Category Archives: Food

A Gargle of Lemon Juice, A Poof of Tang

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My cousin Jimmy had everything good to eat. No matter what he wanted to eat, his mom bought it for him. His cereal cabinet might as well have been made of gold. At home, I was lucky to avoid eating a can of hominy instead of cereal. He had Pop-Tarts, Fruity Pebbles, Count Chocula, Captain Crunch, Lucky Charms, and anything else he requested. While I loved corn flakes, I’ll admit the exotic flavors of Jimmy’s cereal cabinet were a sight to behold. He also had really good milk, the kind I’ve despised most of my life since. I’d rather drink the urine of an infected goat than finish a glass of milk – especially whole milk. When I worked in a dairy in high school, my distaste intensified.

Jimmy was three years younger than me. He loved challenging me to exotic dares. I had two things working in my favor: I didn’t expect to live long and I was an idiot. Jimmy maximized his arguments to appeal to those attributes. He seldom had to fear any repercussions for his antics, even if arson or dismemberment were involved. For my Aunt and Uncle, they were mainly only interested if it was their son’s arm or leg which had been detached; beyond that, they growled and barked but otherwise gave him carte blanche to do as he wished.

As was the case with cereal, Jimmy also had the awesome drinks of childhood: clean water devoid of sewage residue, unlimited whole milk, orange juice, chocolate milk, hot cocoa with real marshmallows, and the entire range of available sodas. He also had Tang.

Because of my aberrant taste in food, I loved stealing or a spoonful of Tang powder and eating it. It was luxurious and overwhelming. At times, I’d up-end the jar and pour it into my mouth directly. I had been unknowingly training for years to ingest a large amount of Tang on a dare.

One Sunday morning, Jimmy ate two different kinds of sugary cereal. Afterward, he jokingly challenged me to drink a big spoon of lemon juice. My Aunt Ardith always had a large jar of it in her cabinet near the stove. I don’t remember what we bet. Jimmy went first. He poured the spoonful in his mouth. Immediately, he spewed it back out. It splattered across the counter and in the direction of the sink. “Yuk!” His eyes turned red. I took a spoonful of lemon juice and poured it into my mouth. Just to rub it in, I gargled it and then swallowed it. It was beyond sour, of course, but tasted good to me. Lemon juice was an exotic food in my house. Mom would no more buy lemon juice than cut off an ear lobe with a steak knife. I took another spoonful and swallowed it. “Yum!” I said, just to irritate Jimmy.

“You bastard! How’d you do that,” he demanded. I laughed at him as he got a glass of water and swished his mouth out.

I said, “How about a REAL challenge, Jimmy?” I turned and took out the bottle of Tang powder.

“Yeah, okay, but you’re going to go first. NO tricks.” Jimmy watched me carefully as I got out the biggest spoon that would fit into the jar.

I dumped it into my mouth and held it, letting it dissolve and mix in my mouth. As I mentioned, it was sublime and delicious. After a moment, I showed Jimmy the inside of my mouth.

Keep in mind, this was in the 70s, long before the cinnamon challenge. We were just two idiots trying to outdo each other.

Jimmy took another spoon out and took a smaller lump of powder from the jar. Luckily, he put the jar back on the counter next to the stove.

He put the spoon into his mouth between his teeth and spilled it into his mouth.

While I’m not sure, I think he must have inhaled a good portion of the Tang dust as it dispersed into his mouth – and throat.

He gagged. A big plume of orange dust billowed out of his mouth as he turned to gag and retch into the sink. He used one hand to cup water into his mouth, even as he tried to get the powder out of his mouth and lungs. This continued for at least a minute.

“What in the hell are you two doing in here?” Aunt Ardith had walked up to the counter between the table and the kitchen, one hand holding her Tareyton cigarette and the other pointing at us. She looked at us like we’d been setting her curtains on fire with a cigarette lighter.

Jimmy and I froze like statues momentarily.

Even though Jimmy was stuttering and coughing, he managed to say, “Having breakfast, what does it look like?”
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*P.S. The picture is of my cousin Jimmy. I loved this picture because I used it to tease him that he was too dumb to use his grill outdoors. In reality, he had just bought a house and was assembling the grill. Whether he actually used it in the living room depends on whether he overcame our genetic predisposition to outright stupidity that day.

