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Sunday
Dec232007

Twinkie, Twinkie, Little Star: The Story of a Lunchbox Icon

We'd say that once it has made a cameo in a Weird Al movie, been spoofed on The Family Guy and been the subject of an entire cookbook, a baked good has pretty much carved out its place as a cultural icon.

We are talking, of course, about the Twinkie.

What is it about Twinkies? Quite literally, they’re a strange, vaguely neon-toned yellow oblong cream-filled sponge cake with a very long list of ingredients...and yet, they've had a place in our lunchboxes and our hearts since as long as we can remember.

But how did this all happen? The Cakespy crew did some sleuthing:

We’ll begin our story in the early 1930s, in Illinois, at the site of the Continental Baking Company (owners of Hostess and Wonder Bread, which we think you’ve heard of). It was here, in the post-depression era, that industrious bakery manager James (“Jimmy”) Dewar noticed that a machine used for strawberry shortcakes (Hostess Little Shortbread Fingers...seen them around lately?) was going unused during the non-strawberry season, and so repurposed the pans to make a sponge cake filled with a banana cream filling. As lore would have it, he got the idea for the name when driving by a billboard advertising “Twinkle toe shoes”, which he shortened to “Twinkies”. In later years during WW2, due to banana shortages, the cream was changed to vanilla.

It wasn't till the 60's and 70's though, that they secured their place as a lunchbox legend. During this time two major things happened: first, their recipe changed. The original (preservative-free)Twinkies’ shelf life was a mere 2 days, and as much as they tried to replenish, it proved much cheaper to replace the natural fats in the pastry with longer shelf-life chemical ones. Contrary to popular belief though, Twinkies don’t last forever; the suggested shelf life these days is 25 days, although recently one 30 year-old one was recently found in Maine (that one was described as intact but “brittle"). The second thing was that they came up with the character Twinkie the Kid, based on a character from Howdy Doody. So how did these two seemingly unrelated things prove pivotal to the Twinkie? Well, the new recipe allowed them to be the perfect lunch box treat, and the Twinkie the Kid character made Twinkies something that kids wanted in their lunchboxes.

The rest, as they say, is history. While changes have come around (bringing back the original banana flavor; attempts at new flavors), it is still that basic cream-filled Twinkie that remains. While the Cakespy crew rarely eats Twinkies from the package anymore--that whole preservative thing--we do love the combination of flavors in Twinkies, and so are loving the new crop of Twinkie-flavored cupcakes and freshly baked gourmet desserts inspired by the classic treats. If like us you'd like a fresher and better-for-your-body alternative (hey, it's all relative), you may find that Vegan or homemade Twinkies are a much more palatable choice.

 

Here are some resources:

-For a great Vegan Twinkies Recipe, visit shmooedfood.blogspot.com.
-For a homemade Twinkie recipe, visit recipezaar.com.
-For a gourmet Twinkie cupcake recipe, check out reinsrecipes.blogspot.com.

-For a Twinkie Cake recipe from the Twinkie Cookbook, visit cookiemadness.net.

 

 

Cakespy Note: this history would not have been possible without the help of some wonderful resources, including: Twinkie, Deconstructed by Steve Ettinger, kitchenproject.com, wikipedia.org and howstuffworks.com.

 

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Reader Comments (12)

Oh holy Twinkie Batman! These beautiful treats are the reason why I had a "thick" childhood :)

December 23 | Unregistered CommenterLewis

Merry Christmas!

December 23 | Unregistered CommenterLynn / vigilant20

Oh, man... I had SUCH a Twinkie period (lasting several years) when I was a kid... absolutely loved them. Wouldn't touch one now with a ten foot pole, though...

Ann

December 24 | Unregistered Commenterredactedrecipes

Jessie, great post once again! You always have fun stuff to read. I loved Hostess cupcakes and Twinkies when I was younger (early 60s - early 70s) but right around high school (mid 70s) I knew they changed the formula to some awful preservative- ridden mess. It was all over after that. They never tasted the same.

December 24 | Unregistered Commentermgoetzeler

such an interesting history for such an iconic (yet peculiar) treat!!

happy holidays :0)

December 25 | Unregistered CommenterVeggieGirl

Yay for vegan twinkies!! I have to be honest though, I've never had a twinkie (vegan or not). Am I really missing out?
Interesting history though!

December 27 | Unregistered CommenterVegan_Noodle

Please consider doing my all-time fav - the Butterscotch Crimpet..

December 29 | Unregistered Commenterparisbreakfast

Oh how I love my Twinkies.
There is a bakery here in CHicago, Angel Food that makes the BEST twinkies. THey are called Air Streams or something like that, but they are heaven!

December 29 | Unregistered Commenterbella

Lewis: You and so many of us! :-)

Lynn: To you too! Here's to a sweet new year.

Ann: I think we're right there with you on that one. I think the homemade ones are great though!

Marlene: Yup, they kind of DID go down in quality! Sad, isn't it? :-(

Veggiegirl: You're right...they are a strange treat! Have you ever made any of the "fauxstess" vegan versions?

Vegan Noodle: They're an interesting taste...unlike any other. I don't know if you'd like it or not, but it's definitely worth giving a try!

Parisbreakfast: My goodness, I have not thought of those crimpets in such a long time! Maybe soon!

Bella: Watch out, here we come! Road trip!

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