We Are All Elvis

White-trash snack pleasures

Back in the ’80s, I found myself at the gates of Graceland.

It was the tenth anniversary of the passing of The Pelvis. Beside me at The King’s palace were my disruptive running mates, Chicago radio legends Steve Dahl and Garry Meier. We were shooting a television show titled “Greetings From Graceland.” It included a sketch of a purchase from the guardian of the gates to Elvis’s poolside tomb and Jungle Room, Uncle Vester Presley.

The item we bought? The Elvis Cookbook.

The recipes in this book were white trash heaven. They included the makings for such delicacies as Pepsi Salad and Fried Squirrel. I laughed, but not too hard. For deep inside me, and others I know, beats the heart of a white trash epicure.

If you were in a huge family of Irish children, all born exactly eleven months apart, food was not a form of healthy nourishment but rather a nightly battle for the last potato. Though a simple hunk of starch, potatoes were the closest we had to organic food.

The Huffington Post recently ran a piece on the Five Foods to Avoid. No surprise, the first two on the list were my childhood staples. White bread. White sugar. Another on the list, fried foods, were rare in our household because we would eat the lard right out of the can before my mom could ever bring it to a boil.

Yes. We owned lard.

Our Elvis diet was vast and glorious. First, all entrees were sandwiches. Made from white Gardner’s bread. Inside the sandwich nestled a wonderful array of ingredients. There might be butter sprinkled with sugar, or peanut butter and potato chips, or, better yet, peanut butter and bacon.  

A few years ago I endured a medical procedure and was slow to regain my appetite. Fortunately my bride knew the way to my heart. She prepared my favorite white trash comfort lunch: peanut butter and jelly on soft white bread, which I dunked into Campbell’s Vegetable Beef soup followed by a shot of cold, white milk.

Heaven.

The white trash liquids we consumed as children were far different from the healthy smoothies of today. First and foremost, there was Kool-Aid. And then a little later, as the space age dawned, Tang. These liquids were essentially a pound of sugar, food coloring in an orange, green, red or purple hue, and one quart of water. Often we ate Kool-Aid crystals right out of the package and then washed them down with a gulp of agua. This left a wonderful lipstick of Red Dye #2 on our lips for days.

There was also Nestle Quik and Lik-M-Ade, powdered sugar substances that you could drizzle into any liquid, including Kool-Aid, if you cared to double down.

We also consumed mountains of Jell-O.

To this day I am not sure what Jell-O is, but the rumor was that gelatin, its primary ingredient, came from horse bones. Which was cool. Like Kool-Aid, it was another wonderful mix of sugar, food coloring and water. A popular form of presentation was the Jell-O mold. Even as a child I knew this term to be redundant, because as it moved from its liquid to solid state, Jell-O couldn’t help itself. It had to become a quivering mold, regardless of the shape my mom intended.  

A special delight were the items creative homemakers would suspend inside the Jell-O, pineapple chunks or miniature marshmallows being the norm. When National Geographic recently produced a documentary about an Ice Age hunter they named Otzi, who was released from a melting glacier after centuries of being frozen in place, it made me think of those little marshmallows trapped inside their own glacier of Jell-O.

Such a fate.

Marshmallows fall into the genus of white, white trash edibles. In fact we consumed all sorts of pure white substances: white bread, white sugar, white milk, white marshmallows, white mashed potatoes, white marshmallow fluff, white frosting, white Cool Whip and white mayo. High school science class taught us that black is all colors combined. White, however, is the absence of color—or in this case, nutrition.

White is also the color of the substance inside an Oreo. I care not what that substance is. To my mind, the Oreo cookie is beyond reproach, even to this day. I will defend unto death the right to wolf down a handful of them with cold milk.

A visit to the Facebook Town Square in prep for this column resulted in a few other unmentionables, which I will now mention: Bologna (ring). Circus peanuts (the orange, non-nut kind). Fish sticks (which are neither fish nor sticks).

But the winning recipe, due to its daring combination of white trash ingredients, was French fries dunked in Coke and vanilla ice cream.

And that sound you just heard?

The head chef at L’Etoile hitting the floor.

Madison-based television producer John Roach writes this column monthly. Reach him at johneroach@mac.com.

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