Something that I don’t talk about a lot here at Branded are some of the insane food products that were big back in the 80s, so today I thought I’d remedy that the best way I know how, by talking about pork.  In the 80s I learned two things about pork.  One, it was The Other White Meat.  Two, there were no limits to the ways that companies like Swift and Hormel would twist processed pig to sculpt it into fascinating new products.  And my mom made sure that we tried them all, or at least I thought so before doing a little digging…

If I had to pick one pork related sin, it would probably be screwing up bacon.  Yeah, I know it’s beyond cliché to obsess over bacon in this geeky internet age, and honestly I tend to roll my eyes whenever I see someone extolling the virtues of bacon infused chocolate, bacon vodka, or Baconnaise.  But I am a red-blooded American, and I can’t ignore the beauty of a nice pure crispy piece of savory, salty pork belly.  I wasn’t always so discerning in tastes though, and neither was my mother, which is why throughout the 80s our fridge was always stocked with a package of Sizzlean…

If bacon is the ultimate cut of pork (though Anthony Bourdain and his crispy cheek fetish would probably beg to differ), then the ultimate in processed pork must assuredly be Sizzlean (sorry Spam.)  Touting itself as a healthier (50% less fat) and meatier slice of pork, Sizzlean was truly an ingenious, if not blasphemous product.  I loved it.  Looking back on it now, it seems like it has more in common with jerky than straight up pork, as it was sort of tough when fried up and had a very similar consistency.  My main complaint as a kid was the product’s tendency to contain odd, tough bubbles of fat in the meat which I’m sure was a by-product of the meat processing.  Though they’re not quite Beggin’ Strips, Sizzlean was for all intents and purposes fake bacon, or if you will, Fakon, and I sure do miss it. Also, I have to hand it to the product designers on Sizzlean, mixing sizzle and lean in the name was perfect advertising work.  Here are a couple of commercials for this wonder product by Swift.

Next up is a product I was lucky enough to never have tried back in the day, Hormel canned sausage…

For some reason my mother had an aversion to most canned and jarred meat products, so I never had the opportunity to taste delicacies such as Spam, Underwood’s Deviled Ham, Libby’s corned beef, dried beef, or these incredibly interesting (to me of course) canned sausages or breakfast ham slices.  I did however grow up on a steady diet of smoked oysters and the occasional can of Vienna Sausages, so go I wasn’t completely deprived of weird canned meats.  Out of curiosity, to all the cooks out there, is sausage-shrinkage truly a hurdle that needs jumping?  Also, the tag line that “…only Hormel seals sausage patties in an airtight can to protect their delicious country fresh flavor…” is a little telling.  There’s probably a good reason that no one else was attempting this and why these are no longer available.  Canned ham & cheese anyone?

Next up is another amazing product from the meaty, master minds at Hormel, the Frank ‘N’ Stuff hotdogs!

Okay, who remembers burning the ever-living hell out of their mouths when biting into these insane lava-like chili-filled monstrosities?!?  Granted, filling a hotdog with things like cheese and chili sounds like a good idea, and sometimes it can work (Oscar Meyer Cheesedogs anyone?)  But the Frank ‘N’ Stuff hot dogs were a lawsuit waiting to happen.  Besides, the best way to know when a hot dog is done cooking is when the skin splits a little, and in the dreadful case of these dogs, that means chili seepage.  Now I don’t know about you, but the words chili seepage and appetizing do not appear together normally in the English language.  They’re like opposite poles on a magnet, no matter how much you try and stick them together, it just won’t work.  Alright, even though I do have vivid memories of burning the crap out of my tongue on one of these, I do remember them tasting just fine, but you have to admit that going with a Frankenstein theme was totally relevant (what with the hot dog’s proclivity to turn on its master and all.)

This also reminds me that I need to take this opportunity to point to my favorite Flickr account in the whole wide world, the collection of one Jason Liebig.  I’ve never come across someone so dedicated to sharing nostalgic memories of ephemera, in particular for foodstuffs of days gone by.  I’m constantly amazed and happily shocked at the stuff that he finds and shares.  It’s literally a gold mine of memories.  So if you get a chance, please click on the crazy Hormel Bacon Bits Spin-Off collection below and prepare to get lost in nostalgia.

By the by, how did my mom miss these further Bits products when I was a kid!  We were strong supporters of the Hormel Bacon Bits and Bacon Pieces jars, and yet I never knew of the existence of Pepperoni, Ham, and Cheddar Cheese Flavored Bits.  Oh what will the geniuses at Hormel think up next?!?

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