Who could hate or bear a grudge, Against a luscious bit of fudge? (Remembering “Big Time”)

There are some things whose eternal (but barely registered) presence you take for granted. Things both ubiquitous and easily ignored. Artefacts that function as shorthand for a kind of parochial (defiantly un-hip) “Irishness”. Cidona is one (despite modest attempts to “yoof” it up). Ireland’s Own is another (in fact, it’s several). Oatfield sweets are/were yet another…and look at where taking them for granted led.

The sad closure of Oatfield’s Donegal HQ jarred me into a state of hyper-consciousness RE: the hardy local survivors that surround us. And few are hardier (and harder) than Caffrey’s “Big Time” (or “Time Bars” as we knew them back in the day).

Established by the late Thomas Caffrey (“Ireland’s Willy Wonka”) in 1948 and still, as far as I know, a family-owned business (out in Walkinstown), Caffrey’s range of products look (and taste) like confections secretly deposited in shops by an impish time-travelling chocolatier. Tea Cakes, Macaroon bars, Mint Crisps, Whippers, and hoary old favourite – the “Snowball”.

Snowballs, if memory serves, are composed of marshmallow centres swathed in chocolate. So far, so yummy. Or it would be, if Thomas Caffrey had left it at that. In a final mad flourish he covered the chocolatey surface in…dessicated coconut. Being someone who pukes, shrieks ‘n’ weeps at the sight/smell of a Bounty, this is/was about as appetising as showering the exterior with dessicated donkey faeces.

But back to “Big Time”. Let’s try and make sense of it, starting with the packaging. While the shocking (nuclear) yellow makes it the kind of Hi-Viz bar you’d want on a cloudy night on a lonely country road, the olde timey, Wild West font simultaneously screams “Nostalgia!” and “Irish love of Cowboy Americana!” (bit exhausting screaming the latter). It may not be as overtly Spaghetti-West-of-Ireland as Triple A Golden Maverick or the (jaw-destroyingly chewy) “Texan” chocolate bar, but it still evokes a cultural universe inhabited by the (Stetson-ed) likes of T. R. Dallas.

Unwrapping it reveals what can only be described as a tiny version of the obelisk from 2001: A Space Odyssey coated in fudge and chocolate.

Biting into it merely confirms this impression. The mot juste here is: adamantine. I’d forgotten this. I’d forgotten that once, as a wee chap, I’d adventurously (and recklessly) bitten hungrily into a freshly-opened “Big Time” (without softening the material up with some preliminary licking). When I yanked the bar out, the surface remained…barely scratched. The only notable change being that there was now a tooth embedded in it.

“Big Time” wasn’t so much something you ate, as something you overcame. You needed a strategy. Licking it into submission could take weeks, but it did reduce the chances of you losing parts of yourself (while also being an economic solution to the problem of limited pocket money coupled with limitless desire for sweet things). Smashing it into (just about) chewable chunks was an alternative approach, but the only material hard enough to smash a “Big Time” bar was another “Big Time” bar – necessitating forethought, and further expense.

While I didn’t lose a tooth tackling the above-pictured “Big Time” yesterday afternoon, I did surrender some dignity. While jamming the bar sideways into my gob, seizing it with molars and canines, and attempting to rip portions of it free I caught sight of myself in the hall mirror. Face scrunched up, red with effort, gurning…I looked like Popeye having a heart-attack (or on the point of orgasm).

Attempting to conquer Caffrey’s finest means channelling both your inner child, and your inner animal. It’s like some sort of primal chocolate therapy. And all this for 50 cents. Worth it? Big time.

(by fústar)

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19 thoughts on “Who could hate or bear a grudge, Against a luscious bit of fudge? (Remembering “Big Time”)

  1. kirstie McDermott says:

    “While jamming the bar sideways into my gob, seizing it with molars and canines, and attempting to rip portions of it free I caught sight of myself in the hall mirror. Face scrunched up, red with effort, gurning…I looked like Popeye having a heart-attack (or on the point of orgasm). ”

    Now that would have been worthy of a picture. WHY U DENY US?

