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Jack Zaleski, Published January 14 2012

Zaleski: When world ends, Twinkies will endure

There’s an amusing tale that speculates about foodstuffs that might survive the Apocalypse, among them Velveeta and Twinkies. Velveeta, which is supposed to be some sort of faux cheese, has always been a mystery to me. Just what is it? Twinkies, on the other hand, take me back to my Uncle Al’s liquor store on Hartford Avenue in New Britain, Conn., where in addition to beer, wine and spirits, he sold a few snack foods, including Hostess Twinkies and Hostess cupcakes – the ones with the chocolate frosting and the squiggly streak of white frosting. I ate a lot of that stuff while helping Uncle Al dust the bottles of Rheingold beer and Moxie on Saturday mornings.

It was with some nostalgic sadness, therefore, I read the news last week that Hostess Brands might go under and Twinkies might disappear from shelves. While the finger-wagging food police might cheer the news, those of us who survived the alleged nutritional hell of which Twinkies were a delicious part will miss the little yellow cakes stuffed with the oh-so-sugary filling that made my dentist crazy.

Ever a Twinkie fan but never a Twinkie addict, I said goodbye to the ubiquitous pastries in the late 1980s when I discovered they had a frighteningly long shelf life.

In the fall of 1969, I drove my 1964 VW Beetle from Connecticut to North Dakota. Traveling on a slim budget, the bug was packed with clothing, personal items and food. Among the stash of food were double packages of Twinkies. Coffee and Twinkies kept me going.

Years later, the crippled VW having been shoved into the trees behind my Devils Lake, N.D., home, I decided to sell the car (big mistake). While cleaning out the glove box, I found the remains of a wooden English Leather box (remember that cologne of college-boy choice?) I’d used for toll road coins. Stuffed behind the box in a crumpled and dusty A&P sack – Twinkies! One crushed, but still-wrapped, two-Twinkie package. It had been there for 17 years. I tore it open and, yes, bit in. Still good, if a tad crunchy.

A few days later, still getting the car ready for sale, I noticed mice had feasted on the vinyl seats, rubber floor mats and the roof lining. They’d gnawed into the wood of the English Leather box. And it struck me: The Twinkies were untouched; not a hint of gnawing. Hmmm …

I’ve not been much of a Twinkies eater since then. Still, I’ll miss their bright yellow presence on store shelves. There is something so American, so universally honest about them. Nothing pretentious. No promises of health benefits. Just a sweet mass-produced pastry that pretty much defined the genre for generations – and apparently has a shelf life for the record books.

Contact Editorial Page Editor Jack Zaleski at jzaleski@forumcomm.com or (701) 241-5521.