2013-04-23 / Life

Carnley's Corner

A taste of nostalgia
Lisa Carnley

So many of the foods we eat now have stood the test of time and have remained on store shelves for many years.

Obvious changes to packaging, amount per serving and cost have been influenced over the years by inflation and the law of supply and demand, but most of these foods bring back a host of childhood memories for folks.

Take Cracker Jack. It was developed in 1893, and first served at the Chicago World’s Fair.

It is said the snack got its name when a salesman, upon tasting the molasses-covered popcorn, exclaimed, “That’s cracker jack,” and the name stuck.

Cracker Jack was trademarked after that.

In 1912, probably to draw a wider age range of snackers, the company introduced tiny toys into every box.

Back then, each box had a “mystery prize” that included baseball cards, decoder rings, and other toys and trinkets.

Nowadays, the prizes are hardly worth taking out of the box. From temporary tattoos to pieces of paper with jokes and riddles, calling them “prizes” is a little bit of a stretch.

Look at Jell-O. I always compared it to cough syrup, and I found out there is a good reason for that.

Did you know cough syrup and Jell-O share the same flavorings? It’s true.

In 1895, cough syrup maker Pearl B. Wait adapted an 1845 patent for gelatin dessert. It was his wife, May, who named it Jell-O.

Over the years, flavors have come and gone, originating with strawberry, and then cherry in 1903.

Coffee Jell-O was introduced in 1918 – the same year it (understandably) went off shelves.

Cola Jell-O came in and out of stores in 1942 – again no explanation necessary.

Another piece of trivia for those who always wanted more information on Jell-O: In the early 1900s, the company offered Ellis Island immigrants a bowl of Jell-O as a welcome-to-America gift.

Strawberry remains the numberone flavor, with cherry a close second.

Today, you can buy 28 different Jell-O flavors, including berry blue, peach, pina colada, melon fusion and watermelon.

Over the years, 33 flavors have been discontinued, including pickle, celery, mixed vegetable and bubble gum, and it’s easy to see why. Celeryflavored Jell-O anyone?

I always associate Jell-O with being a hospital patient because that is what’s served over anything else.

Another favorite? How about marshmallow fluff? It began with the sale of homemade marshmallow cream door to door in Massachusetts, but shortages of sugar during World War I stopped its production.

Discouraged, the peddler sold his business for $500 to a duo who renamed the treat Toot Sweet Marshmallow Fluff. Their first sale was several gallons to a Vermont lodge for $1 per gallon.

I’m not sure what one would do with gallons of the stuff, but it became popular, and once it hit the store shelves, it became a staple in American homes.

Even Elvis Presley liked his marshmallow fluff, it is said.

In 1966, the company promoted the use of the fluffy stuff for marshmallow treats – long before they were known as Rice Krispy treats.

So many products come and go, but others stay on store shelves because they remind us of childhood.

When I was about 7, my 8-year-old sister, Sharon, and I each got a dollar from our Grandma Molly.

Back then, a dollar was a lot of money for a kid.

It didn’t take us long to figure out what to do with our fortune.

Sharon and I walked across the street to a little mom-and-pop store where we each bought 10 boxes of Cracker Jack. At 10 cents each, the purchase was a no-brainer (at least in our young minds).

When our mother saw us coming up the sidewalk with 20 boxes of Cracker Jack, she marched us right back across the street to return them.

I wasn’t happy with her, but I did what I was told.

Since then, whenever I think of Cracker Jack, it makes me laugh. To this day, when I buy a box, I picture Sharon and me. We were so excited about the prizes hidden in each box.

Today, not so much.

But I still love the sweet popcorn and crunchy peanuts.

Some things never change.

Lisa Carnley is managing editor of the Lampasas Dispatch Record.

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