The last time I was in a play was at a local community theater, in a small suburb of the town that I lived in and we had rehearsals three nights a week. Nearby was a local mom and pop gas station that sold the original Necco candy cigarettes.
I loved these things! I would run over there before rehearsals and stock up. Then I would sit around like a cool kid and suck on the white stick with the pink tip, and my lungs had absolutely no damage. I must have cleared out their entire stock of goods during the three weeks of rehearsals and the four week run of the show.
Now there are many brands of candy cigarettes – more than you might realize unless you are a true candy cigarette aficionado like myself.
Unfortunately, most of these taste like you went to an old, abandoned elementary school, broke out a ground floor window, climbed through, made your way through all the mice and spiderwebs to one of the chalkboards on the far wall of the classroom, and found an old broken piece of Dixon Waltham chalk and stuck it in your mouth.
Oh, but not Necco candy cigarettes. It’s not the shape, or the idea of edible cigarettes. I don’t like to pretend like I am Nick Nolte from Cape Fear, puffing away at hard sugar like a hefty kid with a Pixie Stick.
To me, it doesn’t really matter if you call them candy stix, candy cigarettes, or candy heroin pipettes. I just like the taste. It’s a kind of a mellow peppermint that is both simple, yet luxurious, and as a bonus, there was always that little pink dot on the end to break up the monotony. Yes, I realize that the dot was there to symbolize the cherry, but it just kind of made the sticks seem . . . I don’t know . . . cooler . . .
If that wasn’t awesome enough, Necco also perfected the smooth texture. These sticks did not have the crumbly, chalky instability of the “other” brands. These were firm candy sticks with just the right crunchiness to them.
The original Necco Stix or Cigarettes, or whatever had cool names like: Dinosaur, Supersonic, and Hawk and looked like this:
For the last year or so, I have searched high and low for these candies, only to find out (to my extreme disappointment) that they seem to be extinct.
I came close a time or two. One time I bought a box of what I thought were Necco cigarettes from Ebay, only to find out they were these things:
These are not at all like Necco. These are crumbly, chalky gross sticks that taste like mint vomit. Here, allow me to illustrate the difference. This is an example of a candy cigarette from one of the generic packs:
Now this is a Necco candy cigarette:
See the difference? The top cigarette is crumbly and lumpy. The flavor has a bit more of a potent, extremely unnatural mint aftertaste. But the worst feature about this stick is that it dissolves into a nasty paste that coats your mouth and leaves your tonsils feeling oily. It also causes that strange sore-throat feeling of too much sugar forced down the ol’ esophagus.
Now examine the Necco candy. It is smooth, firm, not at all chalky. The flavor is mellow and I could eat a dozen of these and still not have that stingy, dried out mouth feeling. Plus it doesn’t coat at all. But the best thing about it is the mild mint flavor that just makes you think, “yum.”
One more illustration. These are the same candy cigarettes from the same generic brand, just repackaged as Spiderman Candy Sticks (or Bâtonnets de Bonbon, if you prefer), and they don’t even have the cool pink dot:
See? Chalky and overly crumbly. They just don’t even look fun to eat, now do they?
And this brings me to Frozen Run.
You see, I have been looking for the taste of Necco Candy Cigarettes, and I’ll be dipped in blueberries if Frozen Run doesn’t taste almost exactly like the stuff, albeit with a kick of refreshing moisture and a dash of carbonation.
I found Frozen Run quite by accident. We were at a Travel Stop in the middle of Pennsylvania. I love regional gas stations, and am a sucker for any Stuckey’s within a fifty mile radius. I stop at Ozark Mountain Stores, and Nostalgia Palaces, and even Wall Drug.
There’s almost always something cool to be found in these places; some regional food or soda that you can not get anywhere else. It was at this place, a lonely truck stop along the Pennsylvania highway, that I found Frozen Run. At first I wasn’t interested. It was a clear, colorless beverage with a plain, generic wrapper on it. But when I looked closer, I saw that this plain generic wrapper had a flippin’ BEAR on it!
Not only that, but it was billed as: Black Bear Mountain Birch.
Oh yeah, baby! Black bear mountain birch?!?! Are you kidding me?!? I had to have it. I mean, how can you see this thing and not have to taste it?
It got even better when I flipped the bottle over. Check this out:
So now you have a soda that has a National Geographic-style blurb giving you facts about the Black Bear, and then you have instructions for camp safety that would make the Boy Scouts satisfied.
As a bonus, when I bought the stuff, the two old men behind the counter began reminiscing about how they used to chew on white birch as children. The exchange went something like this:
OLD MAN 1
Aww, that takes me back.
OLD MAN 2
I know what you mean. Remember the birch, Johnny?
OLD MAN 1
I remember. We used to chew that stuff all the time.
OLD MAN 2
Right. When we’d go fishin’ down ta Sutter’s Pond.
OLD MAN 1
Darn stuff tasted kinda like peppermint.
Then they both laughed.
It was awesome. Any beverage that can make a couple of ol’ timers go back to their youth and romanticize is a winner in my book.
Anyhow, I bought the soda and took it out to my car. The bottle made the customary HISS as I turned the cap. I sniffed the bouquet like Paolo Basso, drinking in the aroma, searching out its subtleties. My first sniff put me back on the stage, face coated with pancake makeup, eyes squinting from the spotlight. Could it be? Yes! It smelled like Necco candy cigarettes.
Tentatively, gently, I raised the mouth of the bottle to my lips, and sipped. I smacked my mouth, allowing the air to mix with the beverage. Nirvana! It was the taste I had been looking for – that strange, minty subtlety; that delicious fresh aftertaste. All that was missing was the satisfying CRUNCH of the candy, but I could live with that, if I had to.
When I got home, I scoured the internet. Now that I had found my grail, I never wanted to be apart from it, again.
My case of of Frozen Run arrives this week.
I am still on the hunt for Necco Candy Cigarettes.