By the time you read this, another Christmas will have passed, and once again I won’t have gotten the things I really wanted. Part of this is because I didn’t ask for them, but mostly it’s because the things I want are no longer being produced. “No problem,” you say, wise and kind in a 21st century sort of way, “there’s eBay for that.” But the things I want are precious, practical, and perishable—lost foods.
I’ve tried a lot of pasta sauces, and many of them are flat-out awful, so it’s pretty disappointing when one you like is discontinued, like Rao’s Sausage and Mushroom, or even one that’s more of a once-in-a-while curiosity, like Barilla’s Bacon and Cheese flavored tomato sauce. (If nothing else, give Barilla points for trying; the world may not need a bacon-and-cheese flavored tomato sauce, but it certainly doesn’t need any more “Tomato and Basil” ones, either).
The sauce I miss most, though, is Barilla’s Puttanesca Sauce, sometimes called Green and Black Olive Sauce, or just Olive Sauce. An internet search confirmed that all three varieties are currently unavailable in the U.S.A. However, eBay offered Barilla “Tomatensauce Olive” from Germany— a bargain at $2.57 a jar, but shipping costs of approximately $42 were prohibitive. The U.K. had its choice of Puttanesca or Olive sauce, at about $15 a jar with shipping. Still pricey, and maybe not such a good idea to send glass jars across the Atlantic, but at least one could say it’s possible. My eBay search also revealed a listing by seller “italian_gourmet”, reading: “Brand New! Barilla pesticide alla Calabrese Pesto with paprika and Ricotta Cheese.” Which sounds delicious, but potentially deadly.
Some things in this world are exquisite but ephemeral, meant only to be enjoyed for a brief time before they disappear, the experience made more valuable by the short, fleeting nature of their lives. I’m speaking now, of course, about Hostess Fruit Pies.
Layered in a lacquered glaze, filled with flavors of lemon, blueberry, cherry, and apple, these pies, along with the acrid fumes of cheap gasoline, defined the taste of New Jersey to me as a young boy living in Staten Island. Via the short trip over the Outerbridge Crossing, I was delivered semi-regularly into Woodbridge, where the Hostess Outlet stockpiled these colorfully-wrapped treats, with an image of the product’s pitchman, Fruit Pie the Magician, featured prominently on each.
Hostess Fruit Pies still exist, but by all accounts, they’re just not the same as they once were. Gone is the hard-shell crust, the sugary glaze, and even Fruit Pie the Magician. I’ll stick with my memories, because I have little doubt I’d be disappointed otherwise.
Scanning the supermarket ice cream freezer reminded me of another delicacy I’d once loved, Turkey Hill’s Chocolate Cherry Cordial Frozen Yogurt, which featured chocolate frozen yogurt, maraschino cherries, and plenty of chocolate fudge. When I tell you this was heaven at 32 degrees, I do not exaggerate. I hadn’t tasted it in some time due to irreconcilable differences between its saturated fat content and my arteries. Now, there was no sign of it in the store freezer, and I briefly wondered if all my past samplings had merely been a dream. What we’d had was real, however, and I needed to find out why it was over. I donned a Fedora and trenchcoat, and the food detective—that would be me—was on the case.
I wasn’t quite a hard-boiled food gumshoe—more like soft-boiled, or even lightly scrambled. I opened the investigation with some internet research, which came up empty, followed by an e-mail to Turkey Hill in search of the straight dope. An employee named Cindy responded. I don’t know about her gams, but her title went on forever: Turkey Hill Consumer Relations Representative.
She assigned a case number, 1785447. This was good. Nothing screams legitimacy in the investigation world like a case number. The reply itself was less encouraging; that is to say, not at all:
“We are glad to hear that you have enjoyed our Chocolate Cherry Cordial Fat Free Frozen Yogurt in the past. However, we are sorry to say that this product has been discontinued due to lack of sales.”
Hmm. Case closed. Cindy was just another dame who broke my heart. I gargled some hooch to drown my sorrows. The coda arrived in the mail a few days later—a packet of coupons for Turkey Hill products, none of which were Chocolate Cherry Cordial.
This pain is the true cost of being a culinary rebel, eating out of step with the bulk of society. But once in a while, there’s a happy ending.
I often enjoy poking fun at marketing executives who, in the eternal effort to goose the sales numbers, brainstorm gimmicky ideas and/or crimes against humanity like turning ketchup green or purple. But with Old El Paso Ranch Flavored Stand ‘n’ Stuff Taco Shells, they got it right. First came Nacho Cheese Flavored Taco Shells—essentially a way to sneak Doritos onto the dinner plate. Then, high on success and salty, fat-laden contentment, they created Ranch Flavored Shells.
According to Old El Paso, Ranch Flavored Shells are still being produced, but I hadn’t seen them on local shelves for months. The situation reminded me of Old El Paso’s original enchilada kits, a far superior product to the flour tortilla flim-flam they foist upon the public these days. Those original kits disappeared without a trace, and I was determined to get some Ranch Flavored Shells before they were gone, too.
The area Shop Rites didn’t have them. Neither did the Acmes. But Foley’s Shop & Bag (a combination as revolutionary, in its way, as chocolate and peanut butter) did. I bought Ranch Flavored Stand ‘n’ Stuff Taco Shells like they were going out of style—or out of production, anyway. I’ll consider it a late Christmas present to myself.
P.S. Just after I turned in this column, I got a response to my e-mail to Rao’s: “Hello Pete, Thank you for contacting Rao’s Homemade. Rao’s Sausage and Mushroom Sauce will be available again in January 2018!” It’s a post-Christmas miracle!