Marshall V. King
Dining A La King
I have a love/hate relationship with homemade Chex mix.
I love the stuff. I adore it. I eat it by the handful.
And I hate that I can’t stop.
For more than half my life, my mother, Esther King, has made a great blend of Chex cereal, Honey Nut Cheerios, pretzels, cheese crackers and nuts.
My freshman year of college, she sent a couple gallons back with me from Thanksgiving break.
It was gone in a night. The guys in my dorm devoured it within hours of arrival.
Even now, she makes roaster after roaster of the stuff every holiday season. We get a tin to enjoy. I know others do too.
This summer, when my parents, Jonas and Esther, celebrated their 50th anniversary, we served my mother’s homemade Chex mix. I went over to help her make. I came to understand why it’s so good. And I was a bit horrified.
The sauce includes margarine or butter and Butter Crisco, along with celery salt, Worcestershire sauce, seasoning salt, onion powder and garlic powder.
I am a snob about various foods and beverages. My mother turned me into a Chex mix snob.
The Chex cereal company claims that people have been enjoying the snack for more than 50 years. The recipe my mother uses pretty closely follows the one that appeared on cereal boxes starting in 1952.
The company introduced its own blends later. They still don’t compare to the one my mother makes.
Jack Doke of Elkhart suggested several years ago that I conduct “Chex Mix Quest,” a search for the best homemade Chex mix in Elkhart County.
I told him there’s no point because I don’t think anyone’s is as good as my mother’s.
Last week, Doke was finishing his annual production of making the mix. “It’s complicated. It really is,” he said.
He makes 16 roasting pans full of the stuff which he loads with butter, the usual spices and Tabasco. After its time in the oven, with turning every 15 minutes, it gets to rest on the dining room table for a time before packaging.
“I just give it away,” he said.
He’s been doing this more than 30 years and shared it with coworkers when he worked the swing shift at Miles Lab.
“About July people are saying, ‘You making your mix this year?’”
He brought me some of his lovely mix Thursday.
I enjoyed it. But not as much as my mother’s.
I liked the hint of heat it has that my mother’s doesn’t. Last year, someone gave me an even spicier version that was remarkable.
I don’t have strong opinions about whether a Chex mix should have heat, but I do have strong opinions about other ingredients.
1. It should not have Fruit Loops. The mix needs a hint of sweet to go with the savory. But it shouldn’t have oddly colored rings that don’t ring true. Honey Nut Cheerios strike the right balance.
2. It should not have Bugles. Doke’s version has them and my mother’s sometimes does. I don’t like Bugles in my mix. They’re big and unwieldy. They’re already greasy before the dose of sauce.
3. It should have mixed nuts. A mix with only peanuts isn’t right. The holidays are the only time of year when I look forward to Brazil nuts. It’s an odd thing, but somehow seeing them in a bowl of mix comforts me.
4. It should have more Chex than other cereals. Duh.
5. It can have pretzels, but I will almost always fish them out or eat around them. My dogs know this. And this would be why they come to find me when they know I’m eating Chex mix. It’s a holiday tradition probably like no other.
Some of the fine folks at Downtown Goshen Inc. offices the other day joined a discussion on Twitter about Chex mix and said they like oyster crackers with dill on them in the mix. Eww. Introducing dill to this set of flavors makes me shudder a bit, but as I told you, I am a snob.
Sweet or dessert Chex mixes are another matter. Chex is a blank palate that can carry a lot of flavors. Does anyone actually put it in bowl with milk?
With the holidays come trays of sweet treats and tins of Chex mix.
It’s a dangerous time for those trying to eat with a sense of nutrition and health.
Try to be reasonable. I know I am. And keep moving. Exercise may be our only hope in the face of such calorie-laden treats.
It’s a time of feasting. I’m mixing in some fresh greens. But whatever you’re eating, I hope you’re having lovely times with co-workers, family and friends.
I’m hungry. Let’s eat.
Marshall V. King is managing editor and food columnist for The Elkhart Truth. You can reach him at 574-296-5805, firstname.lastname@example.org, on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.