 

From Quinine To Asinine

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Unrelated to anything current, I recently did a double-take when I looked closely at my 1-liter bottle of Canada Dry diet Tonic Water. Recently, I began to crave this stuff again. I’ve periodically binged on it through the years.

Before you come away with the mistaken idea I mix this with anything, I don’t. I drink it unmixed and straight. If you’ve ever accidentally bitten into a AA battery, you’re on track to getting a good idea of how pungent this is.

Really poor quality tonic water tastes very similar to sewage. If you’ve been an avid reader of my anecdotes, you know that “Yes,” I do in fact know what sewage water might taste like. (And not just because I’ve eaten at Buffalo Wild Wings, either.) A couple of weeks ago, I bought another brand of said tonic water at Harps Foods. When I tried it, I told my wife it was one of the worst things I’d ever tasted. Naturally, I loved it and drank the entire bottle, even as my contorted looked like someone shoved an ice pick into my kidneys by way of my urethra.

This week, I happened to note that my bottle of Canada Dry diet tonic water had real quinine in it. I noted it after I drank the whole liter. Quinine gives a good tonic water its bitter taste. It’s also a significantly powerful medicine. Even though modern tonic waters don’t usually contain a great deal of quinine, it’s inadvisable to drink much of it at a time, unless you’re bored with Russian Roulette or skydiving.

Did I mention I’d been drinking a liter of this stuff at a time?

It reminds of the time I’d eaten 60+ pieces of exotic real black licorice. I turned the package over to find the following health warning: due to cardiac issues, please enjoy no more than 6 pieces of our delicious and authentic black licorice at a time.

Obviously, I didn’t suffer serious effects from my ignorance.

But I did pick a bad week to stop sniffing glue.

Harp’s Violin

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One of the surprise Xmas gifts I bought Dawn was a tiny violin for her to play when her mom and sister whine.

My wife and I went to the Gutensohn Harps yesterday. Our main purpose was groceries. We ate lunch from the delicious deli bar upfront. The food was amazing. As always, we took a minute to cry and complain about the disparity of quality, selection, and presentation between Gutensohn and the store over by our house. I could hear tiny violins playing in the background as I whined. Harps, if you’re reading this, I’m asking you to replace the entire store in east Springdale. After I ate, I found the manager and heaped praise on her for the incredible store.

I have only so many tears to cry. I may need to take Dawn’s tiny violin to the grocery store with me from now on.

From Fryer To Fruitcake

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Last night, Dawn still felt unwell. Out of the blue, she said, “I’d really like a piece of one of the fruitcakes I got you for Xmas.” Assuming she had temporarily lost her mind, I ignored her request. We had just used the air fryer for the first time and consumed at least 343 potatoes. She asked again. I’d never known her to appreciate the culture and taste of fruitcake, so I was a bit surprised and reluctant to offer her any.
 
Unlike most people in the world, I love fruitcakes, both the food and people with odd dispositions. There’s a vast disparity in quality, of course. Many people make the stubborn assumption that if you’ve tried one, you’ve tried them all -as if crème brûlée (a dessert made from the hopes and dreams of fairies) from a gas station is the same as crème brûlée from a fine restaurant. Many fruitcakes should be used only as anvils, military projectiles, and doorstops.
 
I retrieved the three fruitcakes Dawn bought me and carefully opened one, peeling back the protective layer of secret paper used to seal them away from the jealous stares of those unlucky enough to have their own fruitcake. I presented her with a modest slice of the delicious treat. She forked her slice and put a piece in her mouth. Immediately, her face curled into a mass of displeasure and disgust, as if she had just bit into a rather sizeable live cricket, one who struggled to get free from the confines of her mouth, even as it burst open.
 
“What is this SUPPOSED to taste like?!” she moaned as she used her tongue to force out the morsels of fruitcake that stuck to her mouth. “WHAT are those green things!” I almost cried as I watched one of the best foods in the world go partially to waste. Meanwhile, Dawn was spitting bits of fruitcake as if she were a major league pitcher standing on the mound, ready to pitch a fastball.
 
On the other hand, I laughed like a man with his head caught in an elevator as I watched the chameleonesque metamorphosis of her facial expressions.
 
The picture with this post is several seconds later. I’ll leave it to you to imagine the initial horror pictured on Dawn’s face. This picture isn’t the first picture; instead, it is just a pale tribute to the horror written large on her face.
 
