Prickly Pears For Dessert


I’ve always liked reading about cooking with offbeat ingredients (as you may know, I adore reading cookbooks but I don’t always follow through by going off to the kitchen and actually cooking!).

When I was a kid, I loved all the Euell Gibbons books – he was the guy who really made foraging for and cooking with wild foods a Thing back in the 60s. I wish I had the book where he talks about prickly pears, because – well, that would be just perfect, since I have been researching prickly pears and the things you can make with them.  I do have my old copy of Stalking the Wild Asparagus (alas, not Stalking the Wild Prickly Pear).

In Mexico you can buy a sweet called Quesa de Tuna (Nopal cactus ‘cheese’), a fruit paste confection make from the nopal, which is also called ‘tuna’ there. And cubes of candied cactus are sold in places like Arizona.

But if you can’t locate this, you could try some Prickly Pear Date Conserve, which would be lovely over vanilla ice cream or just on its own. It is from my copy of America Cooks (1940). The recipe comes from a lady called Mabel L. Lyott, and Mabel (as you will see) is a minimalist regarding directions.

2 cups thinly sliced prickly pear
1 cup finely cut dates
1 1/2 cups sugar
juice of 1 orange
grated rind of 2 oranges
4 tsp lemon juice
1/3 cup chopped walnuts

Cook to consistency desired, and 5 minutes before removing from flame add the walnuts.

After the conserve, we can finish off our meal with a nice glass of Nopalea, which is a lovely and healthy drink made from the Nopal cactus that not only tastes great but helps your body stay strong. Nopalea Ultra is a healthful drink full of the natural anti-oxidants found in the Nopal cactus. – better known as prickly pear or Indian fig. Its juice has been used as a traditional medicine in many countries, including Mexico.

Drinking or eating the nopal cactus can help reduce inflammation and pain in the body. Drinking some Nopalea every day is an easy, practical way for you to get all the benefits of the Nopal cactus without having to go abroad or to a special grocery store to find some cactus. Trivita, the company that makes Nopalea, has been making this healthy natural beverage for 12 years now.

They are committed to helping people reach optimal health and wellness, and have sold over 3 million bottles of Nopalea. Try some for free today by calling Trivita, and requesting a sample, at 1-800-203-7063 ($9.95 for shipping).

[Stay tuned for another Easter ad later today! I am just now staring at it in complete amazement. But later I'll have something to say...]

My Life Saver Friend

This is why you should always carry a pack of Life Savers wherever you go. Because maybe someday you’ll be sitting on a plane and a Cute Person is sitting across the aisle whining to the steward/stewardess that their mouth is dry and they need a drink, stat! Because “these champagne farewells” leave your mouth so very dry, darling.

The girl in this late 1930s ad actually says this. Look at me, I’m a fancy starlet with wealthy friends. What a show-off.

But Life Saver dude is very impressed and offers her an attractively-named Molas-O-Mint (and he’d better be quick about it because they weren’t on the market for very long*). Yum, molasses! That’ll dry up your mouth some more. Because those molasses hellos are even worse than champagne farewells.

But naturally this impresses Miss Starlet and she ends up introducing the pink-cheeked Not-F.-Scott-Fitzgerald to “about half the people in Hollywood.” The half who who make cheap costume dramas and then swill champagne, seemingly.

And guess how she introduces him. Not as Biff Gatsby** or whatever his name is but as “my Life Saver friend.” And then supposedly she writes him a note about how amazing molasses and mint Life Savers are. As if this would ever really happen. I think maybe Biff did a little creative writing there, fueled by the strange power of molasses and mint affecting his brain.

*See Wikipedia here: Molas-o-Mint Life Savers were made in the late 30s to early 40s. Oh, and it says here that they were only available specifically between 1936 and 1942. If you even care, I mean.

**That would be The Great Gatsby’s cousin from Tulsa (which is where the Life Saver guy says he’s from while he’s reading the letter).

Note: this ad was on LiveJournal, and then PhotoBucket took it away, and I managed to find it again, but it is not the best quality. Hope this works. And sorry ’bout that!

Stop A Trick on Halloween

Life, October 26, 1959

This will indeed stop a trick – right in his or her tracks, as it were (you can make up a few jokes right about here*). Is it better, worse or about equal to getting a box of raisins or some pencils in your plastic pumpkin/laundry bag/gigantic Gor-Tex enhanced Mountain Equipment mountaineering pack?

I was not even particularly happy to see these mini boxes of cereal at breakfast. You thought: oh yeah, tiny cereal boxes, there they are. Big whoop. And never once did I cut them open and pour milk in them like you were supposed to be able to do (I think). That would be messy and boring. Two strikes. One to go. I guess this is strike three: seeing them on Halloween. At least they should be in disguise. In costume. Dress those little cereal boxes up in Brach’s chocolate wrappers or something, people!

