s turn to get the kind of chips he liked(oh the horror! What a waste!), we would douse the plain chips with red wine vinegar. Sometimes we had to check the vinegars to see which bottle had the least amount of fruit flies bobbing dead on the surface. We even had designated chip bowls—faux teak bowls that also served as weapons if necessary in battles over television shows. Any bumps on my skull are surely from those chip bowl negotiations, or my sister’s Cabbage Patch kid (her other assault weapon). But that’s another story.
First, a little chip history.
I recently learned that Hostess Potato Chips was ‘replaced’ by Lay’s in 1996 (probably a cover-up for a Munchie mascot accident lawsuit). In the early 90s Miss Vickie’s and Kettle Chips presented potato chips in an upscale fashion and left Hostess in a crunch.
Formed in 1935, Hostess had humble beginnings on Edward Snyder’s mother’s kitchen stove in Beaverdale, near Cambridge, Ontario. In 1955 Snyder sold his company to E.W. Vanstone who sold his interest to General Foods in ’59. Initially, and for much of the brand’s history, only three flavours were available: Regular, Salt and Vinegar and BBQ. In the 70s Hostess took a belly flop with their idea to market fruit-flavoured chips like Orange, Cherry and Grape. Barf. The public responded with a universal dry heave.
Then, in 1987, something magical happened. A partnership between Hostess and Frito-Lay (owned by Pepsi Co)brought Doritos to Canada! Finally, a chip that you could taste on your breath a full day later! Other Frito-Lay brands like Tostitos, Ruffles and Cheetos emerged. In 1992 Frito-Lay purchased General Foods interest in the joint company, then known as Hostess Frito Lay, and probably soon after that the lame Lays joke made party circles.
“What did the potato chip say to the other potato chip at the bar?”
“Hey, are you Frito-Lay?”
I remember other childhood chips, which I thought were Hostess, but couldn’t find any documentation to verify it. Does anyone else remember the Fries & Gravy, Hamburger, Pizza, BLT and Roast Chicken chips? Fries & Gravy were reminiscent of licking oxo buillon cubes. Hamburger had an overriding pickled beef aftertaste and Pizza was like eating a pepperoni fart if I recall correctly.
Somehow Walkers Crisps of the UK have successfully managed to lure the public into their quirky flavoured chip bags of Prawn Cocktail, Steak and Onion, Worcester Sauce, Lamb and Mint (my fave), Marmite and Branston Pickle. The Thai Sweet Chili, Balsamic Vinegar & Caramelized Onion and Roast Chicken & Thyme also rank high on my very snooty chip list.
On May 1 of this year, Walkers announced the winner of their “Do Us a Flavour” contest. Six finalists were chosen from over one million entries to create a new chip flavour. The contenders were: Fish and Chips, Chili and Chocolate, Onion Bhaji, Crispy Duck and Hoi Sin, Cajun Squirrel and Builder’s Breakfast. The bacon, buttered toast, eggs and tomato sauce mash-up of the Builder’s Breakfast (by crisp thinker Emma Rushin) was determined the winner by a tastebud landslide. It has become a permanent Walkers flavour.
Walkers is now owned by Frito Lay (which is still a subsidiary of PepsiCo) but the company also started off humbly in the 1880s by Henry Walker who took over a butcher shop in Leicester. Meat rationing following World War II led to the creative and affordable potato crisps which were made in the wasted capacity of the butcher shop. Unfortunately, Walkers still maintains a rationing of its own, filling the bags with maybe a dozen chips, tops. And that’s only if someone has fallen asleep on the line.
Miss Vickie’s (also owned by Frito-Lay) has roots that trace back to a potato farm in New Lowell, Ontario. At the 14th Annual Alliston Potato Festival, Vickie and Bill Kerr introduced their chips and sold out. The Sweet Chili and Sour Cream are a perfect marriage of flavours. Rosemary & Basil also provide a mouth massage, conjuring up images of turkey dinners and fall leaves. Nothing could be better with these chips than a Jones Soda Turkey and Gravy flavoured pop (marketed around Thanksgiving). The Sea Salt and Malt Vinegar are also a saliva-inducing sensation but my reflex is for the Lime and Black Pepper.
Sun Chips (yep, you guessed it, owned by Frito-Lay), launched in 1991, and made us feel better about eating chips. Their multi-grain goodness made them comparable to bran muffins in a cupcake world. With no cholesterol and no trans fat, it’s almost acceptable to eat these sunny, wavy chips for breakfast. For those with a planetary conscience, Sun Chips plans to unveil the world’s first 100% compostable bag which will decompose in 14 weeks when placed in a hot, active compost heap. Now there’s a ray of sunshine! However, of special note to Muslims and Jews, Sun Chips does use porcine (pig) enzymes to season their snacks, making them totally not kosher for the Bar Mitzvah. According to their site, http://www.sunchips.com/ they have recently released limited editions of Honey Graham and Apple N’ Caramel Sun Chips. Anyone living in one of those limited edition areas? The French Onion remains a solid standby, even with a high-scoring bad breath reading.
If you’re looking for a seductive non-Frito-Lay product, Terra Chips are worth the $5.99 sticker price. A mix of taro, sweet potato, yucca, batata, parsnip and ruby taro, they are sweet and savoury and make me want to give up all other food groups. The Terra Blues are made from naturally blue potatoes that appear as purplish as eggplant skin. Their Web site http://www.terrachips.com/ includes a list of Terra-inclusive recipes like Grilled Split Lobster Tails with Mojo Mayonnaise, crusted with Terra and Spiced Sweet Potato Chips Stuffing with Sausage and Sage. I am patiently waiting to track down their newest flavour: Terra Stripes and Blues—a mix of candy-striped beets, sweet and blue potatoes.
When all else fails, and I don’t mind sweating garlic from all my pores for a week, the Guacomole chips from Costco can round out about 50 hamburger lunches. The bags are big enough to use in a potato sack race. Really, a small child could get lost in one of those bags and come out a shade of green.
Lastly, I have to mention the chip that brought this all about, from a company in Maple Ridge, BC. The Hardbite Creamy Coconut & Curry Oriental potato chip with Himalayan Crystal salt (so much for the 100-mile diet) wowed me. It was a handful of chips but a mouthful of pakora and samosa. Kettle cooked, batch by batch, Hardbites were chosen by the Fairmont hotel chain as their chip of choice for Gold Room clientele. Hardbites are chosen by me, for any room in the house.
If I overlooked a chip that deserves attention, let me know. And if you experienced a similar Hostess Munchie mascot-related accident as a child, let me know about that too. I’m thinking class action suit. Or a box of stale Grape and Cherry chips for compensation!
For more Chipology:
And weird Jones Soda ideas: http://www.jonessoda.com/files/turkey04.html