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Stale Fig Newtons

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Stale Fig Newtons

People eat scrapple. People eat bugs. People eat dogs. All because their parents fed them scrapple, bugs, or dogs. Unsurprisingly, studies by anthropologists confirm that, for the most part, human beings like to eat the foods they grew up eating. Let me give you an example from the world of Don.

Growing up in the 50s, my parents took me and my brothers on frequent road trips. I have many fond memories of highway food—exotic treats, roadside picnics, and snacks consumed in the back seat of various station wagons.

If Dad stopped to refuel and was in a generous mood, he might come back to the car with a snack for the kids. He would never choose any treat that could melt. No chocolate. Often, Dad would return to the driver’s seat carrying a package of Fig Newtons he’d picked up in the service station. This was in the time long before sell-by dates appeared on packages, so these bad boys had probably stood neglected on the shelf of the service station for decades. Fig Newtons were introduced in the 1890s and it is possible that some of the cookies Dad fed us were from Nabisco’s first batch. These Fig Newtons were always rock hard and sometimes seemed to have a faint taste of gasoline from spending years next to service bay number one.

To this day, I prefer a stale Fig Newton. I can eat a fresh Fig Newton but it just never seems right—far too soft. For me, a Fig Newton isn’t at its peak until the package has been opened and the contents allowed to dry out for a month or more. An ancient one is pleasantly resistant and offers an obstinate chewiness that will always seem right to me.

Good or bad, my parents taught me what to eat and I’m still on the highway they showed me. Thanks, Dad.

Do you have any fond memories of the odd things your parents fed you?

Don—Pittsburgh, December 19, 2019.

 

Comments on this post (29)

  • Jan 04, 2020

    I love your fig Newton story. I spent a couple of short stints as a paleontological volunteer, digging up dinosaur bones in the hot high-plains Wyoming summer. The infamous Bob Bakker was running the dig. He had a definite technique for preparing fig newtons. You open one “clip” at a time (remember fig newtons come in two clips per package) and set the newtons in the sun to toast and become slightly crispy. Best when served immediately.

    — cavenewt

  • Jan 03, 2020

    I can not blame my addiction to stale Peeps chicks on my parents. I introduced myself to Peeps as a young adult. I am frequently too impatient to age them into staleness. I put them in the freezer to crunch-ify.

    Mary Edna

    — Mary Edna Benner

  • Jan 03, 2020

    My daddy’s favourite cookie was Fig Newton’s and his favourite cereal was Grape Nuts. He was just a regular guy.
    I emulated him! However now I put up fig jam from Brown Turkey and Celeste fig trees. The jam is great on hot buttered biscuits or stale challah toast!
    Love your blog, Don. Keep on truckin!💙

    — E.B. Abrams

  • Dec 25, 2019

    I’m a sweetaholic. However, I cannot stand fig newtons. Never could. When I went away to graduate school, Dad drove me to IU and helped me move into the graduate dorm. Before he left he gave me a box and told me not to open it until he’d left.

    Inside he had packed a lot of practical items I hadn’t thought about…office supplies, postcard to mail missives home, etc. Lest I get too teary-eyed about being away from home for the first time, he’d also left me with, you guessed it, a package of fig newtons.

    — Carolyn

  • Dec 25, 2019

    I’m a sweetaholic. However, I cannot stand fig newtons. Never could. When I went away to graduate school, Dad drove me to IU and helped me move into the graduate dorm. Before he left he gave me a box and told me not to open it until he’d left.

    Inside he had packed a lot of practical items I hadn’t thought about…office supplies, postcard to mail missives home, etc. Lest I get too teary-eyed about being away from home for the first time, he’d also left me with, you guessed it, a package of fig newtons.

    — Carolyn

  • Dec 23, 2019

    This was laugh-out-loud funny, Don. Thank you. I love all the comments. I grew up in the ‘50s, too, in eastern Pa., and I ate everything my mom made, artichokes, eggplant, even scrapple and the tongue my grandmother had in her fridge. I remember my mom mixing grape jelly into our scrambled eggs. I guess to make them more palatable, and effectively turning them green.
    The only road trips we’d take were to go to the Jersey Shore (about 3 hours away) and, alas, there never were any snacks in the car that I can remember. Besides, back then gas stations only seemed to sell gum, a few candy bars and cigarettes.

    — Moonstone7

  • Dec 21, 2019

    A special treat at visits with my mom to a neighbor lady with a piano: White bread with spreads of mayo and strawberry jam. Every part was exotic and so special in the small town in korea in 80’s!

    — Lee

  • Dec 21, 2019

    Never much of a vegetable fan, but mom tried. And NOTHING is better than some fresh, crisp iceberg lettuce with a couple of teaspoons of sugar on it!

    — Cynthia

  • Dec 21, 2019

    And, as someone else has mentioned, dried apricots, which we called “camel lips” (a name that cannot be unlearned!).

    — Karen Ford

  • Dec 20, 2019

    On our family road trips with 5 kids (my husband usually stayed home and worked)..I would stop to gas up and run into the station and get Chicken Strips, Fig Newtons and Cokes for all of us to eat as we were going up the highway………..Our kids still comment on those snacks! A good memory of taking a trip!!!! If my husband was driving, he wouldn’t hardly stop the car until we reached our destination! and we had to BEG him to stop for a potty break!

    — Kaye Gomes

  • Dec 20, 2019

    My dad loved fig newtons and put them in the refrigerator. He would not share them with us kids. I thought that they must be the best cookie in the world so one day I sneaked into the frig and took one. It was the worse thing I ever tasted. But, he also loved chocolate covered caramels, my favorite to this day.

    — BH

  • Dec 20, 2019

    My mom invented the “goo sandwich”—one slice of soft white bread spread with syrup, butter, and peanut butter (in that order). Delicious!!