*I’m a little low on creative energy today as I have just spent the morning writing up a synopsis for my NaNoWriMo novel – you can click on the link on the right if you want to check it out)

Top of the Pops, 1917

Popular Mechanics, December 1917 [big version]

In the winter of 1917, W.Z. Long, a Teddy Roosevelt lookalike, was inviting people to come over to his house (in the ad on your right). And there you would learn how to make a new-fangled popcorn confection called the Crispette.

Crispettes were similar to modern rice cakes or popcorn cakes. Andrew F. Smith writes in Popped Culture: A Social History of Popcorn in America (1999, p. 64) that W.Z. Long  has been making Crispettes since the 1890s.* They were made by mixing popcorn and corn syrup (plus a bit of baking soda) and rolling this out into thin sheets. The sheets were then cut into squares or other shapes. And they were selling like – well, hotcakes. Hot popcorn cakes, that is.

W.Z. wasn’t the only one making popcorn crisp confections. Other entrepreneurial confectioners were busy mixing popcorn with syrup and flavorings like chocolate, maple and vanilla. I remember going to a candy store on Cape Cod in the 1960s and getting bars of popcorn flavored with chocolate, vanilla or strawberry. My favorite was the chocolate one. They were subtly sweet, and quite delicious.

Anyway, suppose you wanted to take Mr. Long up on his offer to set you up in the Crispette business. You could take the more reserved route of writing a note to him. But he actually preferred you to just, well – pop in:

Come to See Me at My Expense

Don’t say you’re coming. Just drop in quietly. Call on any banker or merchant. ..See if folks think I’ll make you a square deal. Then come and see my store…Up to a distance of 300 miles I’ll pay all your traveling expenses, if you buy a machine.


So if you ended up hating Crispettes and didn’t buy a machine, you’d have to shell out for that first class train ticket, right? And no doubt Mr. Long would make you sleep in an old popcorn bin. But since “everybody likes Crispettes – children – parents- old folks”- you’d probably want to know more.  And Mr. Long would give you all the equipment, and some recipes too. Well, not give, exactly. You’d be paying him later, after you’d made your millions – everything was on credit.

This was not a bit unusual in 1917. Credit back in the early 20th century was an everyday matter. My great grandmother had credit at the grocer’s in Brooklyn in the 1920s and 30s; I’ll bet yours did, too.  People simply ran up a tab, and the grocer – or Mr. Long of the Crispette machines, or whoever – trusted you to pay later on.

But now credit is a lot more complicated. Which means that it’s a really good idea to keep track of your credit score. A service that can give you a free credit report -  and even help you find some pre-approved loans – is a nice thing to know about. Another nice thing to know? A vintage popcorn cake recipe  from the 1921 edition of Skuse’s Complete Confectioner. And you don’t even need a machine to make them – except for the caramel cutter – which looks, from the illustration in the Caramel chapter, like a printing-press with a wheel. Just use a knife instead, it’s easier that way. The proportions are immense, since this is a commercial cookbook:


5 lb. sugar
2 1/2 lb. glucose
1 1/2 pints water
6 oz. treacle
6 oz butter or margarine
1 Tb salt

Pop 5 lb. of corn, then place it in a bowl and chop up small with a large knife. In the meantime, place the sugar and water with the glucose in a pan on the fire and boil to 270 degrees F. Add the treacle and butter or margarine, previously broken into small pieces. Continue to cook to 290 degrees F. Remove the pan from the fire and stir in the salt and popped corn. Stir until the corn is well covered with the sugar. Replace the pan on the fire to heat it a little, then empty the batch on an oiled slab. Flatten out with a rolling-pin. Roll into a  sheet, about a third of an inch thick; mark with a caramel cutter and cut into suitable pieces.

*Here is an item, in the August 1917 Popular Mechanics (p. 276) showing Mr. Long’s machine.

An After Dinner Mint


This post is sort of a virtual after dinner mint: refreshing, mind-clearing and invigorating. Peppermint, chocolate and financial planning all in one. So as you are digesting your turkey and stuffing, in advance of all that Black Friday shopping – let’s talk about money for a minute.

Once Thanksgiving is over, we all start thinking about Christmas  – or Hanukkah, or Kwanzaa, or the Winter Solstice – or any combination therein. About shopping for presents, right? And the tree. And the baking of cookies and making of fruit cakes and puddings and so on. Oh, and Christmas stockings – it is amazing how much you can spend on those.

