Recently, a friend offered me some tortilla chips from a local restaurant. I declined, explaining that lately corn chips were making me congested. (What the heck?!) That got me lamenting to him about how much I missed snacking on corn chips, and how Fritos had figured predominantly in my childhood.
Just saying the name “Fritos” conjures up a memory of corn chips so salty they made your fingers and lips hurt. The chips are thick and crisp, requiring a solid chomp to chew them, more so than with the oh-so-breakable tortilla chips that crumble at the sight of salsa. Fritos are just the right amount of curl and size to fit snugly on the tip of the tongue, I discovered years ago, where the flavor can be savored a little longer, so long as there is no one around to see.
It was a time when no one worried about the salt content (one serving is nearly a day’s worth of sodium in the diet) or fat content of food (over half of the calories in a serving of Fritos comes from fat), so whether we ate one or one bagful of the 100 percent corn chips, we did not care a whit about the long-term effects of snack foods.
What I love most about my Fritos memories, though, are the early summer mornings when, having slept overnight at my grandparents’ country home, I would slip down the stairs and into the kitchen. In Minnesota, August mornings can have a hint of frost about them. A little fire going in the wood stove is a good thing.
My grandpa was an early riser, too, even beating me. There he would be, glasses perched on the end of his nose, reading a magazine or newspaper. At his elbow would be a bowl of Fritos, and not just any Fritos. Grandpa would have warmed a bowl of them on the top of the wood stove. Nestled under his arm, I would sit quietly on his lap, sneaking a chip or two of what was certainly a forbidden breakfast food.
By the time everyone else stumbled down the stairs, our toasty Fritos were long gone.
Not wanting to rat him out, I never asked my sisters or cousins if they, too, partook of warmed Fritos as the sun crested the horizon and frost sparkled on the windowsill, with only the rustle of the paper in Grandpa’s hand and the snap of Fritos breaking the early morning silence. I like to believe our Frito breakfast klatches were just between me and Grandpa.
Cooking with Fritos was never considered in our family; they were strictly for dipping into sour cream dip or salsa. At fritolay.com, though, a plethora of recipes exist. Frito Chili Pie is almost understandable, as is the seven layer or nine layer dip with chips. I can only think what fun the test kitchen must have had, though, coming up with Frito pastry crust or Frito waffles.
As with so many foods, I maintain that simpler is better. A handful of Fritos warmed on top of a woodstove is all the preparation this iconic snack food could ever need.