By Joe Yonan/Black Press News Services
I had a white-bread childhood, at least at the table. My mother served meatloaf blanketed in Campbell’s cream of mushroom concentrate, cooked-to-death broccoli-cream cheese casserole, “Texas salad” – and lots and lots of Wonder Bread.
My favourite thing to put on slices of that fluffy, tasteless white loaf was just as white: an obscenely thick smear of Hellmann’s mayonnaise. And nothing else. I made a mayonnaise sandwich, which is like a BLT without the B, the L or the T. I turned a condiment into a filling.
The first day I dolloped my beloved Hellmann’s onto saltines – or, let’s be real, dipped the crackers right into the jar – was the day that became a favourite afternoon snack, right up there with sunflower seeds and Mr. Goodbar.
Why Hellmann’s? This should go without saying, because it’s one of the most popular brands in the country, but it is perfectly creamy, a touch tart, and just salty enough. I know it’s heresy for someone born in Georgia to not profess undying love for the Southern staple Duke’s, but there you have it. Duke’s makes a fine pimento cheese, but Hellmann’s has my heart.
To me, Hellmann’s is to mayo as Xerox is to photocopiers and Kleenex is to facial tissues; why hasn’t its name become as synonymous? I blame the fact that the company, because of a sequence of mergers too mind-numbing to go into here, calls it Best Foods west of the Rockies, something that shook my foundation to the core when I first met a Californian who was a fan. “Bring out the Best Foods, and bring out the best?” Just doesn’t have the right ring.
Since my mayo-sandwich days, my palate has matured, and now I like plenty more sophisticated things: The mushrooms I eat are wild and sometimes even foraged, not from a can. The broccoli is crisp-tender. The bread is dark and multigrain, chewy and crusty – wonderful, not Wonder. And what I most often dip directly into unadulterated mayo are bistro-style fries, a combination that isn’t actually that far from the carby snack of my youth.
I attribute my white-bread childhood to my mother’s Midwestern upbringing, to the fact that her German ancestry was too distant to affect her cooking, at least when I was growing up in west Texas. But like most things we blame our parents for, that’s probably unfair. For one, it turns out that when Mom introduced me to her favourite mayo, she might have been in touch, subconsciously or not, with her heritage after all. While mayonnaise is French in origin, the American brand has roots in a New York deli owned by Richard Hellmann, a German immigrant.
I confess that I’ve dabbled in other mayos. I had a passing fling with the vegan Just Mayo when it first came out, I remain on good terms with Sir Kensington’s (especially the chipotle-flavoured), and of course I blend up my own now and then. I’ve seen the taste tests out there. But if it were a panel of one, even blindfolded, I know which I’d pick. Especially if you slathered it on some Wonder Bread first. Just for old time’s sake.