If you have any American friends, you know there’s a steady black market for things requested when you visit.
Ketchup chips, Coffee Crisps, Smarties, over-the-counter codeine.
In my world, it’s Hickory Sticks. Yes, the lowly little splintered potato bits that are as addictive as they are salty.
I turned one friend on to them years ago by displaying them elegantly in a martini glass, like a porcupine hunched over sleeping. I pretended they were a high concept appetizer like kale chips that have been coaxed into lacy fans dipped in anything that can make kale taste better. Sawdust tastes better than kale, so not much effort is required.
She appreciated my artistic flair, but her eyes widened in disappointment on learning that they would have to be smuggled home for her family to enjoy.
The upside to Hickory Sticks? They don’t break in transit, because they start out as small broken things on purpose. Win-win.
But the true value of Hickory Sticks is that they are made from magic. You cannot empty a bag of Hickory Sticks. When I go on road trips, I pack apples, almonds, water … and Hickory Sticks. There is a math to everything else — how many hours, how many people — but there is no math to Hickory Sticks. You need one bag. You can open that bag in the first hour of the trip (and you will; trust me) and you will still have half a bag when you return that night or a week later, even if everyone in the car is eating them the entire time.
I like potato chips so much I can’t buy them, ever. I can inhale a regular sized bag of plain Lays in the time it took me to type that sentence. When I buy the family size, Ari, 22, says, “Well, I guess you technically have a family.” And I can plow through that bag, too.
Once I bought the party size, and he said, “Well, I guess you’ve been to a party.” I can’t buy them.
Someone once asked my idea of a perfect evening and I simply replied, “Tie me to a salt lick and bring me a bottle of wine.”
A bag of Hickory Sticks weighs approximately four or five pounds — a couple of kilograms, easily. A bag of potato chips weighs negative five ounces. You can see already why we’re ahead here. When you open a bag of chips you see air, because contents may have settled in shipping. I learned that phrase as a kid, on learning I’d bought a bag of air that actually sighed in disappointment along with me when I opened it.
Procter and Gamble believed they’d beat the problem with Pringles, but Pringles taste like dust and salt that someone waved a potato over. Maybe.
Someone brilliant went the other way, and made Hickory Sticks. They are the soldiers of the potato chip world, the journeymen players who fill a void you can’t define and sometimes forget. You don’t know you need them until you have them, and in a clutch they perform brilliantly, only to sink once again into obscurity as the world moves on to their more famous cousins now being flavoured with things like poutine and maple syrup: two flavours I hate in their original incarnation let alone when chemicalized and added to potato chips.
I am a purist.
I recently visited American friends and took a couple bags of Hickory Sticks as part of a hostess gift. I accidentally opened a bag on the road trip down, but reasoned it didn’t matter.
The one I gave them will last forever.