Let's get something straight: Reese's Peanut Butter Cups are the best Halloween candy, the best supermarket candy, the greatest triumph of the American candy industry in general. You are welcome to disagree — you will be wrong.
I know because I have loved and left many American confections, and none of them burned and tortured my soul like the loss of Reese's.
Australia is my country of birth, but my family moved to Cambridge, Mass., when I was a baby so my mother could finish college. I was weaned on American candy, and was just old enough to properly participate in Halloween before we went back to Australia. My earliest memory is basically a deep, nagging grief over the loss in my life, at 3 years old, of Reese's Peanut Butter Cups.
Apart from Pepperidge Farm's Capri cookies (which they have since discontinued — a goddamn travesty), I don't remember missing much else about America. I was bummed Australia didn't really do trick-or-treating, but mainly because that meant no Reese's. I didn't miss Hershey's Kisses — at that tender age I could already tell that Cadbury, the milk chocolate of record in Australia, was a superior chocolate. But the absence of Reese's seemed a deprivation so cruel, I couldn't quite grasp it. “Why?” I kept asking my parents. “Why don't they have peanut butter cups here?” Didn't they know that peanut butter and chocolate are meant for one another? Didn't they see the beauty of that orange packaging, the way it rips softly, the oddly sharp smell of the candy inside? What was WRONG with this country in which I had arrived?
Occasionally, a visiting friend would bring a beautiful flat of Reese's in a suitcase. I'd usually get one or two before my father would smuggle them away in some drawer under socks or handkerchiefs (he still does this). At the time I didn't understand, but now I do — if I were in a world where Reese's were hard to come by, I'd hoard them as well. Just knowing they were there in case you wanted one would be a comfort.
When I was 7, we returned to the United States so my father could teach for a semester. I remember landing in New York, and staying up all night that first night in a tiny NYC apartment, my mother and I gorging ourselves on Reese's, jet-lagged and confused and blissfully happy. Returning to Australia six months later, the pain of loss was worse than ever.
My grandmother took pity and decided she'd make me peanut butter cups. In her small kitchen, she produced these lumpy things that tasted nothing at all like Reese's — too sweet, too salty, too crunchy, too gooey. I smiled wide and told her they tasted perfect, but never asked her to make them again.
I've lived in the U.S. for more than 20 years now, but two things still stop me in my tracks and make me think “America,” like I'm surprised to be here. One is the way LAX smells. The other is the candy isle of any supermarket, when I see that bright orange packaging. You'd think I eat a ton of Reese's now, but I don't. It was such a treat when I was a kid that I don't want it to ever become normal or un-special.
Today, however, is another story. Reese's were made for Halloween (the packaging is even the right colors!) and on Halloween I eat all the Reese's I want. After a childhood of no Halloweens and no Reese's, this is the day I celebrate my American life with a belly full of chocolate and peanut butter.
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