On Process And Place - Letter #2 (Mark to Julie)
A Substack Letters series between Mark Dykeman (How About This) and Julie Falatko (Do The Work) about childhood influences (aka favorite foods and snacks) on creative work as an adult
I’d like to welcome you back to a three part Substack Letters series between myself (Mark Dykeman) andof . Our series, On Process and Place, examines the impact of childhood experiences on the creative work that we do as adults, with a focus of the impact of living in smaller communities and their particular influences, also taking into account that we are both part of the Generation X cohort (born in the late 60s or 70s).
You can track the progress of this series here:
Julie, like me, grew up in small towns, although she grew up in the US state of New Jersey (close to New York City) and is now a long time resident of Maine. On a global scale we are practically neighbors as Maine borders New Brunswick, my home province. Our cultures are very similar yet there are differences worth examining. We're also both members of Generation X so we were probably exposed to similar foundational experiences (I'll never forget where I was when I learned about the Challenger explosion in 1986: the same is true for 9/11 in 2001).
We've hit upon the name (and theme) for our letter series to be called On Place and Process. We're both creative individuals: Julie is an author of children's books and while my day job is project management I've written online for years and startedas the latest version of my online writing in mid 2022. But we both live outside urban areas and we wanted to explore how that has affected how we express ourselves today.
Our Letters series is divided into three sets of letters: I (Mark) will write the first letter in each set and Julie will reply to it while adding her own thoughts. We're going to dive into some really specific experiences in this Letters series. This is my entry under the following heading:
Set 2: Food and snacks, with a local flavor: similar to the above, we're going to remember the little foods, snacks, junk foods, whatever, that we grew up with that were local to our area.
Hello again, Julie! In our first letter set we both reminisced about the quirky and unique television of our respective areas. Now we’re talking about food and snacks of our youth. I must say, I have high expectations of what you’ll be able to share due to your proximity to NYC.
Let me try to appropriately lower your expectations about my childhood, though. First of all, my province’s border with the United States used to be much more porous than it is today. Since we were hundreds, if not thousands of miles away from Canadian economic centres we borrowed a lot of US culture when it came to snacks and food options. Today my little town has McDonalds, KFC, Pizza Hut, Subway and other fast food options. Thirty-plus years ago we had to cross the border to Northern Maine communities like Houlton, Presque Isle or Caribou to sample the above (my town never did get a Burger King or Wendys). It was often a weekly thing for friends and families to go over there for a meal plus buying cheaper gasoline, less expensive milk, etc.
But, OK, here’s a bit about my hometown.
There was a restaurant called Burger Junction in my town that was open for about 10 - 15 years. It sold burgers (apparently we had a choo choo burger), fries, hot dogs, a few other menu items and a mildly train-like decor… there may have been fried chicken there too. It’s not a place that I have strong memories about, mainly because, although the food was fine, it felt like a slightly inferior copy of something else. It may have been part of a tiny franchise as I seem to remember someone seeing another restaurant of the same name in British Columbia (on the other end of the country). Several of my high school friends slaved away part of their teenage years working at Burger Junction. Apparently a number of restaurants use the name Burger Junction these days but I don’t know if they are different franchises.
Oh Julie, one piece of trivia: in radio ads for the restaurant they used a jingle that I think was a nod to the old Petticoat Junction theme. You’re welcome.
Two other franchises that have been around for decades are Dixie Lee and Pizza Delight.
Dixie Lee specializes in fried chicken and fish: the total number of herbs and spices used to flavor the food remains a mystery. The coating on the chicken is a bit saltier than KFC and it’s a smoother covering. The chicken pieces at Dixie Lee seem to be a bit fattier than KFC and it’s a bit greasier and juicier - in unkind moments some may have referred to it as Greasy Lee but I cannot confirm. It’s tasty enough fried chicken but not terribly memorable and lacking zing compared to other places. I used to get lunch there a lot when working my part-time job in high school, mainly it was close to the pharmacy where I worked. Will get takeout from there occasionally, even today.
Pizza Delight is detectably different pizza than Pizza Hut but it falls roughly in the same category of pizza. Two dishes of note, though: garlic fingers (basically pizza dough with garlic butter that’s often topped with mozzarella and tiny bits of bacon) and donairs. Donairs are popular in Atlantic Canada, especially in Nova Scotia. Have you heard of donairs before, Julie? Donairs are pita bread stuffed with flavored beef strips, lettuce, tomato and onions while being slathered by a sweet garlic sauce.