So one thing to put on your wish list might be some free online budget worksheet
and home budget software from – not only won’t it put a hole in your Christmas stocking budget (I couldn’t resist that little pun) but it might just help you feel merrier about your money. And that’s a good thing. I’m sure that Santa would approve – and maybe he’ll even bring you a box of those delicious really really dark chocolate mints that you only seem to see for sale in December. I certainly hope so.

The Candy Show: New York, November 1893

Temple of Vesta (Rome)
The real Temple of Vesta in Rome

What fun it would be to go to the Candy Show in New York City in November 1893. It ran from November 6 to the 25th, and was held at the Lenox Lyceum, a concert hall at Madison Avenue and 59th Street. Almost four thousand people went on the first day.

Candy companies from all over the United States were there to make candy right in front of the visitors who would then eat it. All the candy booths crowded the Lyceum’s main floor and balcony, with a model of the Temple of Vesta – modeled after the one at the Chicago World’s Fair earlier that year – right in the middle of the main floor. There were coconut-opening and caramel-wrapping contests, with gold medals for those who excelled at these events.

Golden peanut brittle cracked on a serving dish
Wikimedia Commons

One New York Times reporter who went noted that most of the salesgirls there seemed to be named Bessie, and they offered chocolate bonbons, licorice, caramels and peanut brittle, among other things. Miss Bessie Day was in charge of cough drops (not officially candy, but never mind). Miss Bessie Montague offered “honeyed words and peppermint sticks.” And Miss Bessie Bellerouge of the Geneva Fruit Company, who changed her outfit three times a day (white in the afternoon, pink in the evening, and sometimes blue) sold “cooling drinks” – which must have been welcome after all those sweets. There were 200 pounds of candy made fresh every day.

Peanut brittle, a popular confection in the 1890s and ever since then, too, was a top seller at the Candy Show:

There was a special demand for peanut brittle, which is the greatest rival of Graham’s Boston chips [these were a kind of molasses taffy, apparently], dispensed by Miss Bessie Harrigan, who has dark eyes, the patience of Job with…young men with high collars, and the strength of a two-horse power engine, apparently, for she shovels out chips all day and half the night, and keeps her temper through it all.

The best part of all? The candies “look so good,” said the reporter – and you can almost see him licking his fingers and pausing to sit down and rest his stomach for a brief moment – “and may be had for the asking, almost in unlimited quantities.” One gentleman (possibly the same reporter) had “visited the exhibition about ten times and eaten something like twenty pounds of candy.” And every woman who went to the candy show and bought a ticket, the New York Times said, would get a big box of bonbons – two pieces each from every candy maker there, “enclosed in his own wrapper.” Pepto Bismol – and toothpaste – not included.

“Candy Exposition Opened,” New York Times, November 7, 1893.
“Attractions at the Candy Show,” New York Times, November 8, 1893.
“Many Women, One Mind,” New York Times, November 16, 1893.
“Miss Bessie at the Candy Show,” New York Times, November 17, 1893.

Trick Or Raisin

Trick or Fruit Life Oct 16 1964
Life, October 16, 1964

Fewer tricks when you treat ‘em with Sun Maid Raisins, huh?

These children are probably not all that thrilled, not really. Like Junie B. Jones, they are thinking that they did not say “trick or fruit,”* did they? But they will pretend for the camera. They’ll come back and toilet paper the house later.

Having said that, the clown boy does look like he’s dropping the raisins back into the bowl. Doesn’t he? The tiger, too – he’s about to drop them back in, too. And the girl is only smiling because she decided to hang back and wait until they get to the next house, where there’s probably some candy corn, at least.

There’s a particularly funny bit in the sidebar, you can see it better here, where they are pushing raisins for the grownups, too. Set out some bowls of raisins, folks, because

Perhaps you’re having an adult-type party yourself!

What does that even mean, an “adult-type” party? If this adult-type person is going to have to keep answering the constant ding-donging of trick-or-treaters, I’ll need something more festive than Sun-Maid  to sustain me: a chocolate martini would be ideal, I think. Straight up, hold the raisins, please.

*This is my favorite line from the classic holiday tale Junie B. Jones, First Grader: Boo…And I MEAN IT!

A Sampling of Whitmaniacs

Those Donalds sure like their Whitman Samplers. The guys like giving them to the gals. The gals like to chomp the chocolates. Although after all these years, year after year of nothing but Whitman’s Samplers – don’t you think the ladies would like something a little different?

The ads says that if you ask any lady what her favorite candy is, the inevitable answer will be: Whitman’s. How many ladies did they ask, do you think? They just asked around the Whitman’s office, I’ll bet. No one dared to say: you know, I really prefer Brach’s Mellowcreme Eggs. 

