Saturday, October 17, 2009

Cuisine Review: Franken Berry, Count Chocula, Boo Berry

I actually take pride in eating pretty damned healthy most of the time--easy on the processed sugars, lots of veggies, and water as my usual beverage of choice. But a massive rush of childhood nostalgia hit me in Target the other day, and I could not resist its demon call.

There, snuggled cozily between Target's overstock of The Notebook DVD's and a shelf of Wheat Thins sat three icons of my childhood: The General Mills Monster Cereals, Franken Berry, Count Chocula, and Boo Berry. And at $1.99 a box, the missus and I just had to take some home.

I'd been oblivious to their current status--forsaking these cereals' Creature-ific existence in favor of the grown-up cereals like Total and Smart Start--but General Mills redoubled distribution of these three cereals especially for Halloween. I vowed I would eat Count Chocula, Franken Berry, and Boo Berry again for the first time since the age of ten--nutritive correctness be damned.

A bit of background may be in order. The early 1970's marked a turning point in pop-culture perceptions of the traditional movie monsters. Dracula, Frankenstein, the Werewolf, and the Mummy saw their positions as scare generators gradually erode throughout the 1960's, but by the time the seventies rolled around, the Vietnam War and mass socio-cultural upheaval had effectively de-fanged the Classic Monsters and turned them into warm-and-fuzzy pals. And into breakfast cereals.

The General Mills Monster Cereals all followed the same pattern visually. A cute cartoon version of a classic monster adorned the mostly-white box. The cereal itself consisted of puffed corn flour pieces and those flavored marshmallows that possess the texture of squeaky styrofoam when dry. Of course the patently artificial colors varied from pink (Franken Berry) to Blue (Boo Berry) to Brown (Count Chocula), and the flavors (as I'd remembered them, at least) were as gloriously artificial as the colors that seduced undiscerning sugar-craving monster-happy kids.

In lieu of busting out this fine dining in front of a TV screen during Saturday morning cartoons (are there such things anymore?), I decided to stay up 'til an ungodly hour this Friday night/Saturday morning to give you, dear reader, the unvarnished scoop on what these damned things taste like today. So while I dug into a viewing of The Living Dead at the Manchester Morgue, I also dug into a bowl or two (or three, to be exact) of breakfast cereal. The agonies I go through for my readership...

The purist in me misses the original white boxes (the new ones look too slick and glossy for me), but the actual cereal itself skewed reassuringly consistent with the old memories.

I came out of my informal taste test liking Count Chocula the least. Chocolate-flavored cereals always seemed a bit much for me, even when my garbage-gut sensibilities reigned supreme over my prepubescent appetite. But Count Chocula, ironically enough, didn't assault my tastebuds or my gag reflex enough. It possesses a blander flavor than I remembered; so indistinct that I'm tempted to brand it the Cooked Carrot Fart (the Whiteout?) of the General Mills Monster Cereal line.

Things looked up with my second bowl of cereal, Boo Berry. I'd always derided Boo Berry (the actual character on the box, not the cereal) as the lamest of the General Mills Cereal monsters--a wispy and wimpy, sleepy-eyed, bad-hat-wearing puff of ectoplasm. He did earn bonus points in the 1970's commercials for being voiced by veteran voice performer Paul Frees in an over-the-top Peter Lorre accent, though. And the cereal beats the Count's to the punch by having a bit more flavor--the blue marshmallows added a faint bit of tang, and the artificially-fruity bouquet of the milk-moistened cereal sat on my nose much more favorably than Count Chocula's chocolate-plastic-hose smell.

But the winner of the breakfast-at-midnight trifecta for me was Franken Berry, an observation that's held constant for me since I was five years old. It smells like one of those great cheap strawberry car fresheners,and cold milk releases this cereal's powerful chemical-strawberry taste. It's the most distinctively flavorful of any of the three cereals, and it comes closer to tasting like real fruit than Boo Berry (of course, this is like saying cow poop smells less than donkey poop, but still...). A ready thumbs-up, if you can cope with (or get a yen for) something synthetic-yet-curiously-yummy.

My one regret of this trip down Monster Memory Lane? General Mills has yet to reissue Fruit Brute, a cereal discontinued in 1983 and represented by a werewolf in striped overalls (think Larry Talbot dressed by a really bad mime). Fruit Brute was supposedly multi-fruit flavored, and don't think I ever got to try a bowl.

Fruity Yummy Mummy, conversely, existed between 1987 and 1993: It may have been a redux of Fruit Brute, but it rose from the Cereal Grave long after I'd stopped eating sugar-coated cereals. I for one would welcome the opportunity to sample these arcane breakfast delicacies. Get with the program, General Mills.

Now if you'll excuse me, it's time for my stomach to file a formal protest over the sugar, corn starch, and Red Dye 5 I've stuffed it with. The Petri Dish, it seems, isn't the only harsh mistress in my life.

1 comment:

freqazoidiac said...

Great review! And I was nostalgic also tonite for the sugar powered cereals of past days.
I grew up in Canada, so I wonder if the formulaes were the same as USA.
I tried all 3 of these cereals..for some reason I thought there was a 4th monster cereal, but did not last..?
My favorite, by far was Boo-Berry. I can literally taste/smell it now. Crazy.
But I only had maybe 5 boxes ever.
I used to love Pac-man for a bit, but my favorite sweet cereals were, Sugar Crisp, Cinnamon toast crunch and Honey Nut Cheerios!> Great article!