Saturday, November 17, 2012

Devil Dogs

I see where Hostess Baking has gone bankrupt, a cultural watershed and front page news in the New York Times.  They say that all the molecules in the human body are replaced every seven years, but were that not true, I would be, physically, a monument to the good folks at Hostess. We were a Wonder Bread family, by and large, although unlike many Americans of the post-war era, we were ethnic enough to understand what actual bread tasted like.  But Wonder was the spine of virtually every sandwich I ate while I was living at home, the core of stuffings, the support of party hors d'oeuvres, and (this I believe unique) the main ingredient of the blini my mother served us.  She would cut off the crusts and roll the copious air pockets out with a rolling pin, plop heavily sweetened cottage cheese in the middle, roll it up, dip it in egg and fry it in butter.  Many years later, I tried this myself and found the results disgusting, although at seven I thought they were the food of the gods.   And sadly the same goes for the rest of the Hostess line. Of all the revolutions I've been through over the past half-century, I would guess that the one that makes the most difference to my daily life is the Great American Palate Reformation.

  And what exactly is it that happens to your palate that makes confections you loved as a kid taste like shit now? It can't be just sweetness, because I still like baklava and halvah, which are probably sweeter than Twinkies, but I know that unless Western Civilization collapses and I am among the last survivors sheltering in the ruins of the Twinkie warehouse, I will never consume another Twinkie.   

 Which brings me to the Drake's Devil Dog.  The Devil Dog, some may recall, is (or was)  a velvety brown pastry about the size & shape of a large knockwurst, filled with a sweet white 'creme.'  It has a hole in each end where they shot the creme in.  It tasted rather like a huge soft Oreo.  If you are the vulgar sort of junior high school boy, you can pose with one of them emerging from your fly, and squeeze it, expelling the creme in a jet.  I never did this, but Jerry Tabachnik did.  I swore I would never tell, but I can't bear to keep it on my conscience any longer. NOTE:  If you are hosting a birthday party for 12-year-old boys, eschew the Devil Dog.  Trust me on this.

I refer, of course, to the Old Devil Dog (pre-1960s).  The New Devil Dog is a mere chocolate "cake"sandwich filled with the white ichor of Twinkie fame.  But back in the 1940s, when men were men and we blasted the Luftwaffe out of the skies and taught the Jap he couldn't mess with Uncle Sam and Democracy and the right to vote for the party of your choice without regard to race, creed or national origin, THEN, we had Devil Dogs to match our Nation, no palid Frenchified 'sandwich' but a solid integral tube of filled cake just firm enough to repack the main bearing of the mighty Allis-Chalmers rotary engine so that many's the time a crewman would use 'em to get a wounded Hellcat launched off the flaming deck of the Hornet and back in the the flak-filled skies to snag some more Zeros.  That's the kind of pastries we had then!  Do you wonder the country's gone down the drain?

 In his World War II biography, It Was A Lot Like Croquet, George H. W. Bush describes how he and other Navy fliers would replace the kapok inserts in their life vests with Devil Dogs.  The tube pastries were just as buoyant and (some said) a lot tastier than kapok, providing a welcome snack for our boys after a ferocious dog fight (so to speak) over the Solomons.  Few now recall that the dimensions of the original Devil Dog were just right to serve as supplementary ammo for the 37 mm anti-tank cannon.  Allowed to dry out for a few days, the brick-hard confection made an excellent anti-personnel fragmentation round. Drakes was working on an armor-piercing Devil Dog when the war ended.

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