Tuesday, October 15, 2013

I heard it through the grapevine

Stop trying to get me to eat raisins. I don't like them. Nobody likes them. If people like them so goddamn much, how come you have to keep hiding them in food? I'll tell you why... 'cause nobody likes raisins.

When I was a kid, my mom's favorite candy bar was Chunky. She loved Chunky Bars, that foil-wrapped square of dense milk chocolate (easily mistaken for a dose of Ex-Lax, so she was careful where she stored them). The problem with Chunky was: hidden in that thick, inviting block of chocolate were raisins. They weren't visible, like the almonds in a Hershey Almond bar or the sandpaper-like appearance of the underside of a Nestle Crunch (both of which I liked, so I didn't mind the attempted cloaking of a supplemental ingredient). No, those raisins were deep inside, away from the smooth exterior, just patiently waiting to fill the mouth of an unsuspecting chocolate-lover with distaste and disappointment.

On Sunday mornings, my dad liked to wake up early (actually, my dad liked to wake up early every morning) and go out to get sticky buns from Bauer's Bakery. Sometimes, I would accompany him. I loved to watch those stout, gray-haired ladies behind the chrome and glass display cases. They'd bump into each other and reach across each other's hunched backs as they filled customer orders in the impossibly-narrow work space. Sometimes, one of the women would spot me, smile, wink and announce in a thick, unplaceable, Old World accent, "Give that little girl a cookie." (It was the 1960s and, much to my father's chagrin and my mother's delight, I had shoulder-length hair.) As I munched my free cookie, the lady would fit a glistening square of golden brown sticky buns — dripping with syrupy glaze — into a plain white cardboard box and then bind it tightly with string from an overhead dispenser. When we got home, my dad would cut the string with a steak knife and that box lid would spring open. I'd eagerly pull one of those sugary beauties away from its conjoined neighbors and take a big bite. Ugh! Raisins! Hidden on the bottom! Those treacly pastries were supported by a double-thick foundation of raisins! Of course they were concealed beneath the appeal of cinnamon-swirled, sweetness-blanketed, yeasty dough. If they put the raisins right there on top, for every customer to see, no one would buy them. And since some supply manager obviously ordered way too many raisins, they have to get rid of them somehow. So, if they tuck a bunch under their popular sticky buns and still call them "sticky buns" and not "raisin sticky buns," no one will know... at least not until they get them home.

The worst is when they try to sneak raisins into cookies, taking full advantage of their look-alike qualities to chocolate chips. How many times I've made my selection from an offering of assorted cookies, thinking I was choosing one filled with chocolate-chips, only to discover the unmistakable gummy texture and pasty taste of — you guessed it — raisins!... after just one bite.

There better not be any raisins in here.
My mother-in-law makes a delicious kugel, a sort-of casserole made with egg noodles, cottage cheese, sour cream, cinnamon and sometimes apples. It is good when served either hot or cold, but it is usually ruined by the addition of one ingredient. Wanna guess what that ingredient is? I'll give you a hint... it's raisins! And my mother-in-law gets sneaky about it, too. She knows (like every other "raisin-adder") that nobody likes raisins, so one must be devious about their unwelcome inclusion in any recipe. My mother-in-law uses the dreaded golden raisins in her kugel, so they blend in stealthily with the yellow of the noodles. Innocent dinner guests shovel a heaping forkful into their mouths, never suspecting what awaits them once they begin to chew. I suppose my mother-in-law gets a good chuckle out of it. Same goes for my father-in-law's home-baked challah. Why do you think the plain challah is more popular than version with raisins? Um... 'cause it doesn't have raisins!

At Halloween time, what kid cheers when they find a box of raisins mixed in with their Reeses Cups and Kit Kat Bars? Raisins always evoke a crestfallen "awwww" once discovered at the bottom of a trick-or-treat bag. Then, they are discarded with the empty wrappers, crumbs, lint and other undesirables by the second week of November.

Hey kids! Please like me!
In the 80s, the California Raisin Advisory Board (who knew there even was such an organization?) introduced a lovable gang of cartoon characters called the California Raisins, to stir awareness of the wonderful properties of raisins... what ever they may be. (Vitamins? minerals? chewiness?). This cute and endearing troupe of animated singers, dancers and musicians captured the hearts of children. They didn't make raisins taste any better, but they were pretty popular characters. Raisins, however, were still raisins. Despite the concerted effort by the Raisin Growers to convince us that those wrinkled little nuisances were "Nature's Candy," we soon found out what we knew all along — "candy" was actually "Nature's Candy." Raisins are not.

Plus, they look like rabbit shit.


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