Adios, My Sweet and Spicy Friend

This may be one of the hardest obituaries I’ll ever have to write.

One of my dearest friends will likely soon depart this wonderful world. Not a person I love. Not a celebrity I admire. Not a dog or a cat or a horse. Nope. I’m mourning the demise of the round, red, hard cinnamon candy created way back in 1954, the same year I was born.

Rumor has it that Ferrara Pan Candy’s famous—or infamous, depending on your taste—atomic fireballs are being discontinued.

I first heard the news on Labor Day weekend at an apple festival in Hendersonville, North Carolina. While browsing the aisles at Mast General Store, I noticed a pile of smaller-size atomic fireballs—the ones you don’t have to take out of your mouth halfway through because they’re burning a hole in your tongue—at the candy table. I filled a sack with a handful and headed to the check-out counter.

“We have these available in five-pound bags,” the young woman working the cash register told me, “if you’re interested.”

“Five pounds seems like a lot,” I said. “Even for someone who loves fireballs as much as I do.”

She leaned closer . “The manufacturer is ceasing production,” she whispered. “We only have ten pounds left in this store. We’ve been told we’ll never get any more.” It was all I could do not to lay my head on that antique wooden counter and weep. No more atomic fireballs, anywhere, ever???!!! If that were true, how could I possibly face the future?

Naturally, I bought the store’s remaining stock and lugged them a mile uphill to where we’d parked, wondering all the while if the sales clerk was working on commission and had spotted a sucker when I walked in the door. The candy cost me $59.98 plus tax for ten pounds, about six dollars a pound or 12 cents per fireball. That seemed really high, even in the midst of a wage-price spiral.

Now, just a few weeks later, those Mast General Store fireballs seem like a bargain. Before settling in to write this column, I did an exhaustive internet search. Several sites–including Sam’s Club, where I used to buy atomic fireballs cheap in huge plastic tubs—say NO LONGER AVAILABLE. But amazon still has them, ranging from 12 dollars to 23 dollars a pound and–according to the website— still in stock. Walmart’s website lists them, too, ranging from 28 dollars all the way up to 47 dollars a pound. Wowie zowie.

These inflated prices mean something significant, and I don’t think it’s that we’re smack-dab in the middle of Halloween candy season. I believe there’s genuine fireball scarcity and that it’s only going to get worse.

Should I bite the bullet and purchase overpriced fireballs while I still can? Is it possible to buy and stockpile enough fireballs to last for the rest of what I hope will be my long life? One pound equates to approximately fifty pieces of candy. If I limit myself to a single fireball a day, which I’m more than willing to do, that comes to more than seven pounds a year. If I live to be a hundred, I’ll need more than 200 pounds of fireballs. Even if I were willing and able to spend the ridiculous amount of money it would take to buy that many, where would I store them? Also, fireballs have an expiration date. On the sacks I bought in Hendersonville are stamped the words BEST BY JULY 2024. Yikes.

There’s only one good solution to this dilemma, and that solution is to learn to love inferior fireball knock-offs. So if I come knocking on your front door next Tuesday evening, go ahead and drop Tongue Torchers or Cinnamon Discs or Red Hots into my trick-or-treat bag.

I’ll say thank you. But I won’t really mean it.

(October 29, 2023)