Food Column: The food we miss

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Goodness, you people have sharper memories than I do.

Last week I asked readers to tell me which discontinued foods they miss most ("Taking a Trip to Foods That Aren't There Anymore").

I had to think for a whole day just to come up with a few decent ones. But within hours of the column's publication, I was getting inundated. I've already heard from about 70 of you.

My favorite story came from former Post-Gazette staffer Laura Pace Lilley, who now edits "mtl" (Mt. Lebanon Magazine).

"Don't laugh," she wrote. "Franco-American canned (gasp!) macaroni and cheese. It had whitish-yellow sauce and very long noodles. My best friend hated it. When we had sleepovers at my house, she used to gag when I ate it.

"For my wedding rehearsal dinner at Christopher's on Mount Washington, she found a can and had the chef put it on my plate, and that's what I was served. Everyone else had steak and mushrooms."

Believe it or not, a second person waxed just as eloquent about that stuff.

"I went to Grant School in Bellevue," wrote Jennifer Coss Medford, "and at the time we were allowed to go home for lunch. My sister and I would go to my Nuni's for lunch, and she would always have Franco-American macaroni and cheese for us."

One of the few other canned items anyone mentioned was Big John's Baked Beans.

"They were in a distinctive two-can package," wrote Ron Smutny of Bethel Park. "The larger, bottom can contained the beans, and the smaller, top can had a thick paste that was a mixture of molasses, tomato paste and seasonings... Far better than Campbell's or other ordinary beans."

Thinking outside the can, many readers long for various old-time candies.

Tasi Handelsman of Fox Chapel recalls something called Horlicks Malted Milk Tablets, which to me sound more like medicine than candy. She and several others also remember Space Food Sticks, a soft chocolate candy that astronauts apparently took into space.

Darleen Koury of Belle Vernon remembers a 1950s candy bar called Lunch Bar, which someone on the Web called "the cheap man's Hershey bar."

"The cost was three cents each," Ms. Koury wrote. "When I went to the candy store, I could buy a Lunch Bar and two pieces of penny candy. What a deal!"

Other candies people mentioned included the Skybar, a sectioned chocolate bar filled with different creams; Bonomo Turkish Taffy; Melonheads; Fortune Bubble and Bubble Fudge gums; Chunky and Rally candy bars; and Fun Fruits.

A local comes to the rescue! John H. Prince, president of CandyFavorites.com in McKeesport, wrote to tell us that his company specializes in retro candies that are still around but hard to find. Case in point: Bonomo Turkish Taffy was off the market for more than 20 years but has recently made a comeback.

And whaddya know, the Chunky bar is on candyfavorites.com, too.

I'm pretty sure none of us is pining for anything healthy. The person who came closest was Liz Dick of Cranberry, who for years has tried to invent a homemade version of the long-gone Wishbone Creamy Cucumber dressing, to no avail.

Two readers, like me, remember certain lunch meats with a shudder rather than a smile.

"I remember a luncheon meat called Corned Beef," wrote Kathy Grabowski of Penn Hills. "The meat was speckled with fat and more fat."

And as a teen, Chuck Morrison worked at Isaly's in New Castle, where he "opened hundreds of cans of chipped ham and had to scrape clear jelly from the pink meat."

Gag. He's a better man than I.

Some readers mentioned favorite drinks, including Tang and Crystal Pepsi, along with Fizzies, which were tablets that you dropped into water and -- presto -- instant pop.

Jimmy Sisteck of Pleasant Hills wrote about Cherikee Red pop: "I was forbidden to have [it but] that distinctive red mustache clearly gave me away."

Cherikee Red! Thank you, Jimmy. I hadn't thought of it in years. It only takes about three brain cells to figure out why that product name would be verboten now, and for good reason. Even so, it conjures up sticky summer nights spent catching fireflies at my Nan's house. She often gave us "red pop sodas" -- vanilla ice cream in a glass with Cherikee Red.

And that's just it, isn't it? That's why 70 of you wrote to me. It's not really about the food. It's about best friends and sleepovers and rehearsal dinners and Nunis and Nans. And we think that if we could just get a taste of that long-ago food, we could bring back the happiness that went with it.

We'll return to this topic next week and talk about more of your old-time favorites, including breakfast foods, cookies and fast food. So keep those memories coming! Include your name and neighborhood in your e-mail message to pgfoodevents@hotmail.com

And while you're at it, check out the events below, and go out and make some new food memories.


Festivals

Saturday: AppleFest, noon to 3 p.m. at Whole Foods, East Liberty. "Compare apples to apples," the press release says, by eating free samples. Also: cooking demos, crafts and prizes.

Also Saturday: Ethnic Dinner, 2 to 8 p.m. at St. Pius X Byzantine Catholic Church, Carrick. Pierogies, stuffed cabbage, halushki and more. 412-881-8344.

Saturday and Sunday: Ukrainian Food Festival, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and noon to 3 p.m. Sunday at St. George Ukrainian Catholic Church, Brighton Heights. Ukrainian foods, baked goods, craft market, pysanky demo and iconography display. 412-766-8801.

Wednesday through Oct. 28: Autumn Food Fair, 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. (lunch) and 4:30 to 8 p.m. (dinner), Holy Cross Church Community Center, Mt. Lebanon. Greek foods and bake sale.


Charity events

Saturday: Art Auction and Fall Festival, 6:30 p.m. at Lawrenceville Library. Silent auction of local art, gift basket raffles, music by Duquesne University Tuba Ensemble and others, food from local restaurants and beer from Church Brew Works. Benefits Friends of Lawrenceville Library. lawrencevillelibrary.org.

Next Thursday: Charity Trunk Show, 5 to 9 p.m. at Grafner Brothers Jewelers, Wexford. Limited-edition Sara Blaine jewelry, wine and Argentinian hors d'oeuvres. Benefits American Liver Foundation and American Lung Association. Register ahead: 724-935-5070. grafnerbrothers.com.

Through Nov. 16: Fall FoodShare Food Drive, Giant Eagle stores. Donate food or cash. Donations will go to the food banks nearest the store where the donation was made. Sign up to volunteer at collection points: pittsburghfoodbank.org.


Screenings

Both documentaries, to be screened Monday, are among nationwide events commemorating "Food Day," a day of action to push for sustainable, affordable food. foodday.org.

• "Grow," a documentary about young people in Georgia choosing to become farmers, 5 and 7:15 p.m., Anderson Dining Hall, Chatham University, Shadyside. At the 5 p.m. screening, dinner in the sustainably sourced dining hall is $8; the 7:15 screening includes free snacks and a follow-up discussion.

• "The Garden," a documentary about a South Los Angeles neighborhood that turned a 14-acre wasteland into a green space for food production and beauty, only to have the city decide to sell the land to a developer. 6:30 p.m., Kaufmann Centre, Hill District.


Food business weekend

A weekend in Slippery Rock targets food entrepreneurs:

Oct. 28: "Food for Profit," 9 a.m. at Slippery Rock University Union. Workshop on inspections, licensing, business plans and marketing. $40. Pre-register: 1-877-489-1398.

Oct. 29: Shared Commercial Kitchen Roundtable, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Slippery Rock University Russell Wright Alumni House. $15; pre-register at pasafarming.org/roundtable or 412-365-2985.


Gobble it up

Mad Mex's Gobblerito has returned.

For one month, the restaurant, which has seven Pittsburgh-area locations, sells an entire Thanksgiving dinner in a burrito. Turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, corn and gravy come all wrapped up with a side of cranberry sauce.


Rebecca Sodergren: pgfoodevents@hotmail.com


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