I’m submitting Dawn’s picture to the National Fruitcake Alliance for their next marketing campaign: “Don’t Get Revenge – Get Fruitcake.” I’ll let you know.
 
I hope Dawn feels better this morning. The magic of a fruitcake rarely surprises me.

Subway

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I love Subway. More accurately, I have a love/hate relationship with the eatery. For every great experience or store (such as is usually the case in Eureka Springs), I have a terrible one. Despite it seeming like an exaggeration, I’ve eaten at Subway somewhere around 500 times in my life.

It’s no secret that prices have been inching up in the last few years, mainly after they got rid of $5 footlong promotion. The company has closed a huge number of stores since 2015. Many factors are contributing to its demise, ones not tied to cost. The margins are low, so franchises tend to short-change their employees, both in wages and training. Most keep labor painfully short. We’ve noticed.

Visit any local Subway location and you’ll note a revolving door of faces.

Recently, I noted that some Subways had added a “Tip” selection to their payment kiosks. I have mixed feelings about this.

If Subway were new and tips were on the payment options, I might not stop to consider it carefully. Because I’ve eaten at Subways since they first opened in NWA, it is problematic for it to be an option suddenly. Especially so since I’m standing face-to-face with the employee as I opt-in or out. The sandwich artists are not providing any new value; in fact, I’d say in general that I have to be more careful and repetitive than ever to get my favorite sandwich done the way I like.

That’s not the employee’s fault – that responsibility falls directly on management and the owners.

Whether places like Subway should tip or not is a separate conversation. I’ll agree that’s it not a simple issue.

Most of the time, I get a vegetable sandwich with lettuce, double tomatoes, and Subway spice. That’s it. It is easy to make and cost-effective for the eatery, too.

Generalizing a bit, I’d say that the labor margins have also resulted in less clean stores, longer waits, and dirtier bathrooms. (And a sometimes a comical shortage of napkins.)

Given the uptick in prices, most people realize that they can easily eat a full dine-in meal at another restaurant for about the same price as Subway charges for a combo sandwich meal. In places with many restaurant choices, Subway can’t compete on location, selection, or cost. That didn’t use to be the case.

As an otherwise good tipper, I can see that adding a tip option to the payment isn’t going to go over well for the average Subway customer. I’ve asked several people about it. Most feel a twinge because while they wish to tip when it’s appropriate, they also feel trapped by management’s choice to underwrite the same wages with an upcharge disguised as a tip.

You Butter Think Twice

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As I was about to finish work, I thought I’d go to Subway to eat lunch. I couldn’t get the image of a double-tomato sub out of my mind. My wife was off in another part of the state so I could choose to eat anywhere. Just to stay in practice, I pretended to have the “I don’t care where we go to eat” argument with myself.

I left work and automatically drove toward Springdale instead of choosing one of the 946 places in Fayetteville. The traffic in Springdale got the better of me. One driver, in particular, seemed to be using a random speed generator to determine her speed. I was fantasizing about participating in an impromptu demolition derby and missed my turn for Subway. Naturally, I ended up at one of the breakfast diners which are coming back in popularity, a place I never choose.

Since I’ve put back on some weight, it didn’t trigger any warning bells as it should have. Let’s be honest, as comforting as the food at these places might be, there should be a heart on the sign by the highway. With an arrow through it.

I parked and as I entered, I waved at a large elderly man sitting on the bench near the main entrance. He was still there, immobile, when I left.

I sat at the counter until my ‘salesperson’ asked what I might like. (They aren’t waitstaff at this diner.) As I started to answer, she mentioned their special peach waffles. I never eat waffles, so of course, I ordered it. As for the rest, I told her to surprise me. She surprised me by bringing a plate-sized but thin waffle covered in peach syrup, eggs, hashbrowns, four pieces of toast, and two pieces of sausage. In the background, I could clearly hear the high-pitched mechanical scream of a bathroom scale. To balance it out, I chose the preferred drink of people who are fooling themselves: Diet Coke.

It was strange to eat at the counter of the diner in part because the entire end of the diner was filled with Latinos animatedly talking. Being a long-time citizen of Springdale, such a detail is not something that passes without me noticing. I tried not to eavesdrop – but I will say that they didn’t consider that I could understand what they were saying. I could write an entire season of “Desperate Housewives” from their conversations. Also, if your name is Pedro and you live near the Supercenter, you should leave town for a few days. (One of those women I overheard is probably going to eviscerate you Friday night after you get off work.)

