There I sat, aged nine, happily crunching away on a crunch-lover’s list of crunchable foods. These consisted of an extra-crunchy peanut butter and strawberry jam sandwich on Mom’s freshly baked sourdough bread, with sides of homemade baked potato chips, and a large sour pickle. If that menu doesn’t send shivers up your spin, then you are a cruncher.
In all my travels around the world, I came across many a cruncher, but the greatest numbers reside in my country of origin, the USA..
The French have their baguette, with its wonderfully crunchy crust and soft, chewy interior. Delicious. And don’t even talk about the original pommes frites! (French fries to us, except during be-mad-at-France times.)
The English relish their pork pie with its hot water crust pastry sealing roughly chopped pork and pork jelly (eaten cold, and don’t knock it till you try it). Their homely Friday night treat from the fish and chips shop, eaten best from the white butcher’s paper it’s wrapped in and sprinkled with vinegar, is a fine, simple menu giving great crunch.
But, let’s get back to the USA. Are you the one in the kitchen who can’t keep your fingers from snapping off a piece of pork crackling, before the roast even reaches the dining room for carving? Can you barely wait for the home-baked sugar cookies to cool to their perfect snap? Do you peel a young, bright orange carrot, with the full intention of shredding or chopping it up for a salad, and then discover yourself dreamily biting off a piece just for the sweet crunch of it? You are a cruncher.
Do you move surreptitiously around finger-food-parties, seeking smoked almonds, roasted pecans, any kind of toasted nut? You are, indeed, a cruncher.
Is the banana sliced on top of your crispy, nutty, crunchy cereal, before you add milk at the last moment, hoping to preserve the crispness as long as possible, whilst enjoying your first crunch of the day? Then you, too, are a cruncher.
As I recall munching away on the extra-crunchy peanut butter sandwich, I wonder how we came to seek and indulge this penchant for the magical texture of crunch. When did we experience that first elation? So, I offer a theory that takes us back in pre-history to our innocent and, as yet, un-evolved selves.
Scampering across the plains of Central Africa, searching out roots, berries, and nuts, did we masticate a handful of one or the other during the search? (At the same moment, did we imbibe these along with sand or soil and get that first crunch?) Perhaps, we sat around a fire, roasting our triumphant kill, and discovered the outer coating (skin) of the beast crisped up nicely from the heat of the glowing, roasting coals. In this hunter/gatherer society, did a female gatherer rinse a piece of wild celery at a spring, take her first tentative bite, and smile with pleasure at the crunch of it?
Any one of these could have been the birth of our lust for and love of crunch.
My mother made a great treat called Apple Twist. The wedge of apple, with a tie of pie pastry curled around, sprinkled with cinnamon sugar, and baked at 350 °, was the dessert-delight of my childhood. The crisp crust emerging from the syrup formed from the apple juices and cinnamon sugar, both pleased the palate and gave a satisfactory crunch effect.
As an avowed cruncher, I could ramble on here. But, I’d rather leave the crunch to you. No, not your imagination. Get out there and discover your next food adventure. Will it be a piece of fried chicken, a crisp coconut shrimp, a slice of red bell pepper, a deep-fried piece of parsley topping crispy noodles on an Asian-inspired soup?
May the crunch be with you.