Ahhh…the crunchy goodness of nostalgia in the morning!
The Halloween season is always my favorite time of year (and I’m guessing if you’re reading this blog, it’s yours too) with the leaves changing, horror movies getting a boost (though this past summer’s box office should illustrate that horror is good for ALL seasons) and happy memories of trick or treating, caramel apples, and staying up late watching monster movies.
The great thing about growing up in the ’70s, however, was that you didn’t require the veil of darkness to enjoy your favorite beasties! In October of 1971 (less than a month after my first birthday) General Mills unleashed their now legendary “monster cereals,” giving kids a comedic dose of The Universal Monsters for breakfast. At the time of their debut there were only two of them; Count Chocula (chocolate flavored and modeled after Dracula) and Franken Berry (a strawberry flavored Frankenstein) with their blueberry inspired ghostly cousin, Boo Berry showing up a couple years later.
Although I recall sampling his more colorful pals, this monster kid was definitely Team Chocula. In fact, I was never much of a cereal person in general but Count Chocula was the one major exception. I remember my mom pushing me in the grocery cart down the breakfast aisle and tossing the box in with me. She knew it was the quickest way to get me to stop asking if we were almost done shopping yet (Lord, remember how boring that was?) and spend the rest of the journey staring intently at it while trying to imagine where the prize was located inside.
The next morning I’d try to be the first to open that box before my annoying younger brother did in an effort to ensure the bounty was mine. Looking back it seems pretty silly expelling so much energy on a trinket (especially considering I have no memory of what any of those prizes actually were) but when you’re a kid a new toy is a new toy and worth the effort regardless. I do remember my mom finally trying to settle the dispute by getting Count Chocula for me and my brother his preferred Franken Berry; though it did little to stop the arguing as I’d merely use the opportunity to inform my brother that his favorite mascot looked an awful lot like a pink hippo.
My average weekday would begin with me heading to kitchen to fix myself a bowl before plopping down on the living room floor to watch Chicago kids’ programming such as Ray Rayner and the adventures of Clutch Cargo. If it was Saturday (a.k.a. cartoon day) I’d be watching one the big three networks instead. Regardless of what was on TV, Count Chocula was guaranteed to be with me.
The chocolate grain was fine but the marshmallows were the real draw! Back then they were shaped like tiny versions of actual marshmallows (instead of today’s bat shapes) that were somewhat petrified until you added the milk. In an effort to be healthier, the cereal now boasts “whole grain” which is probably why I remember it tasting a little better back then too. That was the beauty of those bygone days, parents weren’t ashamed to admit they were pouring pure sugar down their kid’s throats first thing in the morning. Of course this was also back when youngsters actually spent the rest of their day burning OFF that sugar rather then spending it on the couch. I guess It makes sense that the cereal should forego some of its taste in lieu of that but I swear fore God, if I ever time travel back to the 1970’s, I’m immediately going to grab a box of that unhealthier Count Chocula for breakfast along with the Colonel’s original recipe Kentucky Fried Chicken for lunch!
As one of those kids who tended to use too much milk in his cereal (but don’t tell my kids that since I’m always after them for doing the same thing) Count Chocula would make sure none went to waste by turning that plain old white milk into much tastier “chocolate milk” instead; thus ensuring I’d finish every last drop! Sure, Cocoa Puffs and Cocoa Pebbles provided the same phenomena but it was never nearly as good as the Count’s. I should also add that at least Cocoa Puffs stayed crunchy, if you didn’t eat those Cocoa Pebbles fast enough you’d wind up with chocolate-flavored slop!
Once the Big ’80s was in full swing I’d moved on to other choices, thus missing out on the limited runs of their werewolf spin-off, Frute Brute, and Yummy Mummy. By 2010, none of the Big Three were available year round as General Mills made the decision to put them out during the Halloween season only. It’s frustrating at times but does show the marketing genius of the cereal company who’ve obviously figured out that the best way to rouse American consumership is by using words like “exclusive” and “limited edition.” Target was one of the few stores that carried them and last year I brought a box with me to Rhode Island (since there are fewer Targets up there as here in Chicago) and the other Terror Dave (who also considers the Count one of his BFF’s) enjoyed it for breakfast during my vacation. It was really nice sharing it with a fellow adult monster kid but, as my host, I think the least he could of done was put on some cartoons while we were eating!
This past weekend I went out in search of them as I do every year now but this time with even more spring in my step. Not only would Count Chocula, Franken Berry, and Boo Berry be out for their 2013 Halloween tour but also joined by their elusive, extended monster family members Frute Brute and Yummy Mummy! At last I can partake in what I’d missed out on during my teen-aged years. Target gets even MORE props for not only offering all of these treasures but for featuring them in their original boxes (and not the computerized crappy ones you get everywhere else)!
And so, my friends, lets all raise our breakfast bowl and toast our friends at General Mills. For surely there is NO better way to start your day than with your favorite monster.