Because I am currently eating somewhere between four and forty meals per day, it may come as some surprise to hear that I was a bit of a finicky breakfast-eater, as a young man. I insisted that eating in the morning gave me a stomachache (because clearly, at seven years old, I was already a fifty-year-old accountant with acid reflux) and then, inevitably, I would have a mid-morning crash at school, somewhere in between “learning who the Iroquois were” and “doing my ‘Weekly Reader.’” My mother, increasingly desperate, tried almost anything she could find to get me to eat, even bending her own rules from time-to-time. When Strawberry Carnation Instant Breakfast stopped working its magic, she eventually turned to Pillsbury Toaster Strudel.
We were a decidedly junk food-free home, at least when it came to breakfast. Honey Nut Cheerios were the outside limit of allowable sweet cereals. I don’t think I had a Pop-Tart until I was in high school. Introduced in 1985, Pillsbury Toaster Strudel somehow received a free pass. A Toaster Strudel is, in its most basic iteration, a gussied-up Pop-Tart. Soft, flaky layers of pastry replace the hard crust of a Pop-Tart, with a thicker layer of fruit inside. Most thrilling, however, to the seven-year-old version of myself, was the icing layer: individual packets of icing that you would microwave, and then pipe onto the top of your toaster pastry. Failure to pipe the icing in a perfect swirl pattern, as was clearly illustrated in the commercials, sent me into hysterics. This obsessive attention to detail was short-lived, and would vanish later in life, before it led to anything positive like, “inventing computers” or “having muscles.”
I had fond memories of Toaster Strudel, of eating warm little pockets of fruit jam, standing in our knotty-pine kitchen in Tenants Harbor. It was with a sentimental sniffle and a tear in my eye, then, that I decided to try Pillsbury’s new savory version of their classic pastry, “Toaster Scrambles®.” From the box:
“Cheese Sauce, Scrambled Eggs & Bacon in a Crispy Crust. Made with REAL scrambled eggs and bacon. Real Breakfast! Real Easy! Real Fast!® Warmth in a Modern World.®”
First of all, “Warmth in a Modern World®” is an amazing slogan, and I hope will continue to be used as our world grows ever closer to the bleak, gray dystopia of the future, when we are all eating bags of lukewarm, vitamin-enriched bags of goo while we’re in our uranium-powered cars driving to work to put in a 15-hour shift in the silicon mines. “We know how awful everything has been since The Singularity,” Pillsbury boxes of the future will describe, “But we hope you will find memories of being warm and comfortable, in the chemical soup that we keep firing out of your toaster.” Because even if Pillsbury Toaster Scrambles are “Made with REAL scrambled eggs and bacon,” they’ve got a lot of other stuff going on in there that you’ll probably be less happy to hear about. Plenty of non-food items that you certainly wouldn’t use in your home kitchen, like sodium phospahate (a preservative), guar gum (for thickening), something called “enzyme modified butter,” as well as “autolyzed yeast extract,” some titanium dioxide, and plenty of yellow dye #5. Clearly, Toaster Scrambles are a product of some pretty high science.
The instructions request that you set your toaster to medium, toast your Toaster Scramble once, and then toast it again, presumably to cook the filling through without burning the outside of the pastry. Because our toaster was made using leftover rocket parts, however, I stopped cooking after just one cycle through the toaster. The pastry that popped up seemed appropriately brown on the outside, and happened to also be the hottest thing that man has ever touched in the history of time. After burning my fingers, I decided to let the Toaster Scramble sit in the toaster for a minute, to calm itself down.
Somehow, the warm pastry became cool to the touch almost immediately, and I tried a bite. The inside contained (thankfully) much less filling than I expected, which must be necessary to get it to warm through just using the heat of your toaster. The outer layers of the pastry were as I remembered from the second grade; surprisingly flaky, crisped perfectly in the toaster, with a wonderful crackling sound with each bite. The inside, though, was a bit of a different story. Each pastry contained a warm combination of egg, cheese, and bacon. I let out a frustrated sigh almost immediately.
“What’s the matter,” Jillian asked, “Cold in the middle?”
It wasn’t that. This is just terribly depressing food. Like a warm bacon donut, if you described both “bacon” and “donuts” to someone who had never heard of them, and was tasked with re-creating them in a laboratory. Those flavors are all there, and if you put a bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich in a blender and added a ton of smoke flavoring, you might end up with something similar to the insides of these pastries. But it somehow doesn’t end up tasting like food, in spite of the sunbursty promises on the front of the box. It’s soulless, like food you would eat on a long distance Amtrak train.
I don’t get on a soapbox about the things I eat, goodness knows. In the end, though, I just couldn’t understanding feeding Toaster Scrambles to someone you loved, even if they taste good, and even if the kids are picky little hysterical jerks like I was at that age. It seems like an English Muffin loaded with peanut butter, or even some sort of smoothie situation, would be a more loving, protective choice. At least that’s real food. This is not food. In an effort to illustrate my point, I cooked a second Toaster Scramble, and surgically removed the top layer of pastry.
What’s that? You need a closer look?
Clearly unable to articulate what it was that was so disheartening about the normally pleasant experience of “eating breakfast,” I offered Jillian a bite, who surprisingly accepted.
“Ugh,” she said, “It’s just FLAVOR. It’s flavor, without being food.”
And that was exactly it. In fact, maybe Pillsbury was introducing us to our bleak future ahead of time.
Calories – 180, Total Fat – 11 grams, Saturated Fat – 3.5 grams, Cholesterol – 20 milligrams, Sodium – 3300 milligrams, Carbs – 16 grams, Dietary Fiber – 0 grams, Sugars – > 1 gram, Protein – 4 grams