Boomers Ate Peanuts … A Lot

There have been so many things that have changed dramatically since the boomer years of the 1950s through the ’70s, and Mister Boomer has explored dozens of them. Yet in the annals of wonder, there is the case of the current occurrence of peanut allergies. Food-based allergies diagnosed in children was not common in the boomer years; generally speaking and by comparison, less than one percent of the population was thought to have food allergies in 1960. While it is true that methodology and scientific knowledge has grown exponentially in the past six decades, it is also true that the rate of children diagnosed with a peanut allergy continues to rise, and has doubled just in the decade between the mid-90s to mid-00s. Certainly one has to wonder what has changed that might cause this circumstance.

The diagnosing of allergies was not new in the boomer years. The existence of allergies was known as far back as ancient Egypt, and Western doctors and scientists have been testing people for many types of allergies since the mid-1800s. Then, as now, the main reasons allergies seem to appear in any given location and time relate to environment, diet and food handling, water quality, hygiene and genetics.

Hay fever among children rose dramatically in the latter part of the 19th and first half of the 20th century in Europe and the United States to the point where it was was called an epidemic. While there may have been many factors that affected this change in hay fever allergies among the population, one conclusion reached at that time was simply that people moved to areas that had more grass and ragweed. Likewise in the boomer years, the migration to the suburbs meant more possible exposure to these airborne allergens.

Peanut allergies, however, are not acquired by airborne particles. The story has not yet been definitively written as to the cause of the rise in peanut allergies. There are several theories being tested, and even some conclusions are being drawn. For example, prevailing thought now is that desensitization programs have been shown to be effective, and a new peanut allergy drug is being tested. However, since Mister Boomer is more interested in reliving nostalgia than wading into the nooks and crannies of scientific data, he’ll leave that discussion for the medically and scientifically minded.

To a boomer, the prevalence of the peanut allergy is puzzling, indeed, considering how often boomers ate peanuts. Many boomers will tell you that peanut butter and jelly sandwiches were a huge part of their childhood diets. Candy bars made with peanuts were among the most popular, and roasted peanuts in the shell, or peeled, roasted and packaged, were readily available at all types of markets and in vending machines at bus stations, rest stops, train depots and gas stations.

Mister Boomer likes peanuts. He ate peanuts in many forms, from the carmel-covered peanuts in a box of Cracker Jacks to cracking open the shells of roasted peanuts when watching The Man from U.N.C.L.E. on TV. Halloween brought lots of opportunities for the enjoyment of peanuts. Mars used to advertise that the Snickers candy bar was “packed with peanuts,” and was among Mister B’s favorites; PayDay bars consisted of a roll of nougat covered in peanuts; Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups was a coveted score, and, of course, the black or orange wax paper-wrapped peanut butter kisses were a staple in the hunt for Halloween candy.

In the everyday realm there was always a jar of peanut butter in the Mister Boomer household. His sister ate more peanut butter than the two Boomer brothers combined. She liked it on celery sticks (not “ants on a log,” since she did not put raisins on hers), and sometimes she put it on her fried bologna. She ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches all the time, to the point where all the glassware in the house came from jelly jars. The peanut butter brands most often found in the Mister B household were Jif or Skippy, and occasionally Peter Pan or Smuckers. Store name brands of peanut butter were avoided if at all possible, since the quality could not compare with the brand names.

When Mister Boomer entered the third grade, he began making his own lunch. Prior to that point, his mother packed a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on Wonder Bread for him on the days when the lunchmeat ran out. Once he packed his own lunch, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches were a last resort. Mister B liked peanuts and peanut candy more than a PB&J.

Today most schools have prohibited students from bringing in peanuts in any form as a precaution for the youngsters with allergies. Most airlines used to give out bags of peanuts in flight. Now, if there is a snack at all, it is usually pretzels. Times have changed. Will the trend reverse any time soon?

How about you, boomers? What role did peanuts and peanut butter play in your boomer years diet? Do you have grandchildren now who are allergic to peanuts?

Boomers Loved Candy Apples

It’s Halloween time once again and you know what that means: pumpkin spice everything has co-opted the season. This year, it seems like the pumpkin spice products emerged around Labor Day. It wasn’t always that way, of course. In boomer years, the fall-leading-into-Halloween time was marked by the annual appearance of caramel and candy apples. In fact, for some people, candy apples were the go-to choice for giving Halloween trick-or-treaters. However, Mister Boomer did not appreciate this offering that added weight to his pillow case of treats. He was not a fan of the hard-shelled sugar candy coating, but the color and sheen — that was another story.

Candy apples were first made by Newark, New Jersey candymaker William Kolb in 1908. He was looking for a way to showcase his red cinnamon candy, and experimented with dipping apples in it. Displayed in his shop window, the shiny red apples with a stick in each one drew in customers, eager to try his new concoction. They were a big hit! The idea spread quickly to local and regional fairs, but early in the twentieth century, they became a popular giveaway treat for Halloween.

After the War, the Baby Boom began. Optimism was high in the country, and national mood was expressed by a series of heavily saturated colors. One of those colors was a rendition of that shiny red, inspired by candy apples. By the 1950s, a candy red could color could be seen on women’s handbags, footwear, jewelry and accessories, as well as home appliances.

It wasn’t long before the West Coast custom car culture experimented with methods of reproducing the color and shine that was pulsing through the consumer market. Mel Pinoli, of Pinoli’s Body & Paint Shop in California, is credited with creating the first candy paint color for cars — but it wasn’t red, it was green!

A couple of years later, around 1956, car customizer Joe Bailon built on Pinoli’s process in an attempt to create the color he saw on a set of Ludwig drums. Bailon’s method applied a metallic coat of paint (silver or gold) to the car, followed by a translucent dye layer, which was then covered with a clear lacquer. Sanding and polishing brought out the blends of each layer with a shine that mimicked Kolb’s original red cinnamon candy apple. Mr. Bailon called the resulting color, candy apple red. Voila! he painted the first car a candy apple red!

Mister Boomer remembers being wowed by the visual depth and beauty of a candy apple red finish on custom cars he saw in car shows and occasionally, in neighborhood parking lots.

In 1963, Fender guitars offered a candy apple red option for their iconic Stratocaster model for the added price of $15. The company offered the color only until 1974.

What about caramel apples? Not to be confused with candy apples, caramel apples are what the name says: an apple with a stick in it dipped in melted caramel, often rolled in crushed walnuts. Unlike its candy apple cousin, caramel apples were a true boomer-era invention, arriving in 1948. Mister B recalls Kraft caramels having as recipe for caramel apples printed on the back of the bag.

Mister Boomer much preferred the caramel apple variety, but not for Halloween. No way. To him, that was as bad as receiving a popcorn ball, or a plain apple! Nonetheless, Mister B concedes that somebody somewhere used to enjoy getting caramel or candy apples for Halloween, back in a time when homemade treats were an acceptable part of trick-or-treating.

How about you, boomers? Candy or caramel apple fan? Loved or hated the color?