18 August 2010

Taste sensations from the land of my birth

I love Melody McFarland. Melody's a regular commenter around here and a dear, dear friend of mine. Melody and I grew up in impossibly small towns in rural Pennsylvania though I never met her until around five years ago. When we met she lived in Japan and I lived in Florida. We bonded over our shared roots in the rolling farmland of Lancaster County, PA.

Well as fate would have it, Melody and her husband moved back to Lancaster last year after having spent the previous 20 years of their lives living all over the world. Hearing her tales of culture shock have been amusing but in re-experiencing my home town through her eyes I've come to see that it's really not such a bad place after all. After all, Melody's finding it to be a great place to launch her photography empire.

Lancaster's only 60 miles from Philadelphia but in a lot of ways is separated by time rather than distance. One of the apparent examples of this is the continued existence of mom and pop snack factories. It's an odd  but  remarkable thing to go down a snack aisle anywhere in eastern Pennsylvania and find that small, local brands of things like chips and pretzels outnumber the national brands.

Well in a gesture I'll remember for the rest of my life, Melody raided one of those snack aisles and sent me a box of mom and pop junk food yesterday.

I grew up in a household that had a chip can in it and potato chips were something that we had delivered the same way we had milk delivered. There was nothing unusual about it then but in looking back, it's unusual.

The chips we had delivered every week were Good's Red Label. My parents weren't natives and the Blue Label must have spooked them. I'll explain the difference in a moment.

So in the box of wonders Melody sent yesterday, there was a bag of Good's Red Label and a bag of Good's Blue Label. Blue Label Good's are cooked in lard, Reds are cooked in vegetable shortening. And now you know the difference between the two. As I was saying earlier, Lancaster County, PA is separated by time rather than distance from the rest of the Eastern Seaboard. There's no stigma to cooking with lard there.

Until you've eaten a potato chip that's been cooked in lard you are not allowed to judge. Lard gives them a crunch that's not possible to achieve in any other way. Trust me.

As if to drive home that point ever further, Melody sent me a bag of King's chips. King's are only available in the lard-cooked variety. Second only to my love of Good's was my love of King's. Melody has no idea what she's done for my soul here.

But the best was yet to come. Also in that magical box were two bags of Hammond Pretzels. People outside of Pennsylvania really don't eat pretzels, let alone handmade, hand-baked ones. If Lancaster, PA had an ounce of pretension, Hammond Pretzels would be sold at ten times their price and they'd be called artisanal pretzels. But there is no pretension, so they're just plain old Hammond's.

There are few things as sublime as a real pretzel and I am now in heaven. From the bottom of heart Melody, thank you.


  1. You;re a doll. I just couldn't bear the thought of you snack-food-less after that comment you left on my blog. It wasn't until after I moved away from here that I realized I had been living in the potato chip capital of the nation. It's nearly impossible to find decent pretzels and chips anywhere else.
    I remember when we moved back I was astounded by the potato chip aisle. That's right -an entire grocery store aisle dedicated to just potato chips. Dozens and dozens of varieties. I just read the other day that Lay's are the most popular variety in America. That's pathetic. Around here they're considered not even worth eating!

  2. I have been shoving Hammond's into my mouth like a starving man since yesterday afternoon. What a time it's been!

    If anybody up there had any sense, they'd be selling those artisanal pretzels and chips to Dean and Deluca for $15 a bag. New Yorkers would be standing in line!

  3. I never understood that either - like why none of them ever set up shop in california or the south. Real cheesesteaks and subs would make those people a killing in other parts of the country.

  4. Do you read Bon Appetit? In this month's issue there was an article about how Lancaster is the last bastion of undiscovered food since we have so much homemade cheese, german baloneys and excellent produce. I laughed out loud when I read that the author had visited Root's (in Manheim) and thought it was fantastic.

  5. I believe it is the last bastion of undiscovered food and I have a feeling the natives like it that way just fine.

  6. I totally understand your comment about the lard. My dad almost drools when he talks about his maternal grandmother making home made doughnuts days after they'd slaughtered a pig on the farm. My great-grandmother would render down the fat and cook piles of fresh doughnuts for all the farm hands, which were apparently the next best thing to ambrosia. (I'm not quite that dedicated)

  7. You know it's weird. People moved away from lard with the introduction of Crisco and other hydrogenated fats. The snow job those purveyors did was incredibly effective because even now after it's been revealed just how bad hydrogenated fats are, people still cringe at the mention of lard.

  8. Man, that’s the problem with growing up poor. The only snack we ever had was an occasional bag of Jolly Time Popcorn that my dad would buy for 35¢ (this was in the 1950s). We did have potato chips occasionally, but the only thing I remember about it was that we could leave the opened bag out for a few days without damage in Helena, Montana. Here in San Diego, you leave them out unsealed overnight, and in the morning, they’re rubber bands!

  9. For the record, I am pro-lard.

  10. Rachele, I think there are a lot of closeted lard lovers out there so thanks for your candor.

  11. I *heart* you for posting this, although now I'm really missing all the wonderful local snack foods. I grew up not too far from Lancaster County, and my aunt and cousins still live in York. When I had to fly back a few weeks ago I made it a point to binge on as much local stuff as I could... most of it bought at Wawa....

  12. Joe: In Florida, I can't leave anything out, sealed or unsealed, in the summer. Ours is a tropical climate and the humidity here hovers between 90 and 95%. You've never seen a cold glass sweat until you see one here. Anyhow, I'm fond of saying that a Florida breadbox is called the freezer. The freezer's also where my chips and pretzels are right now.

    Rachele: I KNEW it! Thanks for coming out.

    Anna: I didn't know you were a Pennsylvania native. Where did you grow up? I hope while you were at the Wawa that you ordered a real hoagie. Now that I have my pretzel and chip hankering sated, I have to figure out how to recreate a real hoagie.


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