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It's time again for weird (culinary) science

By / December 10, 1999



All over the country these days, Americans are preparing a cornucopia of tasty mealtime selections. It's the season for household chefs to pull out all the stops, along with treasured recipes of favorite, and frequently offbeat, holiday treats. In my nostalgic moments, I'd like to believe that somebody's kitchen is filling with the enticing aroma of Ritz cracker mock apple pie.

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When Nabisco quietly dropped that famous faux pastry from the back of the Ritz box several years ago, we lost an enduring connection to an era of amazing kitchen creativity.

Anyone who grew up in the decade from 1954 to 1964 probably recalls some uniquely festive menu item that only showed up on the table at special family gatherings. The names of these concoctions often included the words mock, delight, chiffon, or swirl.

Sometimes they glistened, or quivered, depending on the gelatin content. The first bite revealed hints of canned soup, crushed cornflakes, miniature marshmallows, and other ingredients that defied common sense, and possibly the laws of nature. The finished product may have been ridiculous or sublime, but it was usually unforgettable.

I was fascinated by TV demonstrations of quick-fix cuisine that were featured on commercials during the Kraft Music Hall. While the camera focused on a small bowl and a pair of anonymous hands, a friendly male voice narrated the swift and simple preparation of appetizers, dressings, desserts, and other intriguing edibles that all used Kraft Miracle Whip as the crucial binding agent.

With today's kids growing up amid dietary guidelines that take a dim view of processed foods, quirky creations that were once eagerly consumed at yuletide feasts are becoming culinary curiosities, unfamiliar, and often alarming to modern palates. But they blended smoothly into the social context of the postwar years, as innovation and convenience became dominant themes in everyday life and fueled the growth of consumer culture.

That era is often criticized for being shallow, boring, and conformist.

But from a child's viewpoint, steady predictability isn't necessarily a bad thing. Knowing what to expect at holiday dinners can make the anticipation more enjoyable. A lot of the moms who baked, broiled, and mashed everything into place really did resemble Barbara Billingsley and Donna Reed, because that's how parents looked. My wife and I both believe that our dads would have fit in perfectly as members of the chorus on "Sing Along With Mitch."

Fortunately, the recipe for Ritz mock apple pie is still accessible via the Web (www.nabiscorecipes.com). It serves 10, and each serving contains 413 calories and zero grams of fiber. Those are the kind of old-time numbers that can knock anyone's food pyramid off its foundation. To be honest, I've never actually sampled the mock apple, but I can vouch for the creamy smooth texture of the Nabisco Famous Chocolate Wafer refrigerator roll.

As time goes on, I suspect fewer and fewer people will have an appetite for the fast 'n' easy delicacies of earlier generations. Tastes change. Thank goodness memories can be savored forever.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society