29 January 2008

Send More Fig Newtons!

I've always fancied a Fig Newton, but I'm starting to think I may be the only one because on the rare occasion I actually buy some Fig Newtons they are always stale as fuck.

One year at the 3rd Avenue Festival when I was a kid I caught a band called Fig Einstein outside the Ridgewood Savings Bank. I'll always remember that day. I was into Teenage Fanclub and The Pixies then and watched 120 Minutes religiously. I had tight jeans, black Converse All-Stars or Oxblood DM's with green laces. An all-over Smiths tee and a backpack with The Ramones written down the straps. I also had a 'Silence = Death' pin that I'd bought on vacation in Binghamton which I'd altered so it now read 'Science = Death'.

So on the Nabisco website it said there are two theories as to the origin of the Fig Newtons name. One familiar tale says the gentleman who invented the machinery that makes Fig Newtons Cookies was so proud of his work that he named the cookies after the great physicist, Sir Isaac Newton. The second theory holds that the cookies took their name from the Massachusetts town of Newton, near the home of Kennedy Biscuit Works (forerunner to Nabisco).

"I thought: Theories?! We've got a product that sells in excess of 7.2 gazillion a year and the best we can come up with is theories? I decided to see if I could scare up somebody at Nabisco who had a clue.

By and by I reached John Barrows, senior manager for marketing communications. John was my kind of guy.

"There is no truth at all to the Isaac Newton theory," he wrote.

Fig Newtons had been introduced in 1891 by the Kennedy Biscuit Company, one of a number of regional bakeries that merged in 1898 to form the National Biscuit Company, later known as Nabisco.

"The Kennedy Biscuit Company named all their products after surrounding communities, including cookies and crackers called 'Shrewsbury,' 'Harvard,' 'Beacon Hill,' and so on. There is no doubt (in our minds) whatsoever that the Fig Newton is named for Newton, Massachusetts."

Studying my map of the commonwealth, all I can say is, thank God Kennedy Biscuit wasn't near Belchertown."

OK, so what about Lorna Doone's and Oreo's?

"Since John seemed to know what he was talking about I decided to pick his brain about other Nabisco cookie names before his bosses decided it was time for another round of corporate downsizing. This revealed how thin the veneer of knowledge is at even our largest corporations:

Lorna Doones: "No record exists as to the exact motivation behind the selection of that name, but in those days, the product was introduced in 1912, shortbread biscuits were considered a product of Scottish heritage, and the Lorna Doone character was symbolic of Scotland."

An obvious problem with this theory is that Lorna Doone, the 1869 novel by R.D. Blackmore to which John refers, was set in southwest England, not Scotland. One suspects that somebody along the line was reading the Cliffs Notes.

Oreos: "We don't know much about the origins of Oreo because it was one of three new products all launched at the same time," in 1912, John told us.

"The company thought the other two were going to be the big winners, and little was written about Oreo."

For the record, the main theories are: (1) Oreo was euphonious and easy to pronounce. (2) Oreo was inspired by the French word for gold, or, a colour used on early package designs. (3) The name comes from the Greek word for mountain, oreo, and was chosen because the first test cookies were hill shaped. (4) An O-RE-O consists of c-RE-am between two O-shaped wafers. Terrific, eh? Think what they could have come up with if they'd had two cases of Ripple.

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