Cheetos Bag of Bones

A black and white illustration of Bag of Bones Cheetos, an Indestructible Food.

“An invention for the ages.”

I don’t like to brag, but I know the gal who INVENTED Cheetos Bag of Bones. She’s a copywriter named @oh_that_sarah and she’s full of great ideas. (Although, I don’t know how you top the creation of the best Halloween snack food of all time.) Anyway, here’s the story of how Bag of Bones came to be:

Sarah started her advertising career at an agency in San Francisco, and her first assignment was to work on the social media accounts for Cheetos. (You didn’t think Chester Cheetah wrote his OWN Tweets, did you?!) It should have been a mundane learning experience, but the hands of fate had other things in store. You see, Sarah and her partner were ambitious, and they kept bringing their creative director ideas he never asked for and certainly didn’t want. Rejections piled up like autumn leaves, but the pair was undeterred.

Their persistence paid off (for all of us) when one day Sarah waltzed into her boss’s office with yet another zany idea. “Hey, what if we made White Cheddar Cheetos in the shape of bones for Halloween?” There was a record scratch and time froze. Nothing would ever be the same.

The boss loved the idea, and soon it was on its way to Frito Lay for review. They ALSO loved the idea, and a year later, Bag of Bones Cheetos were on store shelves. 

This new product was great for everyone: Frito Lay got a seasonal hit snack and some cultural relevancy. Cheetos fans got to build little Cheeto skeletons with which to scare their roommates. And Sarah’s family got to go to Walmart, buy something that came directly out of her brain, and then eat it.

If there’s a moral to this story, it must be that having a lot of ideas will eventually lead to something mind-bogglingly rad. And that we owe @oh_that_sarah a debt of gratitude for expanding the Cheetos universe. Happy Halloween, everyone!

Reese’s Peanut Butter Pumpkins

Illustration of Reese's Peanut Butter Pumpkins.

“It makes you feel so OLD, doesn’t it?”

If you call Reese’s (and you should) someone will answer the phone and tell you anything you want to know about peanut butter cups. Maybe there’s a limit to what you can ask them, but I kinda doubt it. 

I called to verify a date, because Wikipedia claims that Peanut Butter Pumpkins were introduced in 1993, which couldn’t possibly be true. Peanut Butter Pumpkins are younger than Selena Gomez? It can’t be! Anyway, the rep informed me that the Pumpkins were, in fact, introduced in 1993. She listened to my protestations of shock and gently interjected “It makes you feel so OLD doesn’t it?” I hung up the phone and all of my illusions of youth. 

Anyway, original peanut butter cups were invented in 1928 in the basement of Hershey candy company employee H.B. Reese. The name of the product was “Penny Cups” because that’s what they cost at the time. (Now we can all feel young again!) They sold so well that Reese discontinued his other candies and put all of his eggs in the Peanut Butter Cup basket. I know we’re supposed to be talking about Halloween, but speaking of eggs and baskets, Reese’s Peanut Butter Eggs were introduced as the first seasonal variation in 1967. Then came Pumpkins and Christmas Trees in 1993, and Hearts in 1997.

The seasonal shapes of Reese’s treats are arguably the best, because the peanut butter to chocolate ratio is higher. Also, original peanut butter cups have those ridges at the edge, and while they’re adorable, they’re the “crust” of the candy and throw off the whole texture/balance of the experience. Some folks may disagree with me here, so I’ll add that seasonal Reese’s are bigger than regular cups and therefore superior. I rest my case. 

In the hierarchy of Halloween Reese’s, Pumpkin is best, then full sized cup, then Reese’s Pieces, then mini cup. The Reese’s candy cars are their own thing and should be classified among other candy bars (Fast Break>Mr. Goodbar, etc.)

Whatever your favorite candy, I hope you get some for Halloween. Or maybe the day after, when it will certainly be on sale.

Candy Corn

An illustration of a bag of candy corn in an ornate frame.

“There used to be turnips.”

Candy Corn is undoubtedly our most controversial Halloween treat. I’ve seen fistfights break out over whether it’s delicious or completely disgusting. OK, maybe not fistfights (my friends tend to be a fairly mild-mannered bunch) but heated arguments for sure. 

It was invented in 1888 by noted troublemaker and Wunderle Candy Company employee George Renninger. At that time, agriculture-themed butter-cream treats were popular, and you could get them in the shape of turnips or chestnuts or pumpkins or corn. An awful lot of the country was rural, and offering candies in the shape of produce seemed like a money-making miracle. Candy Corn was named “Chicken Feed” and it was an instant success at penny candy counters across the nation.

Recipes for this candy category sound like the fever dream of an inventive 6-year-old: Mix sugar, corn syrup, carnauba wax, and water to make a slurry. Not sweet enough? Add some fondant! Looking for a pleasant mouthfeel? Add some marshmallow! Dye it three colors, layer it in cornstarch molds, and give it a final polish in a food-grade shellac. 

That three-color layering is probably the reason that we’re still eating candy corn, even though we’ve forsaken butter-creme turnips. Candy Corn looks cool! You can bite it off one color at a time! They make incredible DIY fangs!