And note to Martha Donald in the last picture: it is polite to share. See how she’s keeping the box on the side away from John? And “hand strays now and then” to the box for more and more chocolates. I’ll bet John wouldn’t mind a crack at one of those coconut creams, you know.

From Life, March 30 1942, bigger version here.

The Chewing Gum Caper

It was the end of a long day and I was just about to close the office down when she walked into the joint. She was a good looking dame, but I could tell something was on her mind. Something dangerous. Something dark. She asked me if I was the guy who’d solved the Chiclets Caper back in ’37. “That’s right,” I told her. “Brought the Mars Bar Murderer in, too.”

“And the Case of the Pancake Makeup?”

“That wasn’t me. I deal in candy and gum crimes only. Cases I can really get my teeth into. So why don’t you just cut to the chase – tell me what’s on your mind.” She hesitated for a moment. I waited.

“It’s Peggy.”

“Go on.”

“Well – Peggy’s my best friend. I mean, I always thought she was, until…it’s just that – Peggy’s always on the go. I mean, always! And yet -”

I leaned forward. “And yet?”

“She seems so – so well rested! But she claims that she only gets two hours’ sleep a night! How – how does she do it? It’s a mystery to me. That’s why I came here.”

I leaned back in my chair and tried not to spin it around. This was going to be a tough one. Maybe the toughest case I’d ever had.

I made a list of suspects and started leaning on them – hard. This Peggy was a whirlwind all right. Stayed out dancing all night in the shadiest dives. Worked ten-hour shifts selling lousy hats to bargain-basement Betties down at the Five and Ten. And when I say those hats were lousy, I mean it. But Peggy always made the sale. Her supervisor said she even sold that turquoise and yellow parrot hat that had been on the top shelf since before the stock market crash of 1929.

And then I caught a break. Everywhere Peggy had been, I found Beech-Nut Gum wrappers. Dame got careless. See, that’s where they start making mistakes – leaving evidence behind like it was garbage. Well, to a detective, it’s not garbage – it’s clues.

I told my client that I’d broken the case. “Your little pal Peggy has been keeping a big secret from you,” I told her. “She’s a gum chewer. Beech Nut Peppermint Gum. She must have seen those ads about how busy people can stay rested yet peppy all at once. They even call it a good habit. That’s how they lure them in! And now she’s hooked on it. “

“I did notice her chewing something pretty well all the time,” said the dame.

“See, that’s the way it is with a mystery. Clues right in front of you, but ordinary people don’t know how to read ‘em.”

She paid me, thanked me profusely, and was on her way. I stuck the check in my pocket and reached for a pack of Black Jack – the tough guy’s gum that promises nothing but a little bit of licorice. Another case, another day.

[From that great mystery publication, Life, October 23, 1939. Want the big version? Right this way. Tell 'em Sam Spade sent you.]

The Cereal Box Masquerade

Even the inanimate objects are dressing up in Halloween costumes here. The little cereal boxes decided to be -  treats.

So picture this:

You’re all dressed up like Grandpa from The Munsters.* Grandpa from The Munsters with a bad case of seasickness. So he’s grumpy and green and he really needs something good to happen. As for you, you want candy. It’s Halloween after all – the festival of free candy! And boy, things need to get better soon. It’s been pencils and apples mostly, so far. Oh, and a few molasses taffy kisses, the kind with the orange and black paper wrappers that are welded right onto the taffy.

Ding-dong, trick or treat!

This can’t be happening. Surely it is a bad dream. Maybe Grandpa never got off that boat and you’re both drifting in a skim milk sea of bad luck and Alphabits that spell L-O-S-E-R.. Because – mini boxes of breakfast cereal? For Halloween? Oh, Mrs. Post, you just didn’t!

Oh yes she did though! And the box even says Treat-Pak. The corporate Post Ghosties think this is a great idea. They even think you won’t play any tricks, you will be so happy!

At the bottom, a tiny picture of the same kid is saying “All Post cereals happen to be just a little bit better.” Just a little bit better than – than what? What else has Mrs. Post got on hand tonight? Goody bags filled with Bran Flakes? Skim milk cartons and spoons? Or something even more sinister?

Guess which house everyone’s going to be covering in toilet paper tonight.

*Good trick that, because this ad predates the TV series by several years. The Munsters ran from 1964 to 1966, and this ad is from 1958.

What was the worst treat you ever got trick-or-treating? Please share! (Mine were mini boxes of Chiclets, and pencils.)

[From Life, October 27, 1958. That gave everyone four days to rush out and buy Treat Paks. Oh, and toilet paper.]