I didn’t get a heart-shaped box of Russell Stover chocolates for Valentine’s Day. I didn’t get a Whitman’s Sampler. I didn’t get a bag of pink-and-white M&Ms. My sweetie is way too savvy for any of that traditional stuff. He knows there’s only one kind of candy I want for any gift occasion. The candy whose inventor, ironically, died this month at the age of 93.
Can you guess what it is?
Some clues: My favorite candy is the size and shape of a marble. It’s red and comes individually wrapped in cellophane. Not all stores carry it. The ones that do usually sell it for a dime per piece, though you can sometimes buy it in bulk. Best of all, it’s fat-free and diet-friendly. A mid-size piece has only twenty calories, an extra-large just thirty-five.
Fans of this candy claim that its powers are almost magical. It helps people lose weight. Stop smoking. Make friends with co-workers. Stay alert while driving. Cure head colds and sinus infections. Even relax during chemotherapy.
Got it yet?
What if I told you that it’s cinnamon flavored and so fiery hot that it can take the skin right off the roof of your mouth? That it’s so spicy that small children, and even some unsuspecting adults, spit it out after only a few seconds? That you
have to fan your mouth and keep ice water handy whenever you eat it?
You’ve almost certainly figured out by now that I’m talking about the famous, or
perhaps infamous, Atomic Fireball.
Invented by Nello Ferrara of the Ferrara Pan candy company back in 1954, Atomic Fireballs became a hit just days after the first ones rolled off the assembly line. Within weeks of the unique candy’s introduction to the American public, orders were rolling in at the rate of more than 50,000 cases per day.
Its popularity has never wavered. An estimated 15 million Atomic Fireballs are consumed each week by people all over the world.
I wonder how many of them play the game my brother and I used to play. We’d each wrestle a fireball—the 35-calorie size, not that we were counting in those days—out of its wrapper and pop it into our mouths at exactly the same time. Part of the competition was to see who could keep it there longest without having to take a break. Spitting it out, of course, made our fingers red and sticky. Worse than that, it cost precious seconds. Because the real contest was to see which of us finished our fireball first.
Had our mother been aware of the game, which I’m pretty sure she wasn’t, she no doubt would have disallowed biting down on the fireball. Dental issues and such. Not that I would have considered such a thing. In a Tootsie Roll Pop eating contest, yes. But you don’t crunch an Atomic Fireball.
Because no matter how long you leave it in your mouth, a fireball never gets soft. And once you finally work your way through the thick outer coating, the fireball actually becomes tolerable. Sweet, almost.
It’s been decades since I competed in such a contest. But I never stopped loving fireballs. And I’ve learned a couple of important lessons about them over the years. The first being that, unless you want your dental hygienist to diagnose you with some rare and frightening oral disease, it’s best to lay off the fireballs for a few days before your six-month check-up.
The second is that when you’ve got a fireball in your mouth, someone’s bound to tell you how good you smell. Yet another reason why my sweetie is lucky when Valentine’s Day rolls around. Because I never ask for Chanel Number Five.
Just a sackful of Atomic Fireballs.
(February 19, 2012)