It’s election season.
But I’m talking cookies.
Welcome to my own personal counterprogramming, where we take a break from politics.
We’re not talking Republican or Democrat.
We speak carbohydrates.
I say this because the other day, I found myself needing a cookie so bad that I left lockdown, put on a mask, and went out to buy a pack of Pepperidge Farm Mint Milanos.
Yes, I risked COVID for cookies.
Cookies are comfort food, and if I can buy comfort, I’m opening my wallet.
Meanwhile, I cannot eat a Mint Milano without thinking of Mother Mary. If you understand that food can have sentimental value, you’ve come to the right place.
Every night after dinner, she dipped her Mint Milano in coffee and enjoyed every bite.
With a cigarette.
Anyway, it got me thinking about the cookies that we had when I was little. Growing up, we had a lot of off-brand cookies like Hydrox. We had less money than most of the families in the neighborhood, but I didn’t figure that out despite the fact that our car, house, and clothes weren’t as nice.
It’s my keen novelistic eye for detail.
What brought it home to me was cookies. I went to a friend’s house and they had real brand-name cookies, the kind in the commercials.
Hydrox cookies looked like a pale imitation of Oreos, literally. Oreos were black, and Hydrox were gray, the official color of broke.
But honestly, I preferred the Hydrox.
And guess what, I just did some research online and found out that Hydrox, first baked in 1908, inspired Oreos, not vice versa.
I also learned that the name Hydrox was a combination of hydrogen and oxygen, since the manufacturer wanted to convey the cookie’s “purity and goodness.”
Because nothing says purity and goodness like natural gas.
But for The Flying Scottolines, even Hydrox was fancy, because being Italian American, I grew up on real-deal anise biscotti and, on Christmas and Easter, pignoli-nut cookies.
Something really good had to happen to Jesus for us to have pignoli-nut cookies.
And at any Italian wedding, there would be trays of assorted cookies interspersed with pastel-colored Jordan almonds, which I thought were plastic.
Also, the cookies would be covered with tinsel, like food decorated with lead.
More purity and goodness!
And I loved Italian butter cookies covered with jimmies.
Or sprinkles, if you don’t speak South Philly.
In my experience, whether you say “jimmies” or “sprinkles” is a choice like “gravy” or “sauce.”
You can say whatever you want, and I’ll love you anyway.
Don’t get all Red State and Blue State.
We’re all united in saturated fats.
When I got older, I saw that the kids at lunch had chocolate chip cookies, sugar cookies, and snickerdoodles.
To us, they were “Medigan” cookies.
Which meant American, in pidgin Italian.
Never mind that we were American.
We ate immigrant cookies.
Then in high school I went to a friend’s house, where I discovered Pepperidge Farm. I marveled at the package of real paper, with a closure that folded down neatly, and the cookies had their own paper trays, lest they break.
Obviously, Pepperidge Farm was the Cadillac of cookies.
Also they had chess pieces on the butter cookies, another sign of class.
They call them Chessmen, and when I start eating them, I cannot stop.
I want to date Chessmen.
Nowadays, I try to make chocolate chip cookies when Francesca’s home, or she makes them for me, which is even better.
They’re delicious, but there’s something about those off-brand store-bought cookies of my childhood that I remember so fondly.
Is it possible to get misty-eyed over Hydrox?
It’s such a comfort food that it’s a comfort thought, at a time when we need it.
Maybe it is pure and good.