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December 29, 2010



I've often wondered what happened to the many discontinued products that American companies have given up on for whatever reason. They may not have been properly market tested to begin with, may have had only potentially regional popularity, may have had inherent negativity (flavor, color, texture, ingredient combo, etc.), or simply may not have performed in the marketplace when push came to shove. Today many of these items from the past turn up on the internet in the form of blogs put together by admirers, indexes of lost products and their manufacturers, and in some cases the actual products themselves that have been reintroduced due to demand and sold in smallish batches online. Many of these discontinued products are centered on food.

I of course remembered the many food items from my youth that have vanished from supermarket shelves. Mostly they were treats and so were fairly easy to summon up in memory but less easy for me to figure out reasons for why they failed.

Cookies and cakes predominate here. Nabisco for example in the 1950s did a type of flat cookie that had almost pulverized raisins pressed into the dough, which contained whey. It came in a longish package of three or four egg-washed strips of this, with perforations allowing you to break the cookies into the size and shape of graham crackers. The Nabisco version of this cookie turned out to be called Sultanas, a name I did not recognize. But the Sunshine Biscuit Company made it too, called Golden Fruit, and that's when the bell rang for me. A decade or so later Nabisco also did a long chocolate covered cookie with a peanut-butter-and-batter dry crunchy center. It looked like a miniature Clark Bar candy bar. Turned out to be called Ideal Peanut Bars, as part of a subgroup of Nabisco chocolate-covered or -drizzled cookies.

I also researched with varying degrees of success the following childhood favorites: Nabisco Brown Edge Wafers, Lemon Thins and Orange Thins (FFV?), Almond Crescents (Keebler?). Also an FFV cookie that was a dense chocolate chip and nut cookie (small chips and nut nuggets, sized like vanilla wafers or ginger snaps) with an egg wash and a spiral swirl on top. They were delicious and offered fascinating variations on the color brown (interestingly FFV "introduced" this old 1950s combo in a new cookie in 1983). And Lemon Coolers (Sunshine), Keebler Lemon Vienna Fingers, and Stella D'oro frosted ring-shaped cookies with a lemony taste and with white, pink, or green thin frosting. Found out that the aforementioned wafers and thins were pulled probably because they were too fragile and broke extensively in their packages. The lemon Viennas simply did not sell well, and the Stellas did not sell well packaged as a separate variety but continued to be included in Holiday assortments -- although the more recent assortments have reduced the size of the rings and added superfluous sprinkles to the frostings. And the fun of the Lemon Coolers and Almond Crescents involved the generous dustings of confectioner's sugar that they both shared and that children sucked up on their fingers from the bottoms of these packages.

As for cakes, Sara Lee in the early 1970s had a frozen pound cake that had cherry pieces in the batter (not today's ubiquitous dried cherries either), and also a package of six frozen thickly frosted yellow cupcakes. Two of the frostings were dark chocolate, one vanilla, one vanilla topped with coconut, one strawberry, and one orange. Both products were delicious but both have disappeared from today's shelves. And briefly in the late 1950s Chock Full o'Nuts marketed  in supermarkets their frozen whole wheat donuts covered with confectioner's sugar. They were scrumptious, like no other donut I ever had before or since. I understand you can still get them in CFN coffee shops, but the supermarket immersion campaign was only a limited success. 

I also remember Entenmann's coming out in the 1970s with a series of pies that tried to cut strong (or top up weak) fruit flavors by combining them with apple: Blueberry Apple, Pineapple Apple, Strawberry Apple. Worked for me since I found blueberry and pineapple flavors too strong to stand alone in a pie. And of course the famous Ebinger's bakeries in Brooklyn had cakes and pastries to die for. My family particularly liked their square yellow layer cake with mocha filling between layers, and chocolate butter cream frosting on the top and sides. Unfortunately the company decided to expand in the late 1960s and went bankrupt in 1972. 

Some of these products were saturated in TV ads of the time. CFN donuts had the company coffee jingle reproduced on TV ads for the donuts (". . . better coffee Rockefeller's money can't buy." Unfortunately Nelson was then newly inaugurated as New York's governor so presumably it was then decided to make CFN desist from using his name. The jingle then substituted "a millionaire's" for Rocky's family name.) And on 1962 daytime TV Nabisco pounded the eardrums of small children and the bigger drums of their parents with ditties touting the flavor exclusivity and oomph of one up-and-comer and three of their best sellers: "The very best yet, new Baronet!" "I'd fly to the moon for a Lorna Doone!" "You're darn tootin', we love Fig Newtons!" "Yo ho ho for an Oreo!" Baronet died a relatively quick unlamented death, and alas Lorna Doone shortbread cookies could not compete with more toothsome Danish and Scottish competitors.

