For Many Boomers, Bosco Was the Best Milk Amplifier

The old saying goes that if you build a better mousetrap, the world will beat a path to your door. Mister Boomer mentioned in an earlier post that every successful consumer product in our boomer youth spawned a competitor that claimed they could do it better, faster or cheaper. We often knew about all of the competition in any given category — especially food — from TV commercials and their jingles (Food vs. Food: Boomer Food Always Had Competition). When it came to chocolate syrup, the competitors were Bosco and Hershey’s. In the Mister Boomer household, Bosco won, “spoons down.”

Bosco was introduced in 1928 by a physician in Camden, New Jersey. Its historical trajectory after that point has largely been lost, along with the name of its originator, but by the boomer era of the 1950s and ’60s, Bosco was distributed across most areas of the country. Bosco commercials were a staple of Saturday morning cartoons in order to indoctrinate every boomer child into asking their parents to buy some.

Bosco was marketed in the 1950s with a character mascot named Bosco Bear. It was standard operating procedure for advertising, especially for those products aimed at children, to have a mascot and a catchy jingle. The company sold plush Bosco Bears and toys. Also in keeping with the practices of the day, many products were being “fortified” with vitamins in an effort to convince mothers that it was a good thing for their children. In the case of Bosco, vitamin D and iron were touted as the healthy benefits. Until the late 1960s or early 1970s, Bosco was not called a chocolate syrup on its packaging. Instead, it billed itself as “the milk amplifier.” Bosco came in glass jars, while Hershey’s was packaged in a can that required a “church key” to pierce the lid with a triangular opening.

For Mister Boomer and his siblings, there was no better choice than Bosco when it came to chocolate syrup. It was darker, a bit less sweet and thicker than Hershey’s syrup. That made it especially good on ice cream since it clung to the scoop and didn’t all drip off into the bowl. These attributes also made it the preferred choice as a substitute for blood in black and white movies of the ’50s and ’60s. Two classic movies in which the use of Bosco as blood is documented are Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960) and George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (1968).

Mister B never liked the taste of regular milk, so a tablespoon of Bosco would “amplify” his tall glass of milk into chocolate milk. Mister B’s parents could then buy just regular milk for the family without the need to buy chocolate milk, too, for one finicky boy. It helped the family budget in that regard, but Mister B and his siblings loved the taste. While Mister B’s sister would drizzle a tablespoon over vanilla (or Neapolitan) ice cream, Mister B’s dad would wait to add his drizzle of Bosco on top of whipped cream. A Maraschino cherry (there always seemed to be a jar in the refrigerator for cocktails for when guests came over) completed his home sundae.

Part of the fun of spooning Bosco over a dish of ice cream was licking the remaining thick, chocolatey goo from the spoon. On occasion, a furtive dip into the jar with a teaspoon that went directly into the kids’ mouths satisfied a hankering for sweets after school.

For Mister B, Brother Boomer and Sister Boomer, Bosco was the milk amplifier and more. It’s now been nearly 50 years since Mister B enjoyed Bosco, but the memories linger!

What memories of Bosco do you have, boomers?

Boomers Had Their Turkey (and Ate It, Too)

If it seems that turkey — the staple protein for every non-vegetarian Thanksgiving dinner — has changed since our early boomer years, it’s because it has. There have been dramatic changes to the bird we consumed through the years, most noticeably since our parents’ time in the Great Depression.

The earliest settlers found the wild native bird to be so tasty that they brought some back with them to Europe. In order for heads of state to continue to dine on the exotic poultry, they quickly started to raise turkeys themselves. By the 1700s, the wild varieties had been hunted to near extinction in the Americas, but domesticated turkeys were being cultivated on both sides of the Atlantic.

In October of 1863, President Abraham Lincoln signed a proclamation declaring Thanksgiving an official holiday, to be observed on the last Thursday of every November. The turkey was famously associated with the first Thanksgiving dinner — a celebration of the first harvest at the Plymouth Plantation in 1621 — when the Wampanoag Indians introduced the Pilgrims to the bird. It has been a part of our holiday tradition ever since.