When the salesperson asked me about the peach waffles, I logically concluded that the peach waffles would be adorned with sliced peaches. Instead, my waffle was slathered with an engine oil-like syrup that somehow simultaneously was sweeter than an entire bag of pure cane sugar and made me think of an insulin syringe inserted directly into my eyeball. I tried to calculate the total caloric value of the lunch I’d been served but the online tracker kept crashing due to insufficient digits available.

Despite knowing better, I ate most of my lunch. A feeling I can only describe as a malaise came over me, one characterized by an inability to think clearly. I recognized it immediately because for the shortest of moments I had the urge to watch Fox News. I tipped the salesperson/waitress exorbitantly in hopes that she might use a bit of the money to eat somewhere else when she finished working.

I waved ‘bye’ to the old man seated on the bench. Much to my surprise, a cardiologist didn’t jump from the bushes and tackle me.

Life is a series of choices. I learned again that I should ignore my instincts – and any buildings with an excessive quantity of yellow paint on the outside.

This Is The World’s Best Post

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“The World’s Best” anything is nonsensical.

If you look closely, you’ll see that the woman in the picture is eating raw meat. On the table, she has a cut tomato, black licorice, and maynnaise. On the further counter, there’s a fruitcake and plate of sushi. Chances are, one of those things gives you the urge to hurl your lunch.

It seems like a good cliché for a headline or when used as an easy marketing hook. When I see it, though, I wince. In the past, I was blasted by a critic who screamed at me for using the cliché, as well the one comparing anything to crack. I pointed out that criticizing me was acknowledging that my opinion held value. (Because who goes out of their way to attack a meaningless opinion?)

Tastes vary wildly. One man’s poison is another man’s passion. Perversely, some people love eating or ingesting actual poison – and I’m not referring to people who enjoy eating at Hardee’s.

Whether it’s raisins, black licorice, mayonnaise, fruitcake, whiskey, celery, beets, meats cooked rare, meats cooked well-done, eggs over easy, or dried crickets, there is no universal standard for food.

When I was growing up, a lot of Southerners would foolishly say, “You don’t know what’s good!” They’d smack their lips in condemnation at my refusal to eat some of the things they identified as ‘food.’ Some of these same people loved eating raw hamburger meat, spoonfuls of Crisco or lard, and half-cooked chicken gizzards, usually as they cooked over their stoves with a cigarette dangling from their lips. They also invariably had a tub of warm mayonnaise always open and sitting on the counter.

“The World’s Best” is a meaningless title, much in the same way all awards based on subjective taste are without foundation.

I like bitter, smoky coffee. My wife hates it. I like burned, dry food of all kinds, unlike literally everyone else. Hash browns? Burned. (But I do love standard hash browns too.) Some people hate shaved parmesan because it smells like foot odor. A ripe tomato is like a mouthful of phlegm for some and a delicacy for others. Milk, which is literally nutrition for only baby cows, gives many people the urge to vomit.

The two words, “I like,” are the critical component. If you like it, it’s good.

X’s Food Opinion Edict states: “All food is opinion.”

We can overlap on taste, of course, but it’s a rarity to find any two people whose opinion regarding taste is congruent.

Stop pretending that a universal standard for taste exists.

Like Buddy the Elf, he thought he’d found the world’s best cup of coffee, simply because the sign outside said so.

On the other hand, this is the world’s best post, right?

Chef X: Zucchini Noodles in the Real World

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You can waste 27 hours watching videos about how to make fantastic zucchini noodles. Or, you can read what I have to say about it.

The same process can be used to make sweet potato noodles, squash, and so forth. Since none of them are terribly expensive yet yield a great result, you should experiment liberally. I’m a firm believer in the “I like it, so shut your piehole” school of culinary arts.

You can buy a julienne peeler or even a spiral slicer. (Or steal one from your mother-in-law.) You can also just use a hand-held vegetable peeler on your first couple of attempts. Since you’re experimenting and obviously have no sense if you’re reading my cooking advice, use a cheap hand-held vegetable peeler on your initial attempt. (If you don’t know what a julienne peeler is, congratulations, you’re normal.) You can also save yourself some time if you have a child or bored spouse to do the slicing for you.

