(9 PM – promoted by TheMomCat)
Those of you who read this regular series know that I am from Hackett, Arkansas, just a mile or so from the Oklahoma border, and just about 10 miles south of the Arkansas River. It was a redneck sort of place, and just zoom onto my previous posts to understand a bit about it.
I rarely write about living people except with their express permission, but this installment is more about THINGS, particularly brands of things, that have essentially disappeared now. Many of them were foods, but some were non food items.
I was raised eating mostly from scratch, home cooked food that Ma, my mum, or my dad (he was very good at a few things) cooked. I have introduced you to Ma before, here, and as soon as I introduce you to my mum I shall use a more personal term for her in future.
In no particular order, here are some of the brand name items that I remember from an early age. Let us take them by category.
Before the Coca-Cola Company and Pepsico began to force other, smaller bottlers out of the market, there were many local brands of soft drinks. The two that I remember best were the Nehi brand and the Nesbitt brand. These were at least regional, and usually bottled at the plants owned by the “big brands” under contract. Both of them had similar items, like strawberry, orange, root beer, and, as far as I can tell, cream soda unique to Nesbitt. These were sold in 10 ounce, returnable glass bottles. My mum and I developed a taste for Nesbitt cream soda, and often made ice cream floats with it, but also with their root beer and Coca-Cola as well.
At the time, you could put in a silver dime into Gene and Katie’s in store soft drink cooler and then the lock would release and you could pull your bottle out of it. Correct change, only! My mum and I enjoyed these often, and also ones made with Coca-Cola. My mum liked the “little Cokes” the best, the old, 6 1/2 ounce returnable bottles. It was about then that the 16 ounce bottles of Coca-Cola began to be marketed. Gene and Katy HATED then, because they would not fit into their cooler.
Another brand of cola that I remember is Pop Cola. It came in 12 ounce bottles. Does anyone remember that? These three brands likely were regional, but I would be interested to hear from others further from Arkansas who are familiar, along with your local and regional brands. Nesbitt was bottled by the local Coca-Cola bottler. I have nearly half a gross of crown caps for Nesbitt Root Beer, given to my by a friend who used to work there. They had to discard them because of a formulation change (they were taking actual sassafras out of root beer at the time) and the ingredient statement was printed on the cap, so he have them to me.
About that time the Coca-Cola company introduced Fresca, a grapefruit flavored sugar free soft drink. Fresca was really good until 1969 when FDA banned the use of cyclamate as a sweetener in the US, forcing the Coca-Cola company to use saccharin instead. Even though cyclamate was found later to be harmless, it is still banned in the US, but is available in Canada. I do not know what the Canadian formulations for Fresca is.
Canned sea food
For tuna, the same three brands that are now the market share holders are about the same: Chicken of the Sea, Star-Kist, and Bumblebee. However, Chicken of the Sea and Star-Kist got into an advert war in the early 1960s, giving rise to some classic TeeVee adverts.
Here is an early Charlie the Tuna one, but not the first in my opinion. It only shows up at around 9:56 into the video, but there are lots of good videos before it. By the way, the late character actor Hershel Bernardi was Charlie’s voice for many years.
The one for Chicken of the Sea is also long, and that advert cuts in around 9:17. There are more adverts on that clip that I shall work into Popular Culture in another iteration, but my mum bought either of those brands, depending on which one at the time was 9 cents per can or 11 cents per can. In the early 1960s the only option was the “packed in oil” kind.
Here is the video.
I have always love oysters. Raw is better, but gently cooked ones are good as well, and I have a way to fry them very crisp on the outside but to leave them cool in the middle. It is not easy to do, but the product is wonderful, keeping the essence of the creature in one’s nose, but just firm enough to convince the squeamish to eat them if they are scared of raw ones. But this is not about raw ones, but the only brand of canned ones (fine for chowder or stew) that Gene and Katie kept at their store. The brand name was Nigger Head Oysters, and I kid you not!
Here is a picture of the label on the can as I first remember it. My mum would often send me over to get a can or two, for 20 cents or less each so that she could make soup.
Here is what the label looked like when I was quite small:
Later cans used a less caricatured image on the label, but the canning company finally went out of business before they renamed the product Black Head Oysters. Canned oysters are good for nothing except stew.
There was a locally owned ice cream company named Wards. In addition to “regular” flavors, they made a wonderful black walnut flavored one, and another one called “honeydew”, but it had no real melon in it. It was orange in color and very sweet. I can not really describe the flavor, but it was good. Depending on the day, I would get either chocolate marble or honeydew at Mr. Rutledge’s store in a cone, for a nickel. Wards also supplied block ice (the clear, 50 or 100 pound blocks that required an ice pick to manage). Ma’s second husband had a little store with an ice house, and I would like to get inside it in the summer when it was so hot outside. There was no refrigeration in the ice house, just lots of insulation and the ice itself.
The Wards factory suffered extreme fire damage around 1980 or so. The family decided not to rebuild, so just took the insurance settlement and did other things.
There was an insecticide brand called Hot Shot (I think that the brand name still exists, but not this particular product) that came in green glass bottles with a finger pump aerosol dispenser at the top. The product was actually just a kerosene solution of DDT, and was sold widely. DDT was banned in the US in 1972, and for good reason. Although it is an excellent insecticide, it is so persistent in the environment that it causes long term damage. I remember once Granddad getting really ill from Hot Shot, and that is a story that I shall share in another installment.
Chiclets gum, still being produced, is almost impossible to find stocked locally anywhere now. The same goes for Dentyne gum, but the original form in no longer produced. Do you remember the small cinnamon pieces, about a third the size of a standard stick of gum and a little thicker? Both Chiclets and the modern forms of Dentyne are made by Cadbury now, and have been since 2000.
The biggest brand of potato chips in my little town were Guys potato chips. At one time they were a big player, but the national brands pretty much did them in except for a quite local market in a few midwestern states. Guys chips had, for a time, the ingredient that the company called “Flavorite”. This was actually monosodium glutamate (MSG), and due to public outcry was removed. Although I rarely eat potato chips these days, when I do get a bag I always take some MSG and grind it very finely and add it to the bag when I open it, then shake the bag gently to distribute it evenly. I do not have a bad reaction to MSG, but I understand that a few people do.
A very popular kind of hard candy when I was small was horehound drops. It had an odd, but not unpleasant flavor. I suspect that they can still be had, but only in specialty stores or online. I do not remember the brand of the drops that were available when I was little, but I suspect that they are all pretty much alike. They used to be very common, but I have not seen them for decades now.
There are many more products and brands that have disappeared since I was little, or at least have been reduced to only a single state or small region. APCO Oil comes to mind, as does Motive Parts Warehouse (MPW) a large regional chain of automotive parts supply stores headquartered in Fort Smith, Arkansas.
Please let us know about things that are no longer available that you recall from your early days. It is always interesting to hear about them.