I’ll be honest. I’m pro-candy corn. Mostly because it’s a food that looks like another food, (a candy that looks like a grain?!) and I love stuff like that. That being said, a little goes a very, very long way. 

PEZ

A triptych of Halloween Pez: Skull, Pumpkin and Witch.

“An easier way to eat candy.”

PEZ are a year-round treat, but there is something VERY “Halloween” about snapping someone’s neck back and eating candy from their throat, so we may as well talk about them.

There are a handful of candies that are elevated by their method of delivery. Fun Dip is, for instance, just loose Pixy Stick dust that you lick off that weird white bar. And who would eat the beads of a candy necklace if they didn’t come on an elastic string? Even a lollipop is just a hard candy on a stick. But there is NO candy that comes with as many exciting accessories as PEZ. 

The dispenser was originally invented to make PEZ more convenient to eat. Before that, you had to open a tin, take one out, manually put it in your mouth, and close the tin. That’s a ton of work for a 3 calorie snack. What’s worse? They were marketing this to people trying to quit smoking! I’m pretty sure people who are trying to quit smoking don’t need more aggravation. There had to be a better way!

Anyway, they invented the dispenser in 1949, and it looked just like a cigarette lighter. You know, so your smoking friends wouldn’t think you were uncool for trying to quit. However, Americans DID think it was uncool to quit smoking, so PEZ swung its marketing around to focus on small children, most of whom did not smoke. The first character-head PEZ dispenser was a witch, which brings us full circle on that whole Halloween theme. 

To date, there have been over 1500 Pez dispenser designs, which means that this year, you can probably find one to match your costume. 

PS: An early ad campaign for the dispensers really went hard on the idea of eating this candy with ONE HAND. Which immediately made me think about eating candy with BOTH HANDS: grasping a king-size Butterfinger and nibbling it lengthwise like a corncob. If you have further thoughts about two-handed candy eating, I’d love to hear ‘em.

Wax Fangs

A pair of wax fangs. on a spooky stage with bats and things.

“There’s nothing you cannot do with paraffin.”

The best thing about getting wax fangs for trick-or-treat is that they’re an instant costume game-changer. Are you a witch? Now you’re a vampire witch! A Ninja Turtle? Vampire Ninja Turtle! A slice of pizza?…You get my drift. 

We owe the existence of this superior treat to the petroleum industry. See, Americans are at their best when they are trying to make money out of what would otherwise be trash. Paraffin wax is the byproduct left over from refining oil, and inventive folks used it to create some of my favorite things: crayons, petroleum jelly, and wax fangs. 

Now, paraffin is a food-grade wax, but you are SUPPOSED to chew it like gum, not eat it like candy. Actually eating your wax fangs may cause digestive upset, which really puts a damper on Halloween.

This year, I hope your costume starts off great, and is then improved by a pair of wax fangs. Happy chewing!

Necco Wafers

Black and white Illustration of Necco Wafers in an ornate frame.

“There are no bad candies.”

Every year, a bunch of smart alecks make lists of the worst Halloween candy, and every year, Necco Wafers are right at the top.

Invented in Boston in 1847, these sugar wafers really haven’t changed much. They are brittle and powdery, and if you shatter one, it’s capable of inflicting a painful wound. (Ask me how I know.)

The Necco Wafer may not be the sexiest Halloween candy, but it’s the perfect candy for New England, because if you’ve ever been here, you know that we love to have something to complain about. Mild suffering is a recognized hobby. We’ll even complain about free candy!

In this household, we remembered that Necco Wafers were sort of flavorless, so we bought some and did a tasting. WE WERE WRONG. Orange, Lime, Cinnamon, Wintergreen, and Chocolate are all distinct. Lemon is a little mild, but you can get it if you concentrate. Clove and Licorice are…pretty overwhelming. I wanted to spit them out, but I held on, and I’m stronger for it. Maybe we got a fresh batch, but I’ll certainly never call Necco Wafers flavorless again. 

In closing: There are no bad candies. Candy is a good thing. There are candies you eat first, and candies you eat later. Then there are candies you discover when you swore you were out of candy.

Lentils

May you acquire a plentitude of coins…

Here’s a lucky food for New Year’s Day. Italians have a tradition of eating lentils at the stroke of midnight to usher in wealth for the coming year. Because lentils look like coins. There are only two problems with this: Lentils don’t really look like coins, and no one gets rich because they have a lot of coins. But lentils are are worth discussing anyway…

Lentils are super old. They’ve been found in human settlements from 11,000BC. They are nutritionally spectacular, packing as much protein per ounce as steak and a ton of fiber, too. And they are pretty much our eco-friendliest crop. So, you know, if you want to keep living here on Earth, tuck into good-luck-lentils a little more often.

You can prepare lentils in about 5,000 ways. Here is an incomplete list of ideas: Lentil soup, red lentil dal, lentil burgers, lentil salad, misir wat, lentil fritters, marinated lentils, lentil hummus. Basically, if you type “lentil” before any food a google search, you will find a recipe for it. And some of those recipes might even be good. Use your own judgement, please.

Finally, if you’re like me, you cannot think of lentils without thinking of The Young Ones. Which is a British comedy series from the 80s that you should watch if you like lentils. I think it brings good luck for the New Year.