You can buy some good spiralizers for vegetables on Amazon. You can also buy a new carpet there, too. You don’t need to waste your money on a spiralizer until you figure out whether zucchini noodles remind you of eating tapeworms or spiders. Some mandoline slicers can make narrow strips, too, especially of your fingers if you’re not careful or have too much to drink while you’re cooking. Science has taught us, though, that pain is more manageable if you’re buzzed.

Cut the ends off 3-4 zucchini. Since it’s your first time making zucchini noodles, you’ll want to use the peel instead of removing it. You’ll note that there’s a lot of needless arguing about whether the zucchini is better or worse without the peel. Despite the experts whining about it, it is 100% personal preference. Make long slices with your vegetable peeler. For your first time, don’t cut down into the middle portion of the zucchini.

Mix your zucchini noodles with a bit of olive oil. I prefer to add minced garlic and other spices before I cook them. As with the other steps, some cooks get pissy about adding salt, garlic salt, red wine vinegar, lemon juice, or balsamic during the cooking process. Those critics need to chill out with a glass of wine or by being hit on the head with a bottle of wine.

Put the zucchini in a large skillet pan with a bit of oil. Cook and stir them until they are the desired tenderness. As with pasta, I’m going to avoid the stupidity of the al dente-versus-soft argument. I will say that it’s pointless to add water and cook them down. If you are careful and stir sufficiently, the zucchini strips will succumb to the heat if you give it enough time. With a decently sizzled pan, the zucchini will cook in a few minutes.

Place your portion on a plate and sprinkle with parmesan cheese and spices, or you can also use traditional sauces such as alfredo, pesto, or marinara. If you’re a hipster, sprinkle some cigar ashes on the noodles and enjoy.

If you’re not a purist, you can also use this mixed with actual pasta to give your regular pasta dishes a healthy boost.

If you make too much, it can be chilled and eaten later, hot or cold. (The food, not you.)

Zucchini noodles can be made with almost no added calories, which means that if you get your mix of spices and toppings just right you can eat enough zucchini to actually eat yourself into a food coma without all the guilt.

Some people call zucchini noodles “zoodles.” These people are dangerous.

In my opinion, it’s best to use a lighter pan, one which conducts heat quickly.

For those who need to be told, I recommend using a spatula to stir the zucchini frequently; if you use your hands, you’re likely to need medical attention. I never know if the person reading my cooking advice is from this planet or has ever cooked before.
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Gringo Needs a Taco

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One of the worst restaurant experiences I’ve ever had happened this week. It wasn’t because my stepson was with us, either, because he coined one of my new favorite phrases/restaurant names: “Gringo Needs a Taco,” in comedic response to our increasingly despondent faces as we realized that we were in the middle of a culinary catastrophe.

We have some amazing restaurants in Northwest Arkansas, especially Tex-Mex ones.

Our closest go-to Tex-Mex place, Acapulco, is still closed due to a kitchen fire in January. They claim they’ll re-open in July, although I don’t believe it. Most of the great staff they had have found positions at other restaurants. One of our favorite people surprised us at Las Palmas in Springdale. The other similar eatery on this side of town has never managed much success. (Which basically applies to any restaurant on the east side of Springdale.) I’m convinced that Americans mistakenly believe that the other Tex-Mex place is taqueria-style. It doesn’t help that it’s in a shopping center that seems like the shooting stage for season one of the Walking Dead. By the way, Playa Azul has a buffet some days. It’s great, especially since it’s impossible to find a Tex-Mex buffet anywhere.

The shining grace was an effort by one of our favorite waitresses – one not assigned to our table or area of the restaurant. We tried to reward her with a tip before we left. She noticed that my 4-lb. order of pico de gallo had been left negligently on the serving shelf. Evidently, I’m the only one who orders massive quantities of this delicious menu item. She came back later to hesitantly ask, “Has someone taken your order?” I think her first clue was that we had read the entire first book of the Harry Potter series since we entered. Our assigned waitress seemed like someone had swapped her favorite beverage with a chilled cup of straight white vinegar.

She might have been Amish, as her shunning ability was expert level.

