The Pleasures of Life Dept.
Hey, Toss Me a Packa Nabs
Good things can come in small packages
By Tom Allen
Occasionally, my wife’s Georgia family observes Thanksgiving another day that week, depending on when everyone arrives. One year, halfway to Georgia and close to lunchtime, our mini-van pulled up to a gas pump. A memorable and moveable Thanksgiving feast found the four of us, dining in a convenience store. The menu included the contents of our cooler — chicken salad and Dr. Pepper — along with grapes, pretzel sticks and the Southern go-to snack, Nabs.
If the word “nab” conjures peanut butter sandwiched between orange crackers, chances are you’ve lived below the Mason-Dixon line. The Southern snack has become a staple for mill workers and attorneys alike. Throw a pack into a kid’s bookbag. Toss one to a hunting buddy. Nabs travel well in a golf cart. Lunch? Bedtime? Tear open a pack of Nabs with your front teeth. Wash down with a diet Mountain Dew. That’ll tide you over ‘til supper or you’ll sleep guilt free. Be forewarned — orange cracker crumbs leave sticky evidence. Nibble with caution.
Nabisco (short for National Biscuit Company), known for good eats like saltines and Oreos, introduced its Peanut Butter Sandwich Packet in 1924. “Nabs” soon appeared at soda fountains, filling stations, and vending machines. Fifty years later, Nabisco discontinued production but Lance, a Charlotte snack company, had been cranking out its own version of the salty wafer since 1915.
In 1913, Phillip Lance loaned a customer a few bucks. The fellow paid up with 500 pounds of peanuts, which the inventive Lance roasted and sold for a nickel a bag. Those roasted goobers made money for the entrepreneur. Two years later, when Mrs. Lance and her daughters spread peanut butter between two crackers, the Lance “Nab” was birthed.
Speaking of birth, my wife lived off Nabs while pregnant with our first child. When waves of morning sickness rolled in, Lance came to the rescue. A pack of Toast Chee kept things stable until lunch. I can imagine a prescription: “Eat one cracker every hour, for six hours, with sips of ginger ale.”
Cracker competition was fierce, maybe not on the same level as Duke’s and Hellmann’s, but folks definitely had a preference. Tom’s Foods, another Charlotte-based snack company, had their own brand of the salty snack wafer. By acquiring Tom’s in 2005, Lance cornered the market on peanut butter crackers. The most popular brand is marketed as Toast Chee but most folks simply refer to the iconic Southern snack as “Nabs.” Nip Chee, with a cheddar center, is my favorite.
Snack cracker customers want options, so Lance introduced Toasty — real peanut butter (is there any other kind?) spread between two round buttery crackers. Grape jelly eventually entered the mix — a Toasty PB & J. Lance squared up their rectangular soup and salad staple, Captain’s Wafer, and glued it together with a layer of cream cheese and chives. Voila! A cracker fit for high tea. Today, a Captain’s Choice variety Pack features the cracker with peanut butter and honey, a grilled cheese-flavored spread and jalapeño cheddar.
For a bit more sweetness (and an elegant scalloped edge) consider Nekot, a sugary wafer spread with peanut butter or lemon cream. A buddy who worked as a Lance driver confirmed the correct pronunciation — “knee-cot.” Urban legend has it that Lance approached the maker of a popular cookie, the Token, and asked to make a peanut butter version. The company declined. Lance made the cookie anyway, reversing the spelling. While Toast Chee goes well with a Coke or Dr. Pepper, the more substantial Nekot dunks nicely in a cuppa joe.
In recent years, Lance introduced new bold flavors, something for the not-so-faint of tongue. Smokehouse Cheddar and Buffalo Ranch find their way into everything from quilted lunch bags to tackle boxes. A whole grain snack cracker was produced for the health-conscious. Packaging advertises protein grams and proudly declares “No Trans Fats.” Lance’s newest offering, the PowerBreak, boasts 12 grams of protein, boosted by peanut butter and a granola-based cracker.
Holiday trips to Georgia remain a family tradition. A Ford Explorer replaced the minivan. One daughter is married, the other in college. But the next time we take a road trip, if someone hankers for a nosh, I’ll toss ‘em a pack of Nabs. Thankfully, variety packs offer something for everyone.
Is biscuits and gravy or pumpkin spice latte the next snack cracker coming down the line? I hope not. Let Cracker Barrel do the biscuits and gravy thing. Leave pumpkin spice lattes to Starbucks. In this season of gratitude, give me family and a traditional meal with all the fixin’s. Just don’t be surprised, when the pigskin rivalries begin, if you find me tearing open a pack of Nip Chee, then dozing off with a happy stomach, a content soul . . . and orange, salty fingers. OH
Tom Allen is minister of education at First Baptist Church, Southern Pines.