Pickles . . .The Flamin’ Hot Cheetos of 1913?

In yesterday’s New York Times Sunday Magazine I spotted a short entry about the history of pickles which said they were once regarded by some as “indigestible green trash.”  The piece also included this quote from a 1913 issue of McClure’s magazine:

With the school children of the tenements pickles have almost become a morbid habit, like morphine with certain unfortunate adults.

After last week’s discussion about schools banning Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, I couldn’t help but notice the parallels.  From the Chicago Tribune earlier this month:

. . . [T[here is something about Flamin’ Hot Cheetos that inflames critics in a way that other snacks — including regular Cheetos — never did. . . .

“Once you start eating them, they are kind of addicting, and you can’t help it,” said sophomore Zian Garcia.

The comparison had me wondering if every generation of kids gravitates toward certain fad foods of which adults disapprove, maybe for precisely that reason.

In the mid-nineteenth century, Louisa May Alcott’s Amy in Little Women got in trouble for bringing to school pickled limes — all the rage among her friends — despite a ban by her teacher.  I did a little digging and found this background on pickled limes:

Young men and women chewed, sucked, and traded pickled limes at school for decades, making the limes the perennial bane of New England schoolteachers. Doctors tended to disapprove of the limes, too; in 1869 a Boston physician wrote that pickled limes were among the ‘unnatural and abominable’ substances consumed by children with nutritional deficiencies.

In the 1970s it was Garbage Candy and Pop Rocks, the latter so alarming to adults that its manufacturer reportedly set up hot lines and sent letters to principals assuring parents of Pop Rocks’ safety.  In the 1980s, it was gum packs with cards featuring The Garbage Pail Kids, cards which were actually banned in some schools.  I found on the Internet anecdotal reports of schools banning hot cinnamon Atomic Fireballs and the super-sour Warheads candy.  And at my mostly-Hispanic middle school, teachers tried to confiscate our Mexican “saladitos” (salted, dried prunes) stuck in lemon halves, which we surreptitiously sucked on all day until we were left only with prune pits and lemon peel.

What’s the common thread here?  I think kids must love an element of “danger” from sour or hot flavors (or in-mouth explosions), or else a “gross out” factor like eating candy fish bones and old sneakers.  But while “forbidden foods” may always attract kids, I’m sure most of us would rather they were drawn to the humble pickle (ingredients: cucumber, herbs, garlic and brine) over this factory-made concoction:


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  1. says

    Interesting. I wasn’t aware there was a culinary equivalent to “Devil’s Music” (or “Dance of Satan” or whatever we call that thing our children do to annoy us purposefully.)

    I do wonder if the issue with “Pop Rocks” was a fear that they would cause the kiddoes’ stomachs to rupture if they came into contact with Diet Coke, or if it was due to their association with certain… um, “amorous” activities *cough* “Lewinsky” *cough*).


  2. Uly says

    Having read about the pickles before, my understanding is that the fear of kids eating pickles was partially xenophobia. Pickles were weird immigrant food, and immigrants might feed their child ANYthing without ANY idea of proper nutrition!

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