    — Doris

  • Dec 20, 2019

    My mom invented the “goo sandwich”—one slice of soft white spread with syrup, butter, and peanut butter (in that order). Delicious!!

    — Doris

  • Dec 20, 2019

    My family had some inexplicable (at least, to me) holiday favorites in the treat department. One was ribbon candy, which was made of brightly colored thin hard pure sugar candy that was pleated into treacherous folds. Though it was pretty, one had to break it up to eat it and the shards were brittle and sharp-edged. To my mind, it had less flavor than, say, Life Savers, and I failed to see the value in trying to eat something that could pierce my gums. Another was those rubbery marshmallow “circus peanuts” which my dad loved. There were also hard candy pillows filled with a cloying yellowish brown sugar and peanut butter paste that reminded me of what it might feel like to crunch into a dead beetle. And dad loved those boxes of those bizarre Licorice All-sorts (licorice based candies in various shapes with garish sugar frostings and sprinkles) which to me tasted like road tar smelled. I was always relieved that the stocking treats also included a lot of foil wrapped chocolates — I could trade the other candies that I found disgusting to my younger sister who seemed to love all of them.

    We did shift the traditional Xmas day dinner from the laborious turkey feast to a big pan of lasagna when I got old enough to make it for the family myself. It’s something I still do today (though I don’t have any family living or nearby with whom to celebrate Christmas any more). I add a lot of spinach and arugula to the filling to make it festively red and green.

    I am more of a cookie fiend for holidays. Our meager budget when I was very young precluded buying pricey Oreos that we kids begged for, but Mom found a recipe for roll-and-cut chocolate cookies that she would make up and fill with vanilla or peppermint flavored buttercream icing (which we called Faux-reos) that were actually so delicious that she had to ration them to us and hide the canister of them so we would not gorge ourselves.

    I do like Fig Newtons especially for fuel and snacks on hiking and kayaking trips because they are so durable for squishing into snug pockets. And eating them on long drives means fewer lap crumbs than other cookies produce as well as the beneficial side effect of the fig fiber on road trip constipation. I did stop eating them as an older kid when I learned the creepy way that figs are pollenated, but relented when I reached adulthood and became less squeamish. I admit that i prefer mine a little more chewy than stale and discovered that ones that have gone too dry can be rehydrated by sticking them in a zip lock baggie with a slice of blandly flavored fresh bread.

    — Kerry

  • Dec 20, 2019

    A billion years ago now, my mom often let us snack on dried apricots, which she laughingly called “baby ears.” Kinda sounds horrifying now, but back then we kids thought it was hilarious. Still call them that now, of course.

    My favorite stale food is the cereal (do they still make ’em?) Corn Pops!

    — Linda

  • Dec 20, 2019

    My mother fixed hot rice with butter and sugar on it, and called it a “vegetable” — maybe in the sense of being a side dish?

    — Karen Ford

  • Dec 20, 2019

    Pink snowballs. My grandparents had them on a high shelf next to Mr Potato Head parts

    — Karen Spangler

  • Dec 20, 2019

    Venison jerky, shade-dried, with salt, pepper & allspice. We could barely wait the two days until it was ready (northern Nevada, where the skies are not cloudy all day).

    — Chingachgook

  • Dec 20, 2019

    I still prefer ‘crunchy’ Juicy Fruit or Spearmint stick gum. It snaps when you bite into it, never really develops any flavour and loses its sweetness within seconds…I don’t even know how gum managed to dehydrate instantly in my grandmother’s purse (along with ‘stale’ Kleenex packs and the occasional lint-coated pillow mint that tasted slightly like coins). Being that it was before the time of Costco bulk shopping…I can only guess that she was buying packs of gum individually at the grocery store?

    — Lori Chang-Shivji

  • Dec 20, 2019

    It’s more a memory of the neighbors; some nice older people who would typically keep cookies on hand. The usual variety found, especially in the summer months, were those plain vanilla brand x sort of sandwich cookies (you know, kind of like an Oreo, with the white filling). They were always placed in a cookie jar which had no particular seal to it. Which meant in the humidity of summer, it only took an afternoon or two before they became strangely soft, almost chewy.

    These cookies were never good for dunking in milk, like the stereotypical Oreo, but I grew to prefer them soft. So much so I kind of hated them in the winter, when the dry air proved incapable of creating the same consistency. Once in a great while, I still find myself getting a package of them. But only at the height of summer, and I always take the plastic cover off and let them absorb the ambient humidity for a solid day or two.

    — James Seamus

  • Dec 20, 2019

    My New England, Anglophile grandmother always served Garibaldi cookies. They’re rather like a Fig Newton, but a soft cookie with currants mixed throughout. We loved them, but always referred to them as “dead fly cookies.” She didn’t see the humor.

    — Pb

  • Dec 20, 2019

    Spam. That’s one I remember fondly, but couldn’t eat ever again, knowing the fat-and sodium-filled ingredients and their affect on the average adult’s health .
    That is, unless someone else was frying some of this aromatic pork ‘variety meat’ and offered me some. Yes, I’m weak.

    Stale fig Newtons are good too, but Oreos are better.

    — Cynthia Bell

  • Dec 20, 2019

    I LOVE stale fig newtons too! And stale peeps! And stale candy circus peanuts!

    — Beckee

  • Dec 20, 2019

    For me, from deep childhood the perfect Easter treat is stale peeps. My partner knows this, buys a package early in April, breaks the cellophane and hides them on a shelf so that they have time to get nice and chewy.

    — Sugar Sobadforyu

  • Dec 20, 2019

    My oldest likes stale Peeps, guess that goes to my parenting:)

    — Beth

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