By the 1920s, heritage breeds were reintroduced into the wild and the population of wild turkeys has been steadily growing since. Most turkeys were consumed on the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, and at that point most were not being hunted, but rather domesticated birds were purchased fresh through a butcher. The variety most served to our parents in their youth was called Standard Bronze. It’s also the type of turkey that is depicted in the famous painting by Norman Rockwell. This variety was known to be lean and with long legs, producing a deep poultry flavor with less white meat and a slightly chewy texture.

During the 1930s, about a quarter of the population was unemployed due to the Great Depression. Many people could not afford a turkey, so smaller varieties were bred. These smaller breeds introduced size differences into the marketplace so more people could enjoy a bird on the holidays. Due to the impact of the Depression on the holiday seasons, in 1941 President Franklin D. Roosevelt suggested changing Thanksgiving to an earlier date so that the Christmas shopping season could be extended to help boost the economy. Congress did not agree, ultimately declaring the fourth Thursday in November the official date by passing Public Law #379.

As the post-war boomer years pushed forward in earnest in the early 1950s, science and technology were introducing all sorts of innovations to the marketplace, including TV dinners and Jell-O salads. Thanks to the widespread adoption of frozen foods, domesticated turkeys could be frozen for shipping across the country and available year ’round. Yet the public’s taste was changing. The overwhelming preference of the 1950s consumer was for more white meat on their turkeys. Breeders complied and produced Broad Breasted Whites. It was a variety specifically created to have larger breasts and shorter legs in order to maximize the amount white meat. The new variety quickly became the norm for boomer families in subsequent years.

Today ninety-nine percent of turkeys consumed on Thanksgiving are the Broad Breasted White variety, though signs point to that fact that tastes may be changing once again. The public’s penchant for white meat hasn’t diminished, but the introduction of heritage breeds, and organic and free-range varieties has tempted a food-conscious generation to taste the difference. Most will say wild heritage breeds and turkeys allowed to roam on farms taste better. Others point to the growing concern over how the birds are treated in their march to the marketplace, including the use of antibiotics that control disease while helping the birds to grow larger.

No matter in which camp boomers find themselves, it is certainly true that more turkey is consumed today than when we were young. It is the fastest growing type of meat, known not only for its taste but also because it contains fewer calories than other meats, and is generally less expensive. Our annual consumption of the bird has doubled since 1974, from 8.7 pounds per capita to more than 17 pounds last year. By contrast, in 1935 only 1.7 pounds of turkey was consumed per capita. There is no doubt that turkey is not just for Thanksgiving any more.

Mister Boomer clearly recalls some memorable Thanksgiving turkeys of his youth. His mother would clean up her enameled electric roaster that was primarily used on holidays to roast the bird. One year an attempt was made for a more traditional bird variety. It was a tom that Mister B’s parents were not satisfied with, proclaiming for the whole family that it was chewier than previous years, and that the experiment would not be repeated. Mister B, enjoying a turkey leg, could not tell what the fuss was about.

One Thanksgiving in the late 1950s, Mister B’s father decided to invite his entire family over for the holiday dinner. The roaster again was deployed, but this time a Butterball turkey was on the menu. The Butterball brand was known for two things: more white meat (making it a Broad Breasted White variety) and juicier meat due to injections of a flavored butter product. Swift Premium marketed the brand at the time, licensing the rights from Butterball Farms. The bird received rave reviews all around, so Mister B can attest first-hand to the changing tastes of boomer families for more white meat.

Today boomers enjoy turkey sandwiches, turkey bacon, turkey sausages and turkey loaves any time of the year. Yet the Thanksgiving turkey still evokes special memories — past and present — of meals shared with family and friends.

Can you remember the turkeys served on your families’ Thanksgiving tables, boomers?