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Bittersweet memories

From time to time I’ll run into someone who’ll mention a column I wrote about The Good Ole Days.

We’ll talk a bit, mentioning this guy,that gal, and those things. And in the course of our chat, the person’ll say, “How can you remember all that stuff? I can’t.”

Well, here’s how…

First, while I might remember things you don’t; inevitably, you remember things I don’t. So, yeah, you forgot about the trophy cabinet in Petrova school … and I forgot about the flu epidemic of ’58, or whenever it was.

Second, and most important, even though I might remember something, and remember it perfectly, it might not have happened like that…or might not even have happened at all. I’m not so deluded that I think memory is photographic rather than impressionistic.

Over the years, stories get told and retold and revisited and revised so much that memory, rather than a history, is at best a tale. I’ve been wrong too many times to think otherwise.

And so it is with Regal Crown sour lemons.

Regal Crown sour lemons were a vivid memory from my youth, and they were vivid for two reasons

One was their taste. RCsl were the most delicious hard candy, bar none. They were the perfect combination of sweet and sour, which is no small deal when you’re dealing with lemons. Among all lemon candies, their flavor stood out: It was strong but not too strong, tart but not too tart, sweet but not too sweet. In other words, they were perfect.

That was the first unforgettable thing about them. The other was their cost: They were the most expensive candy on my extensive candy menu. And when I say my candy menu was extensive, you’d best believe me.

Catch this: They came in a roll of seven, which cost a lordly 15 cents.

To put it in perspective, Lifesavers came in a roll of 10 and cost 5 cents, so you paid three times as much for half as many candies. A Hershey or Nestle’s chocolate bar cost a nickel, as did a Fudgicle, Bonamo’s Turkish Taffy, or a doughnut from Deissler’s bakery, fresh from the fryer.

Fifteen cents? Snickers and Mars Bars were a dime. So was a bottle of soda, a Nutty Buddy and a Creamsicle. Fifteen cents could buy 15 root beer barrels, 15 atomic fireballs, or five licorice sticks and a box of Milk Duds.

And what single candy cost 15 cents? Nothing I was willing to spring for — except Regal Crown sour lemons. Thus I indulged in them on rare occasion … very rare occasion at that.

Probably because they were such an infrequent treat, I’d completely forgotten about them. Then last week I ran across a Facebook posting and — Lo and Behold – there was a pic of a roll of Regal Crown sour lemons. Suddenly I wondered two things. One, did they still make them? And two, if so, were they as delicious as I’d remembered?

The cost of nostalgia

They are still being made, and according to the ads, the formula’s the same. The only change is price — now a hefty buck. But what the hey, it’s only money, and how can anyone put a price on fine vintage nostalgia? I ordered four rolls.

That was Phase One.

Once they arrived, I set up Phase Two — the taste test.

For this I decided to use a control group, as we statisticians say: First, I volunteered Jen Ex as a co-taster. Next, I decided to have a co-candy, as it were — Claeys lemon drops. Lest you’ve never seen them, Claeys Lemon Drops are another old-time candy (since 1919), are made with natural flavors. They’re sold in the Post Office Pharmacy, which is candy karma of sorts, since the only place I remember where RCsl were sold was in Hoffman’s Pharmacy.

I wanted to compare the Claeys for two reasons. First, they’ve kept my lemon drop jones at bay for years, and frankly I thought if they didn’t taste as good as RC, they were darn close. Second, while RC are still rocking a luxury price at a buck an ounce, Claeys are a mere two bucks for a six ounce bag.

Was it possible my memory of RCsl was so flawed that they’d no longer hold my taste buds in thrall? And even if they did, were they worth three times more than Claeys? I didn’t know, of course, but I was sure gonna find out.

Ultimate questions and answers

The test was simplicity itself. Jen Ex and I tried first one drop, then another (with her not knowing which was which). Then a thorough mouth rinse, and a tasting repeat till a verdict was reached.

And what WAS the verdict?

Amazingly, RC tasted exactly as I remembered. And perhaps less amazingly, both Jen Ex and I agreed they were better than Claeys.

Which raises the candy freak’s ultimate question: While RCsl taste better than Claeys, do they taste so much better that they’re worth paying three times as much?

And here’s this candy freak’s ultimate answer: The next time I get my meds in Post Office Pharmacy I’ll see if my copay covers lemon drops.

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