We have a friend who is fond of saying, “You’re all that and a bag of chips.” When it comes to out-of-the-box ( bag??) compliments, one could do worse. A good potato chip, after all, is in a class all by itself.
I grew up about an hour from Hanover, PA, Utz’s ancestral home, which bills itself as the “snack capital of the world.” Driving through Hanover on a full-tilt day, even with the car windows up, you can smell chips frying. Utz has resisted all attempts at buy-outs, instead acquiring a number of other snack food brands and proudly claiming the title of “the largest independent, privately held snack food brand in the United States.” When I was a kid, on the other hand, you couldn’t buy a bag of Utz’s two hours north. That’s quite a success story! You can read about the history of the Utz brand here.
All efforts at healthful eating habits aside, and even given that my taste for salt is not what it used to be, Utz potato chips are still hard for me to resist. The golden crunch of Utz in the “chipped” ham sandwich of my childhood (yes, in it) is one of my favorite food memories.
Not, of course, in the same category as ravioli, but still…
My father, who did all our grocery shopping, was exceptionally fond of our local farmer’s market, a huge, barn-like building on the crest of Market Street Hill in Harrisburg, PA. On Saturday mornings, when Mom was working, he took me with him to do the weekly shopping. I remember those happy jaunts in minute detail. Daddy would circumnavigate the market first, assessing quality and comparing prices. For most of his regular purchases, however, he would end up at the same vendors—the egg lady, the celery lady, the butcher who cut to order the round steak that Daddy ground himself, the chicken vendor, and the man with thick-rimmed glasses, always in a plaid flannel shirt and wide suspenders, who with a deft flick of the wrist—and more than a little panache—spent the day slicing baked ham at the very back of the market.
And then —drum roll, please—there was the Utz lady. She was the first vendor to smile at us when we walked in the door, but she was always the last stop on our rounds. After all, you wouldn’t want to put the Utz’s at the bottom of the shopping bag. She’d gently scoop those fresh chips into a plain white bag, ask if we were having a good day, and thank us sweetly for stopping. That bag would tempt this chip-loving kid all the way home.
Many years later, when Mom was well into her 80s, I took her shoe shopping. The Hill market had closed years before and been succeeded by a smaller version near an older shopping center. Mom wasn’t getting around as facilely then, but she asked to stop at the market. I asked if there was anything particular that she needed. She mumbled “just a few things,” but by the time we got inside, it was clear that there was only one thing on her mind: the Utz’s lady.
We headed back to the car, that single important purchase in hand. Before I could turn the key, Mom tore the bag open and dove in, blood pressure be damned.
“There’s nothing like a good potato chip,” she said, the smile on her face as big as a kid’s on Christmas morning.