    Remember their easter eggs? Thin, waaaahhhtery things poured directly into the foil? Bleeee

  2. fústar says:

    Only children and the elderly (presumably Big Time’s biggest consumers) can get away with such indignities. Don’t recall the eggs. Generally speaking, my childhood was one of choc-o-deprivation (*sob*). My father was a dentist (Boo!), so for the real gooey, sugary, e-number packed stuff I’d have to visit my cousins in the country and illicitly fill my greedy face with cheapo delights.

  3. fústar says:

    A friend has just reminded me of the confectionery horror show that was “Peggy’s Leg”. I only have vague recollections of these, but even those vague recollections are making me feel nauseous. Anyone have clearer recall on this? Do they still exist? Please say “No”. Please…

  4. Macaroon bars remain one of my favourite bars of all time. Love them. Had one this morning in fact. I was always intimidated by the Big Time bar though, that and Klipso bars were the toughest things to eat ever.

  5. macaroon bars arent caffrey’s, they’re made in newbridge by slugworth.. i mean wilton

  6. sarah says:

    its so sad about oatfield closing, emerald sweets and tins were a staple of Grannies houses all over. I did giggle a lot at the memory of the formidable Big Time bar though. I’m sure we used to keep them in our pockets until after we finished our Mr Freeze in an attempt to soften them. My teeth hurt just thinking of them…
    And isn’t Pegs Leg similar to Yellow Man? That holy grail of gold brought back by your neighbours who went to the Lammas fair every year.

  7. fústar says:

    Kitty – Don’t Macaroon bars (Wilton, Caffrey’s or otherwise) contain almond, or almond-flavouring? My abhorrence of coconut shavings is second only to my dread of the almond. Existence of almonds pretty much disproves existence of benevolent creator of the universe.

    Sarah – Licking Big Times was the only sensible approach. And even then you’d need to set aside a hefty chunk of the summer holidays to take one on. RE: Oatfield…I now feel rather guilty about taste-testing and slagging off their products (in glib fashion) a while back…

    http://www.fustar.info/2009/06/13/hard-boiled-and-soft-core-tastes-of-ould-ireland/

  8. nlgbbbblth says:

    Bought a macaroon and a snowball today after reading this. A most enjoyable piece John – and yes, giz a pic as Kirstie says.

  9. Jo says:

    I too extracted a tooth but it wasn’t with a Big Time, I don’t think… It was with… one I can’t remember. It might have been, but I seem to remember a white wrapper with green and red on it? It was a capped molar, though, and therefore quite exciting.

    I should go buy a tin of Oatfields and lay it down for the future 🙂 I have fond memories, alright. Sad.

    I like coconut, I love almond things… you have dubious sweetie taste, young man.

  10. Nam Citsale says:

    Fair play to all involved with this fascinating website. As to the chocolate-coated instrument of torture noted above, while history records the contribution of irish labour to the development of english road infrastructure, few know the fact i have just made up which is that that the substance and surface of said highways was composed almost entirely of another irish import, ie the aforementioned bar. Indeed, it is so formidable an object that it was the only sweet i felt physically threatened by as a youngster. So unyielding is it to the human jaw that i wonder was it invented as a kind of infant’s sugary scold’s bridle, designed to weld the teeth together and plug the jabber of hyper childer on sunday afternoons and enable adults to hear the news, angelus and michael o’hehir on the wireless, when repeated shouts of ‘whisht!’ in a slowly secularising ireland had begun to lose their incantatory power.

  11. fústar says:

    Nam – RE: Unyielding-ness, child’s logic, back then (and perhaps still now) was “I’m not exactly enjoying this experience, but it’s lasting a long time”. I had a cousin who was a master at sustaining all of life’s pleasures. He once managed to keep a flake (a chocolate notorious for falling to bits at the slightest touch) going for several hours, through gentle and skilful licking.

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