October 2004 | Volume 55, Issue 5
What on the face of God’s earth has happened to the Hershey bar? Close your eyes and you’d think you were sucking Clarksdale, Mississippi, mud. You have to work hard to convince yourself it’s chocolate at all. The fact is, the regular 1.55-ounce Hershey bar in the new vacuum-sealed wrap (no more waxed paper! No more feeling as if you’re opening a present!) isn’t primo chocolate at all. Hershey chocolates have a quality pecking order. Their best is saved for the gold-foil wrapped bars. I know this because in the eighties I did a lot of Hershey’s advertising. I took factory tours. I named the Whatchamacallit (runner-up names: “Hello Mouth!” and, from Alice in Wonderland , “Eat Me!”). I got to see how the chocolate was made. I learned the insider stuff, like that monkeys swing and chatter above the imported peanuts used in Mr. Goodbar while they wait on a pier to be shipped. I learned that when you conche chocolate (rub it back and forth over granite rollers to make it smooth, a process developed by Rudolphe Lindt in 1879), eventually the stones need to be replaced. Microscopic bits of rock erode into the chocolate. I do deeply love the 12 little pre-scored pieces, each with its own logo, that snuggle perfectly into my upper palate for casual tonguing. Milton Snavely Hershey took good care of his employees and started a school for orphans. Hershey’s Ration D bar, a 450-calorie energy boost un-meltable in the tropics and loaded with vitamin B1 to prevent beriberi, accompanied our soldiers in World War II. So it’s almost un-American to gripe about the Hershey bar. But Milton would be melancholy. His namesake doesn’t taste like Hershey’s, and it’s as thin as an after-dinner mint. Any thinner, and you could read this through it.
In 1923 the Curtiss Candy Company invented Butterfinger. Dropped from airplanes over major U.S. cities, it quickly became Curtiss’s number two candy bar, a bite behind Baby Ruth. I buy mine at Lotto & Photo, 1391 Madison Avenue, 70 cents a pop. Weighing in at 2.1 ounces, that’s a lot of candy for the money. When I was’a kid, I opted for longevity over taste, hence filling-plucker Jujubes on Saturday at the movies and Bonomo’s Turkish Taffy at the playground. Sucked correctly, it turned into a lethal weapon, same as a Sugar Daddy. I once kept a Tootsie Roll hidden in my shoe bag for a year and licked it every morning before school. Now I can afford a Butterfinger whenever I want one, but its lasting a long time still matters. A Butterfinger is a leisure-eating bar. It forces you to savor. No other candy bar is striated like shale. Its core shatters on your tongue. This makes a Butterfinger dissolve unevenly and mysteriously, leaving you with interesting hard bits to roll around on your mouth. The butter in Butterfinger refers to peanut butter, ground-roasted peanuts being its third ingredient after sugar and corn syrup. Everybody tastes things differently, and what I taste most strongly is molasses, the sixth ingredient, worked to the texture of high-end halvah, only brittler. I don’t particularly like peanut butter except on fresh rye with Hellmann’s mayo (don’t knock it till you’ve tried it). There’s a hint of caramelization in a Butterfinger too, not chewy caramel but the glassy kind that forms when sugar is heated to 310 degrees. The chocolate dip is important, but only for contrast, smooth versus shardy. Nestlé owns Butterfinger now, but Butterfinger chocolate is better than the chocolate in a Nestlé Crunch. For some horrible reason, Crunch has been tasting fruity lately. Butterfinger is one of the only candy bars that taste the same as they did when I was a kid. It never lets me down. I don’t know why I’m not frightened by its preternatural orange Day-Glo color. A Butterfinger is only 270 calories, about the same as a fruit yogurt. Bart Simpson loves them too. He considers Butterfingers a food group.