And then there were dairy products. The one that I remembered first was Dannon yogurt's Fruit Cup flavor. It was essentially fruit cocktail (including maraschino cherry) underneath yogurt. Very good sweet fruit with sour cream combo but I think the red food dye scare did it in, and it vanished in the mid-1970s. My cousin liked the sweet/sour combo of Dannon Prune Whip (when yogurt was still primarily a food for health faddists) but my palate's sophistication was nothing like hers. I tried it a few times but liked neither the taste nor the yucky color -- sort of made me think of amoebic dysentery. That one disappeared at around the same time. In the 1970s Dannon introduced then discontinued Lemon, Lime, and Banana flavored yogurts. I thought them good but most of Dannon's customers did not.

I also liked a specific flavor of ice cream that I believe was made by Sealtest, known for its large variety of sometimes off-beat flavors (e.g., Plum Nut, which was probably channeling prunes in ice cream -- risky if not suicidal). My favorite was a vanilla base with swirls along the lines of vanilla fudge ice cream. But instead of chocolate fudge, the swirl was a sort of lemon curd (not sherbet). I can still see and taste this although I only had it once at my sister's house, in 1960. I have not been able to locate this discontinued flavor in any Sealtest photo index I've looked at but I'm pretty sure Sealtest made it since they had other fruit swirl flavors, all ending with the word Royale: Blueberry Royale, Strawberry Royale, Pineapple Orange Royale, etc. In any event Sealtest went out of business some time ago. I don't know why, but I do remember that my friend David Milligan once visited the Sealtest Dairy on a 1950s elementary school trip and announced upon his return that the facility "was filthy." Too much bad press like that and even the best company had better watch out.

I also remember liking a new non-dairy whipped cream product in a box called Dream Whip, when it was introduced in 1959. You added milk and vanilla extract to it and then used it as whipped cream. I immediately tried one of the enclosed recipes, which had you mix this concoction with an unset red Jell-o flavor. It was creamy! It was pink! It was delicious! Anyway I just assumed Dream Whip would have been long gone but, no, it is still going strong which makes you wonder about the well-being of the American palate. Speaking of which, I have deduced that said palate does not like citrus flavors in its cookie, cake, or dairy products.

Discontinued candies are also PLTs (primary lust targets, my cousin's term) for many children of the 1940s, '50s, and '60s. They tend to discontinue, come back briefly, discontinue again -- frustratingly so. Many are only available online in small batches and there have been issues involving freshness and availability for these products. I particularly remember JuJubes made by Heide. They were firm little gelatin candies in jewel tones (my sister had a narrow leather belt that had cut glass gems attached to it via metal grips -- in the same shapes and jewel tones as these candies). I also liked Bonomo Turkish taffy bars, around the same size as a Hershey bar, in vanilla, chocolate, strawberry, and banana. Also, Sugar Daddy milk caramel pops, Sugar Babies, Chuckles Jelly Candy, the robustly flavored Mary Jane candies (peanut butter and molasses), Beech-Nut Fruit Stripe gum (thick diagonal stripes in Life-Saver five-fruit colors!), Black Jack licorice flavored gum (the oldest flavored gum in sticks in the US, introduced in 1884), Clove flavored gum, and the small peanut brittle candy bars that used to be sold in vending machines on NYC subway station platforms.

Discontinued savory food products have also been missed. In the 1970s Buitoni introduced frozen Instant Toaster Pizzas, which I loved. They were "hockey pucks" of dough with tomato and cheese filling, and were heated in toasters. Complaints involved centers remaining cold, some sauce leakage in the toaster, and the sauce's odd orange color due to the cheese content. Other products today are similar and are of course heatable in microwaves, which probably sounded the death knell for these delicious little Buitoni pizzas. Other missed savories are Ocean Spray Cran-Orange Relish, various corn and piccalilli relishes once easily accessible in supermarkets,  Jell-o savory flavors (celery, tomato), the original Postum, and an all-time favorite refrigerated packaged white meat chicken breast roll or log (Oscar Mayer?) that I would slice and cube in the 1970s for a quick chicken salad.

I am not big on treats these days but have persuaded myself that I miss these foods, some of which have settled into regional or ethnic market availability, or are obtainable in close-to-original form on the internet, or have simply died a lamentable but not forgotten death. 

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