Baby love me, yes, yes she does, well the girl’s outta sight, yeah.
Says she loves me, yes, yes she does, gonna show me tonight, yeah.
Hey, she got the way to move me Cherry, she got the way to groove me,
Cherry baby. She got the way to move me, she got the way to groove me-alright.
(My main man, Neil Diamond)
I’ve loved maraschino cherries since I was a little girl (and Neil Diamond since I was a teen). Mom bought cherries in small jars, swimming in sweet red syrup and let me top my (golden yellow) Hull Vanilla ice cream, covered with chopped walnuts and a substantial helping from the Hershey’s syrup can (the can was about the size of a Del Monte vegetable can). We used a V-shaped pop bottle opener, piercing two different sized triangular holes. A larger one to pour from and a smaller one to let air into the can so it would pour evenly). This delicious bowl was topped with a couple of cherries. Mom also found a gooey bar recipe from our ‘Family Favorites’ Cookbook which called for cut up cherries, nutmeats and coconut, all my favorites, (which the jar of cherries was originally intended), but once that jar was opened for ice cream, or me sneaking a few after school before she got home from work, if she wanted to make bars, she had to buy another jar of cherries (my evil plan all along).
There were several ‘snack’ foods mom kept in the house for me. Hershey Bars (which she kept in the OVEN! I can’t tell you how many times she had to clean out a melted chocolate mess, including wrappers while the oven was preheating), regular and with almonds at a nickel a piece, Oreo Cookies, Hostess Cupcakes, Snowballs, Twinkies, Brach’s chocolate stars, Malt balls, Circus Peanuts and an occasional salty snack. All these were acceptable after school/supper treats (we rarely had dessert) so she was perturbed when the cherries kept disappearing from the jar. My cherry fixation might have bordered on obsessive/excessive.
Although the gooey cherry bars mom made were delicious (I still make them a couple times a year), my favorite way to indulge in maraschino cherries was with Wells Blue Bunny Cherry Nut ice cream. A pink concoction chucked full of diced maraschino cherries and chunks of walnuts mixed in an ocean of vanilla ice cream. Wells is located in Le Mars, Iowa, (now the ice cream capital of the world) which is about 35 miles from my hometown. Never gave it a passing thought growing up. It was just an ice cream factory, delivering half gallons (yes, all cartons of ice cream used to be 64 ounces) to surrounding towns in Iowa.
Over the years as we moved farther away, Blue Bunny ice cream was not always readily available. That didn’t pose much of a problem since the Hubs’ folks, sibs, my folks and sister all lived in the area where Blue Bunny ruled. We went home often, summers, spring break, sometimes Christmas or Thanksgiving, so I got my Cherry Nut fix a few times each year.
But things never stay the same. Those busy, fretful years of getting through motherhood raising teenagers also felt the loss of many family members. Since the late 80’s we lost both sets of parents, 3 of Hubs siblings and my only sister. We did not realize at the time but with every loss, there’s less of a reason to go back. That strong home base was just drifting away, one miserable death after another.
We didn’t travel to Iowa or anywhere else in 2020. Stayed close to home, saw almost no one and waited for the virus to run its course (we’re waiting, we’re waiting). The last time we went back was for my high school reunion, late summer of 2019, and I was in for a shock (besides how amazingly young and hip my whole class still looks). The newly remodeled Blue Bunny Ice Cream Parlor in Le Mars had some unsettling news for this Cherry Nut aficionado. My favorite flavor had been retired/discontinued. No consultation, no permission, and certainly no consideration for my feelings or healthy appetite. Cold. Damn cold.
Disappointing to say the least. Pandemic, social distancing, isolation, travel ban, masks. The hits just kept coming. The Hubs and I decided if we were going to be stuck somewhere, why not make it a better place during the winter than our cold, snowy, sad-sack state? Indeed. Which brought us to Alabama a month ago. I knew nothing about Alabama, but it was about the closest good weather to try our newly sprouted snowbirding wings. Yes, for the most part we still stay home, mask up in stores and restaurants, but the sun, the Gulf of Mexico, the warm temperatures has lifted our morose spirits. We have not been disappointed nor homesick. Yet.
The closest grocery store is Walmart. (I’ve never been a big fan). Gotta give them credit though for the ease in refilling our prescriptions 1,000 miles from home. Thought that would be a much bigger headache. But after the first 3 weeks, I was eager to shop elsewhere, and found several choices. Piggly Wiggly, Publix, Winn Dixie and a local store called Rouses. When I stayed in Destin a few years ago, I shopped at a Publix, but knew nothing of the others.
Our goal was finding a better loaf of bread. The bread choices are kinda sad around here. Puny loaves, skinny slices and very little choice on varieties. It’s not that we were hellbent on getting the best ‘bakery’ loaf of bread, just a good commercial brand of wheat bread for a sandwich that would hold more than a teaspoon of peanut butter/jelly without wilting from the weight.
Winn Dixie got our approval rating for having a brand of bread we had not seen before so kudos to them. Piggly Wiggly offered nothing new so we left without buying anything. But the Publix Store Chain won this girl over-big time. (I comparison shopped in every store and have found the cost of living here quite high compared to Michigan grocery prices. I love doing that and always check prices when we’re in Iowa too).
Found one loaf of Cranberry Walnut bread in their bakery. (I ate some years ago, even tried to duplicate it several times to no avail). This time I’ll be taking home the list of ingredients and see if I can find a similar recipe on the internet. But here’s the kicker. The biggest, best surprise of all. The Publix Store brand of their premium ice cream line carries-CHERRY NUT ICE CREAM. Thought I’d died and gone to heaven-and that was before I ate my first half gallon-I mean bowl.
It’s not exactly like Blue Bunny Cherry Nut. Publix uses almonds instead of walnuts but the Hubs and I decided we like that nut flavor mixed in with cherries. My outlook on life has been much improved with my recent discovery. There will be some changes made and concessions in my life moving forward. I absolutely have to give up a meal everyday or fast one day a week. You know, Cherry Nut plus Krispy Kreme is not painting a very pretty picture of Neese (literally) for the future unless I intend on buying a new wardrobe in a bigger size. Ah, nope.
I may have to move. Not specifically to Gulf Shores silly. There are 1,239 Publix Stores all over southeastern U.S., so there’s some flexibility with this life altering decision. We could sell the house, roam our way through Georgia, Alabama, North and South Carolina, Florida and Tennessee, just hopping from one Publix store to the next. Or we could reserve a 4-month ‘winter stay’ in one of their parking lots and just rough it next to a dumpster…