Hickory Sticks are the last snack you will ever buy

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.

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6 responses to Hickory Sticks are the last snack you will ever buy

  1. Pat says:

    Lorraine, you are , apparently, what scientists call a “Supertaster.” This is characterized by the love of salty snacks. Google it, it’s quite interesting.

    • Zena says:

      Holy crap—so this is why i detest gin and beer! Who knew. I also have a heightened sense of smell. One of my beloved offspring almost killed me with an over-scented three-wick candle a few weeks back…

  2. Zena says:

    A salt lick and a bottle of wine—that sounds about right…

    My only beef with hickory sticks is that they changed the flavour a few years back. It’s somehow less, I dunno, smokey than it used to be. Less intense. Can’t quite pinpoint the difference, but it’s definitely different. That hasn’t stopped me from eating them though.

    Now I’ve got a craving. Thanks for this.

  3. Mitch says:

    When Pringles were invented every ‘chip’ was identical. they were packed with a corrugated sleeve inner wrapper in the tennis ball can under nitrogen so they wouldn’t break or go stale. The joke was they were stale as made. They really bombed in the market. It took years to recoup the original investment through financial tricks, if ever. One of Procter’s biggest mistakes. Now owned by Kellogg’s. And well done Lorraine, you are one of the few people who can spell Procter correctly.

  4. Roxanne says:

    This is my 1st visit to your website but I must tell you that your Hickory Sticks column had me laughing out loud while having morning coffee.
    I have not had Hickory sticks for decades and was leaving the next day for an unplanned trip to check in on my elderly parents ( 89 & 91) who still live independently in New Brunswick. Dad was having some medical issues and Mom needed help with a few decisions.
    Since my trip involves, planes, trains and automobiles ( Go Train, shuttle, two planes and a rental car) to get to them, I decided I needed Hickory Sticks on-board to get me there!
    The Hickory sticks did not let me down and I still had 1/2 bag when I arrived if not more.
    ( I too can inhale a bag of chips in no time so can my mother and my sisters!)
    I think the secret to my parents longevity is happy hour at 4 o’clock and the 1/2 bag of Hickory sticks lasted for 2 or more happy hours while I was there! My mother is now hooked instead of usual chips and dip.
    Thank you Lorraine for taking me back in time to my childhood when I traded my homemade cookies, fudge, & cake for store bought Hickory Sticks, Frito’s, Jos.louis and Hostess twinkies ,
    My lunches were popular!
    I’m forwarding your article to my sisters (I have 4 siblings) who are retired in Parry Sound and Panama who I know will get the same chuckle from this walk back in time!

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