Big Hunk

Big Hunk. Big Hunk! You know, Big Hunk? It's like a U-No bar, or an Abba-Zaba, or a... am I even speaking English here?

Big Hunk is a local candy bar to me. It is no Snickers, as if that's a reasonable candy name. It is, however, mentioned in CandyFreak, and apparently the Abba-Zaba was in Halfbaked. You can find it places. I swear! It's kind of like a Laffy Taffy, except (1) edible, (2) vanilla with peanuts, and (3) Not Funny.

The first few chews of each bite are curiously blank, and then the warm vanilla flavor comes flooding forth. Oh, vanilla. What are you doing in my life lately? First there were those horrible vanilla peppermint patties that tasted like spoiled ice cream. Then those just reminded me of that Apprentice episode with the vanilla mint toothpaste. Who thought of vanilla mint? Why vanilla and mint? These are the questions that keep me up at night.

And now this. In this case, the vanilla just makes the nougat taste nice. It's nougattier. It works with the peanuts; they're both sort of warm flavors that play well with others.

This candy's not about flavor, though. It's about texture. The wrapper comes with instructions. I like food that tells me how to eat it. Like, why should people have to cut the gooey part out of the Brie on a cheese plate, or eat the bitter rind out of ignorance? (I like the rind, actually, so I'm fine with this - but it still seems like a weird classist practical joke.) Or, you know, you could have a cake box that's all, "Eat frosting only!"

I like advertising, too. I'd like to see a little printing on a banana skin. "All-natural waterproof packaging!" Or "E-Z Unzip!" Anyway, the Big Hunk's instructions are two-parters. The first set orders you to "Place bar firmly in one hand. Then... SMACK! your BIG HUNK on a hard surface. Happily eat your bite-sized pieces." Smart thinking: order us to be happy! If you call with a complaint ("One of the shards went right in my eye!") they can snap, "It SAYS to eat it HAPPILY. You're doing it wrong. We are not liable for any unpleasant experiences that result from not following the clear package instructions."

The second set, ripped into shreds when I opened the wrapper, says, "Place your BIG HUNK in the microwave. Heat for approximately 5-10 seconds (microwave strengths may vary). Carefully eat your CHEWY SNACK! Note: Adult supervision is required."

I couldn't find any adults, since my roommate already left for work, so I had to use one of my cats. Marty wasn't very interested in supervising me, being more deeply invested in washing one of his front paws, so I don't know what would have happened if I had decided to go nuts and heat it up for a whole minute. Candy disaster, probably. I'm imagining a web of filigree taffy strands all over the inside of the microwave. That's okay; Sessa wants to buy a new one anyway. She found a red microwave. Can you believe it? Marty couldn't, when I told him, but he's never even been inside a store, so I told him he wasn't exactly a reliable source for these things. Then he pointed out that I was disproving my own point, and I was all, "Aren't you supposed to be supervising me? Watch out! Watch out, I have sharp pieces of candy!" and I chased him out of the room with the unheated half.

Annabelle Candy is big on bossing candy-eaters around, actually. Their website also gives special instructions for the Rocky Road bar: microwave it between two graham crackers to make s'mores! See, they have ideas I never had about these things. I'm not in the habit of microwaving my candy; how would I know that you could make it all chewy and stuff?

I thought I remembered Steve Almond writing about visiting the Annabelle factory and gobbling warm Big Hunks up off the conveyor belt, so I had to try this. That's how I figured out that it's all about the texture.

See, eating a Big Hunk takes forever. They're long, and they're taffy. Any kid knows that half the pleasure of eating candy is in developing ever more intricate ways of doing it: I used to pick all the chocolate off of Fudge Kudos bars with the tips of my teeth so that I could eat the fudge layer by itself. ("Granola bar," my ass.)

Heating it up gets the bar involved in the process. It's like you're pairing up with the Big Hunk in the elaborate dance that is candy-chewing. It's no longer just a chewy bar in which each bite is a tiny struggle. Sometimes it twists. Sometimes it stretches way, way out for no reason before finally giving in to your teeth. Sometimes it twirls around and then snaps cleanly off when you bite through the twist; sometimes it just keeps on stretching through all those turns. Occasionally, inexplicably, a bit of it snaps off immediately as if it had been through the freezer instead of being heated up.

The best part is that, somehow, the taffy isn't sticking to my teeth. I have not once even had to stick my pinky in my mouth and dig nougat out of my molars. It clings for a minute, playfully, to make the eating fun, and then lets go and passes on in the manner of all well-behaved candies.

The peanuts are tossed in there with their skins. Peanut skins taste funny. They take the brunt of the roasting, and it just brings out their sort of metallic flavor. But they make the Big Hunk a little more complicated. It's a surprise: who expects real food in their candy? The Big Hunk has a nice old-fashioned vibe anyway. It's a local candy, just out of my interest area in Hayward. ("Hayward, who wants to go to Hayward?" Closer and better than Livermore, but still sitting firmly in Uninteresting Suburbia, in Practically Oakland.) The roasted peanuts are just one of a list of Mostly Real Ingredients:

Corn syrup, sugar, peanuts, honey, dried egg whites, coconut oil, salt, artificial flavor, lecithin.

Say what you will about corn syrup, but it's mostly stuff you might cook with yourself. I remember making peanut brittle for a science fair experiment out of most of the very same ingredients. (I don't remember what I was supposed to learn from this, of course. Basically, I was thinking marketing. "People like candy! I'll get an A!" I'm pretty sure it worked, too.)

I also thought I had remembered Steve Almond writing that he always froze his before shattering it, so I gave that a shot.They say to shatter it, but Half of it had conveniently shattered for me. I stuck the other half in my microwave, which depending on who you talk to is either really weak or totally middle-of-the-road. It took ten seconds, then five more, then ten more, to get it soft and stretchy. Freezing the Big Hunk, of course, hardens it up a lot. It cracks apart loudly between my teeth, in big pieces. Somehow this heightens the vanilla flavor; maybe it's the size of the pieces. The frozen chunks go through an entire temperature life cycle inside my mouth: hard and crunchy, crumbling between my molars, warmer and more supple, all the way to a little hot and chewy. They don't get as heated-up and elastic as they do in the microwave, and it really does make a difference; there's none of that pull, no give and take, in this game. Just a little firm chewiness, removing itself briskly from my teeth.

As the bar defrosts in my seventy-degree living room, it gets chewier faster, and I feel like I'm racing it. Maybe it's challenging me to eat the whole thing before it's no longer frozen. But I've already eaten most of this long bar, plus a miniature mint Kit-Kat while I waited for it to freeze. You know what? As the person eating it, I pretty much win anyway. So there, Big Hunk! Get in my belly!

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