Several weeks ago, I read the most remarkably odd thread over at Roadfood.com. People – sane, rational, sensible people – were discussing Hostess Fruit Pies and the various regional varieties available in their market. This just did not strike me as a sensible use of anybody’s time. I’d long ago written off the entire Hostess corporate entity as a huge disappointment, and couldn’t see why anyone was raving about these pies.
I don’t think this was snobbishness on my part. When I was a kid, Hostess was always a treat. I grew up eating King Dons, if you remember those. Apparently, they had that name in the southeast, as opposed to Ding Dongs or Big Wheels in other places, to avoid confusion with Drake’s Ring Dings. I always got a kick out of Hostess’s funny little comic book ads, where Batman would foil the Penguin’s latest scheme by throwing a Twinkie, a Cup Cake or a Fruit Pie at him, and grumbled that since King Dons were better than any of the others, they should be advertised in those pages, too.
Also, you could usually count on getting three baseball cards on the bottom of a box of King Dons. It wasn’t just that they were chocolate, or that you could roll the aluminum foil wrapper into a little marble-sized wad and pelt somebody with it, you could get a Rollie Fingers or a George Brett card if you looked at the bottom of every box in the Big Star and shouted “Mom! Mom! This one!”
But at some point in the mid-80s, Hostess cakes just started tasting terrible. Whether the local bakery started changing the recipe or puberty made its first freewheeling jigger with my taste buds, I just didn’t want to eat King Dons or Twinkies about the time I started high school. They didn’t taste like cake anymore, and that creamy filling, once so very delicious, took on the flavor of the sort of stuff that came out of the ground at Love Canal. The company just became synonymous with “chemical sludge,” basically. Last year, I had a “Dinah Finger” at the great Red Arrow Diner in Manchester, New Hampshire and was overjoyed. That was what Twinkies tasted like before they got all chemically.
Fruit Pies, however, I never liked as much as the cakes in the first place. This is perhaps unsurprising. I was a stupid kid.
So anyway, I was reading all these yahoos raving about the taste of Hostess strawberry Fruit Pies and figured that either they’re all completely crazy or they’re onto something. And the Hostess / Interstate Baking people have an outlet store about two miles from my house.
They haven’t finished switching over all the names yet, but Interstate Baking officially changed its name to Hostess Brands in November of last year. This incorporates Hostess, Drake’s, Dolly Madison, Merita and who knows how many other little brands that have fallen before the behemoth that is Twinkie the Kid. So I popped in after work two weeks ago and navigated through shelves of Wonder Bread and Moon Pies – not, I don’t hesitate to tell you, including the rare and wonderful orange flavor – to find a lovely bunch of Fruit Pies, nicely priced at eight for $5. I figured that if I didn’t like them, then I’m sure my daughter and her friends would eat them.
Oh, no. Random neighbor children will not be getting their hands on these babies. They are wonderful. They are four hundred and freakin’ fifty calories of wonderful, but they are not for kids. They’re for Marie and me. Maybe my daughter can have one or two.
The pick of the patch is the strawberry pie. These are seasonal, while lemon, apple, cherry and chocolate are baked year-round. Missing from the local region is blackberry, which is only available, apparently, in the northwest. The shop near me did not have chocolate on the first visit. They get deliveries every Monday and chocolate was promised the second visit. Honestly, it really wasn’t worth the wait; I just didn’t care for the pudding.
But these fruit pies are just amazing. Heat one of these for about twenty seconds and eat it with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and tell me that’s not a more delicious dessert than the last thing you shelled out for at a restaurant. I like the strawberry and the apple best, but the others are still really good. Just, you know, don’t plan to eat one every night.
So thanks and congratulations, Hostess, for proving that some memories from childhood are still absolutely worth revisiting. Now, if you could only see your way clear to having the bakeries here in Georgia ramp up some blackberry pies as well, I’m sure we’ll get along just fine.
Several months later (November), I found one of the rarely-sighted peach-flavored Hostess pies at a truck stop in Franklin, Kentucky:
Now all I need is time in my calorie schedule to justify eating the darn thing before it goes stale!