I think it’s very similar to a gyro but I’m not sure. The meat content is a bit different than the gyro, as is the sauce.
There were a few other local takeout places, like the Red and White canteen (aka Pikey’s) and the fondly remembered Hinky Dinky takeout, which eventually burned down a number of years ago. Alas. Although I don’t recall them having really standout food. There was also the Log Cabin, which was memorable for making fresh cut french fries. The Log Cabin is also long gone. Also, it was never a real log cabin!
But there were a few other things.
Mini-Sips and Beep
Julie, have you ever heard of mini sips? Before we had juice boxes we had juice bags: flavored punch (probably flavored water, to be honest) that you bought in a bag that was half again as large as the average kid’s hand. I remember fruit punch and grape flavors for sure, there might have been more.
Each mini sip came with a straw (with a special diagonal cut used for insertion) and an implicit challenge: puncture the bag with just enough force to insert the straw so you could drink the juice but not so hard that you tore the bag or double punctured it, which would ruin it. Bending the cut end of the straw was a huge problem, too.
The secret to drinking success was to squeeze one end of the mini sip so that the other end inflated full of juice, which you poked with the straw. The pressure made it easier to cleanly puncture the bag and preserve the juice.
Many mini sips didn’t make it, Julie: just too delicate for rambunctious kids.
Just thinking of all of the logistics behind keeping the bags puncture free… the juice box really disrupted this particular product. Thank goodness.
I also want to shout out to a long running Nova Scotia product that I’ve never tried. It was a juice called Beep.
I never understood Beep. It had the following ingredients:
According to the carton, the drink contained water, sugar, fruit juices (orange, apple, apricot, prune, and pineapple), citric acid, orange pulp, natural flavours, sodium citrate, canola oil, modified corn starch, sodium benzoate, caramel colour, annatto, and ascorbic acid.
There were a few other things too, Julie. We have a world renowned manufacturer of chocolates in New Brunswick called Ganongs and one of their most distinctive products is the chicken bone:
The outside of the chicken bone is a pink candy shell with a strong cinnamon flavor filled with a soft chocolate on the inside. Back in the day this was the kind of candy your grandparents would leave out in a bowl at holiday time or for family gatherings. Certainly a memorable product, not one that I really cared for. However a recent twist is that a local distillery made a liquor flavored like these chicken bones and it was a big regional hit for awhile.
I grew up in a real meat and potatoes area, Julie, and I mean that quite literally: lots of potato farming along with cows raised for dairy or beef products, with many of us being of English and Irish descent. So 30+ years ago tastes were pretty simple and a lot of people couldn’t afford to eat out or put Wagon Wheels or Vachon snacks in their kids’ lunchboxes every day. Much of our food and snack culture was either dictated by corporate US or corporate Canada.
I still have fond memories of Hostess potato chips, which were once packed in this remarkable combination of outer foil covering with a waxy inside (I think?) but they were sold to Lays many years ago. We have also had a small potato chip factory in a nearby town for decades. It used to be called Humpty Dumpty (I don’t get it, either) and when I worked in that town I occasionally got to sample some freshly cooked potato chips, which was quite a treat and much better that getting them from a bag in a store. It now goes by the brand name Old Dutch (I still don’t get it). Meanwhile, that town has a second potato chip manufacturer called Covered Bridge Potato Chips, which is actually pretty good product but it’s only been around for about a decade, long after my teen years.
There are probably a few other things I could go through, Julie, but honestly it wasn’t a really special area for local treats or cuisine unless you made your own snacks at home (like Rice Krispie squares, aren’t they universal? Or cookies and squares? And cakes and pies?) and even then they were tasty enough but clearly Anglo-Saxon and kinda unexciting.
On the other hand, there was almost a complete lack of pretense in our local foods and darn it, that’s not such a bad thing: a microcosm of Canada itself back in those days.
So that’s my installment of Set 2, Julie. Can’t wait to read what you have to share!
Also: no snack foods were harmed during the writing of this post.
Support a scrappy little newsletter from Atlantic Canada, eh?