It seems like we were unwitting participants in a customer dissatisfaction experiment. We felt terrible about the experience. The manager was simply speechless at how badly things had gone and struggled to explain it. He was relieved when I told him, “No harm, no foul,” even as I complimented the waitress who wasn’t assigned to our table. We left and were rewarded with a torrential downpour. Our spirits were so hammered that we all drove to Burger King. As you probably know, its new motto is, “Where Dreams Go To Die.”

Saturday, Dawn and I went to another Tex-Mex restaurant. We walked out after 15 minutes. On the way over, we discussed the consequences of not following our instincts. The person seating walk-ins could not have been more reluctant, with the exception of the admiration and attention she was giving her personal cellphone. The matriarch of the family by the door was throwing eye darts as she uneasily shifted back and forth, waiting, while attempting to corral two young boys. We had the misfortune of being seated in the far back corner. The matriarch and her family received great attention. I could tell that woman simply wouldn’t tolerate shenanigans or inattention. It’s difficult for me to be pushy, though. The manager was so engrossed in something unrelated to work that I couldn’t even let him know that we were leaving.

I’ve been known to get up, go outside, and then go back inside sometimes as if I hadn’t just walked out. Usually, this either makes people confused or laugh. We left. I’m glad we did because our final choice was a delight.

We ended up at another restaurant and were delighted. The food and service were impeccable. We joked with all the staff. I drew pictures on my index cards as we chatted with everyone, even as watched a table of gringos make their faces numb with way too much alcohol. (The one bad moment was when one of the gringos was a little violent with a precious curly-headed little girl. He doesn’t know how close he came to being force-fed a plate.) It was strange to have such a great eating experience after two terrible ones.

As I always do, I ensured that karma was paid forward by tipping the waitress 100%. She was delighted. So was I. Belly full, and smiles for all.

One consequence of a bad dining experience is that I always find a way to pay it forward to the next great person we encounter.

P.S. I didn’t even order pico de gallo at this restaurant, as I didn’t want to tempt fate.

Gringo needed a taco.

Vicks Recipes For Southern Survivors

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Vicks salve was invented in 1905. The same person Frenchman who invented BenGay was ultimately responsible for creating Vicks VapoRub, as he inspired a pharmacist here in the United States to modify the recipe for BenGay.

On a personal note, I’d like to say that I l-o-v-e the smell of Vicks. I like the smell of creosote and diesel, too. None of them are good on a sandwich, an ice cream float, or on a spoon on its way to my mouth, however. As anyone who ever used Vicks in steam can attest, the aroma is inescapable and rich. If eaten or allowed to melt in one’s mouth, it manages to embed itself between teeth and the gums for several hours. If you’ve never eaten Vicks, get a slice of Dominos pizza and put an entire package of mint gum on it, and then topped with vaseline, and attempt to eat it. A slice of Dominos is bad enough, I admit.

The cobalt blue bottles were also immediately recognizable. One could clean them completely with very hot water, followed by vigorously adding soap and wiping them out.

Evidently, Vicks became a household staple thanks to the 1918 flu epidemic that killed millions of people. It’s hard to imagine the effect of such an epidemic, one which killed more people than any other in human history. We don’t hear much about it anymore. At least 7000 Arkansans died officially from the flu in 1918, a huge number, compared to the 600 who died in WWI. Because of the huge number of poor rural people in Arkansas at the time, family history and circumstantial evidence tell us that many more died from the flu. Additionally, because Arkansas was deeply affected by Jim Crow, thousands of blacks also went under the radar. It’s interesting to delve into the story of this epidemic; it’s undeniable that Arkansas lost at least twice as many people as officially reported.

Interestingly, I had heard stories that a great-grandfather of mine died from the flu in 1918. Research proved this to be erroneous, as he died in February 1918 before the first known case in the United States that year. Almost no family escaped death from the Spanish flu that year.

You can’t study the history of Vicks without factoring in the trauma of the 1918 epidemic. I found several news articles from early 1919 regarding the Vicks shortage as a result of the flu epidemic which had killed millions of people worldwide. Vicks was relatively inexpensive and easily obtained. Almost all households in the rural South had a bottle of Vicks. Most were smart enough to avoid eating it. I like to think that some ate it simply to accelerate meeting their maker.

