by Colleen McMahon
Nobody Bakes A Cake as Tasty
Little Debbie, I've tried to love you and God knows it would be better for my wallet (if not my hips) if I could, because you are cheap, but it just doesn't work for me. Hostess and Drake snack cakes? A sick joke.
It's true: Nobody bakes a cake as tasty as a Tastykake.
I've been living in Tastykake exile for over ten years now, but they still have my love and allegiance. Whenever I visit the mother country (Philadelphia, that is), I stuff my baggage with as many boxes of Tastykakes as possible, like a post-war traveller carrying sausage, cheese, and nylons to European relatives. I've even corrupted people who had never heard of Tastykakes before. My old roommates mocked my obsession, but that was before they partook of the Kake. My partner, who has never lived above the Mason-Dixon line, now fights with me over the last precious butterscotch Krimpet. I didn't know how easy I had it when I was growing up. In South Jersey you could find them in any supermarket, 7-11, or Wawa (a local convenience store chain which should also be in national distribution, but that's a topic for another day).
You could buy them by the box, which held 6 packets of two sugar-laden cakes apiece, or opt for the individual packets, which held three cakes each. And the options! The classics: chocolate cupcakes with chocolate icing; Krimpets (butterscotch only please - you can keep the nasty no-icing jelly Krimpets); Kandykakes in peanut butter and dark chocolate flavors. The johnny-come-latelys as well: donuts, coffee cakes, even muffins and low fat versions in recent years. While I will venture into Krimpet and cupcake territory, my all-time favorites were always the dark chocolate Kandykakes, with the peanut butter variety running a close second.
Their advertising saturates the Philadelphia and South Jersey regions. When I go home to visit, the road leaving the airport always has Tastykake billboards lining it, complete with giant 3-D pastries and working clocks ("It's time for a Tastybreak!") I know I'm back on my home turf when I spot these ads and the Tastykake song becomes instantly lodged in my brain. There it stays until I pull off and find the nearest Wawa to stock up.
When I moved to Atlanta, it was a culture shock. Moon pies on every corner but nary a Tastykake in sight. I had two pitiful sources: my mom, who sent occasional care packages, bless her heart, and a revolting fast food chain called the Philly Connection. Their cheesesteaks are anything but authentic, but they sell genuine Tastykakes in the individual packets. On bad stressful grad school days, when nothing but childhood comfort foods would do the trick, I'd go in there for a half-melted packet of peanut butter Kandykakes.
Then a few years ago, a small miracle happened. I was shopping in the Kroger and what to my wondering eyes should appear but a rack of Tastykakes! Not the massive selection of my youthful days, but a few varieties. I snatched up the Krimpets and KandyKakes and rushed for the checkout, afraid they would evaporate like a mirage. I was a happy (and not coincidentally chubbier) girl for a few months.
I don't know if it was an experiment or an accident or a fluke of distribution, but as suddenly as they had appeared, one day the Tastykakes were gone again, and I haven't seen them since. I'm reduced to shaking down arriving friends and relatives and making occasional forays to the Philly Connection again.
It's pitiful, but there it is. Proust had his madeleines, I have chemically-enhanced chocolate and sugar and whatever the hell the white frosting is. When I have a stockpile of Kakes in the freezer, I know all is right with the world. Any time I want to, I can take out some chocolate Kandykakes, let them thaw (5 minutes maximum, they still must be nice and chilled), curl up on the couch and indulge in my childhood ritual. The first Kake is eaten in bites, like normal people might. Three or four at the most, five if I'm really savoring it. The second one is where it gets weird - I chip the chocolate off bite by bit, lick off the scary frosting, and eat the bite of chocolate cake that was once at the center of the complete Kake. Then if no one is watching, I scrape every bit of chocolate off the wrapper, and sigh contentedly, soothed.
I'm still hoping for more southern incursions for my favorite snack food. I recently found a Tastykake (www.tastykakes.com) website and eagerly perused their news releases and annual report hoping to see massive expansion plans for the southeast. Good news for the Midwest - you guys have them now. Down here in the south we are still Tastykake-less for the foreseeable future.
However, good news for Philadelphians in exile everywhere. A Taste of Philadelphia now has a website with online ordering. For a mere sixty bucks you can get not only Tastykakes but authentic hoagies, soft pretzels, and black cherry soda to go with-and overnight delivery anywhere in the US. I can't quite bring myself to spend that much but I always welcome care packages from you fortunate northeasterners. Send the swag and goodies to Leslie; I'll just take the Kakes.
Send news of southern Tastykake sightings to firstname.lastname@example.org
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