Food The last thing I expected during my annual Christmas visit to Manchester was to eat a Hostess Twinkie.
Perhaps I should offer some background so that you can understand the magnitude of that statement.
My first exposure to comics, or rather American comic books, were random issues bought for me from a market stall in Speke, the place in Liverpool where I was originally brought up.
This would have been the early eighties and in those days instead of recycling, out of date magazines and comics were sold through these market stalls without their covers, though often the comics still did.
I still have some old Doctor Who monthlies and magazines from that period and it’s from here, as a treat, my Mum would buy me issues from all the superhero greats. She’d give them as a surprise in restaurants to keep me quiet along with copies of Fun-To-Do, the kids colouring and craft magazine.
Somewhere in the midst of these comics there would always be a curious one page strip, usually featuring a completely different character, which always ended with them enjoying or at least extolling the virtues of something called a Hostess Twinkie.
To my young, impressionable eyes, these seemed like exciting, exotic treats. If they were nice enough for Peter Parker to share with his Aunt May, they must be something extra specially, special.
Imagine my disappointment when I asked for some from my Mum, and she’d not only never heard of them, but when she asked at the local Fine Fair, they hadn’t either.
I showed her the comic for identification. This just simply wasn’t something which was sold in Speke in the 1980s. I think she bought be some Cadburys Chocolate Animal biscuits instead, digestives in the shape of lions, elephants and monkeys. Exciting but not the same.
Then as I began watching Hollywood films, I noticed Twinkies were referenced relatively frequently. The one which made the most impression then was from Ghostbusters, Egon describing the mayhem within their ghost containment unit:
“Well, let's say this Twinkie represents the normal amount of psychokinetic energy in the New York area. Based on this morning's sample, it would be a Twinkie... thirty-five feet long, weighing approximately six hundred pounds.”
He was waving a Twinkie around as said this and it still retained that element of mystery. I knew and understood that all it was really was a sponge cake with some sort of cream in the middle, but its unavailability only increased its mystique.
Some day, I told myself, when I go to America, one of my first experiences will be eating a Twinkie, priority one probably, above visiting the Statue of Liberty and the Empire State Building.
Time marched on. Even as the pop culture references piled up, I resigned myself to never eating a Twinkie. In Die Hard when Bruce Willis eats a “thousand year old” one. In Zombieland when they become one of the characters primary missions because of the expiry date.
Then, in real world that expiry date gained unforeseen importance.
When Hostess entered administration in November, I realised that even if I ever did manage to cross the Atlantic, I’d have to make do a the statue and the building.
Then, oh then, I visited Manchester.
Americandy is a small chain of shops recently opened, in Exchange Square, at Picadilly and in Kings Street which is the outlet I visited.
Just out of curiosity. Both the Harvey Nicks pop-up and Central Perk in Liverpool sell American sweets but I wondered just how much variety a shop which sells this sort of confectionery might have, how detailed their purchasing.
Sure enough most of the brands on sale have already penetrated the UK marketplace, though the options available are slightly different. Plus I haven’t seen Lucky Charms anywhere else. But that’s just a cereal.
I approached the counter. I already knew the answer before asking so I framed the question according.
”I don’t suppose you have Hostess Twinkies?” I was already backing away on the expectation of a negative answer.
“Yes. They’re in the basket over there.”
I think I may have jumped for joy. I think I may have said “Really?” then “Really?!?” again.
At this point the basket took on a mythic significance. Like the ark of the covenant or a holy grail. Sure enough, Hostess Twinkies. £3. I didn’t hesitate.
Back at the counter, I put the precious object on the counter. I just kept looking at and looking at it. It seemed to so small, its significance magnified by three decades of covetousness.
Finally I’d be discovering what it was that caused the Penguin to hypnotise a delivery man simply so that he could hoard his delivery of the sponges to Gotham City.
“The company’s gone into receivership.” I said, passing the time, but really just trying to keep my mind on the transaction.
“That’s why they’re £3," she said, "They used to be £1.50.”
I grinned. I took my change. I picked up the Twinkie, turning it over in my hand as I walked out of the shop. The top was golden and curved at the edges. On the flat bottom I could now see the holes where the cream is syringed or poured into the centre.
After a nanosecond of wondering if I should take it home with me, I began to unwrap it, my hands shaking.
I took a bite. As expected, it really is just some very nice sponge cake with fake cream, a substance not unlike the material which appears in a Cadbury’s Mini-Roll, probably the same substance, jammed unevenly in the middle.
But I savoured. Oh how I savoured.
I stood in an alleyway opposite a stall selling French winter clothing, leaning against the wall and eating this Twinkie as slowly as a Twinkie has probably ever been eaten.
Then it was gone.
After a thirty-year wait, I’d eaten a Twinkie, and you could say in the nick of time. They’re still being made by a company under license in Canada, and although they’re about the same, under the same recipe, the bakery’s in Montreal and they’re not being made by Hostess.
Now whenever I see those films which mention them, I’ll understand what they’re talking about, I’ll have the memory of the taste, or the version of the memory of the taste which integrates all of the hopes and dreams inherent within the eating of it.
The next thing I did was phone my mother and tell her, described the taste, described the purchase, reminded her of the comics she used to buy me. She seemed pleased, in that bewildered way my parents often are when I’m telling them about some new, fool adventure.
What I didn’t do was go back and buy another. Having had one, I wanted to keep it special. Plus I knew I was having a strudel with custard later in the afternoon and I’m watching my weight.
But as you can see I've kept the wrapper for a bit. It still as bit of the sponge on it, fragrant with the smell of what's now in my stomach.
The Christmas Market was as fun as it usually is, with Zippy dressed as Santa sitting on the Town Hall overseeing everything.
There’s an exhibition at the Manchester Art Gallery of sculptural work created just with paper, including a forest, an extraordinary machine and a film in which the imagery comes to life directly from its pages in silhouettes.
There’s also an amazing exhibition at the John Rylands Library about Anthony Burgess and his work with Stanley Kubrick on the making of A Clockwork Orange, which includes Kubrick’s own letter to Burgess explaining his reasons for not adapting the author’s book about Napoleon and the actual white sculptural phallus brandished by Malcolm McDowell in the film.
Yet, throughout, all I could think about, and I kept saying to myself was, “I’ve eaten a Twinkie.” I've eaten a Twinkie.