For those of us who had ignorant ancestors who made us eat Vicks, most of this tendency is a result of misinformation and the worldwide scare of the deadly flu over 100 years ago. They didn’t mean to unsuccessfully poison us. At least, for the most part. During the epidemic, Vicks was considered to be a disinfectant if applied on or inside the nose. It’s no wonder that even level-headed people began to ingest it directly.

The world was smaller and people didn’t have access to a wider community of people. Home remedies and folksy cures tended to become ingrained in cloistered communities. This is exactly why so many of us were subjected to the stupidity of our parents telling us to eat Vicks, even if the bottle were clearly labeled “do not ingest,” or “toxic.” We can laugh at such goofiness now, despite the fact that the modern internet has brought us anti-vaxxers and other idiots clamoring for attention to spread their modern snake oil ideas.

Vicks also contains varying levels of turpentine, another old folk remedy that can be quite poisonous but was once very popular. It’s important to remember that people scoffed at the idea of germs until fairly recently, too, or believed that blood-letting and blowing smoke up one’s anus could reduce serious ailments such as hernias. (It’s where the term “blowing smoke” originated.) By the way, I’m referring to the mistaken idea that all turpentines are the same, even the ones found in hardware stores versus distilled turpentine oil.

Another point I’d like to make is that so many people could make a living in the South selling Snake Oil. Like all ridiculous claims, Snake Oil appealed to those without a proper understanding of science or medicine. Paradoxically, thanks to the internet, we now find ourselves in reversed roles: some of the stupidest health claims for completely useless products are made by those with advanced education and training.

In the same way that people say, “Riding in the back of a pickup didn’t kill me,” or “We didn’t have seatbelts back then,” people excuse away eating Vicks VapoRub with the same ridiculous claims, “Well, it didn’t kill me!” Any examination of our safety record clearly demonstrates that seatbelts made our lives much, much safer. Science easily demonstrates that ingestion of Vicks is dangerous. Convincing people that they were terribly wrong about such an obvious thing is a difficult feat. They didn’t die after all.

Were my mom still alive, she’d roll her eyes and cluck like a chicken if she heard me picking on her about this. My favorite cousin will point out that my mom learned to feed Vicks to children as a result of my Grandma. In Grandma’s defense, she was born after the turn of the last century and her world was very small, in the Arkansas Delta area around Monroe County. She loved me like no one ever did; she also had some strange ideas about the weather, driving in the dark, and eating things like Vicks. She lived to be over 90 years of age, so it’s difficult to argue with her methods. Plus, she loved bacon, and as you know, bacon is the single best medicine available.

I’m convinced that my mom enjoyed forcing people to eat Vicks. I’m only saying that because she could be quite sadistic, a fact that is a simple truth today, but one which would have resulted in my murder had it voiced in her vicinity as a kid. As I grew older, I joined my brother in reading the labels on ‘medications’ my mom was fond of. Several of them literally had poisonous logos on them. Munchausen Syndrome By Proxy would have been a relief to us both as we endured our mom’s ignorance about all things medical. Mom was one of those people who would not listen to reason and her stubbornness was legendary, even among mules. For most of my childhood, my mom worked at Southwestern Bell and had excellent insurance, yet I never went to the dentist between ages 5 and 18  and only got medical treatment after trauma. “You’re breathing!” she’d say.

In 1983, the FDA decided that products such as Vicks couldn’t have more than 11% of a concentration of camphor. Camphor can be fatal to small children and studies demonstrated that it actually made most people less likely to breathe more freely. Weirdly, many people report that it allows them to sleep better.

Any discussion regarding Vicks needs to take into account the historical differences of the ingredients used compared to the modern version. I’ve read anecdotes of people who claim that the bottles once recommended ingesting small amounts. I don’t doubt these claims given the ointment’s history. I can’t find evidence of it, however.

Interestingly, Vicks labels have warned against using it under one’s nostrils for any reason, as well as ingesting it. Obviously, you should never eat it, either, or put it anywhere it can penetrate into the skin. I was surprised to learn that it can damage one’s corneas, too.

Vicks VapoRub actually confuses your brain, which makes it think that you’re breathing more easily while actually reducing your ability to breathe more freely. I think it works the same way that the internet does for modern versions of my mom.

With my new cookbook of recipes, those who survived eating Vicks when they were young can once again enjoy the undeniable taste of this treat. I recommend that you start with a PB&J&V sandwich.