They come in bright colors that shine under the summer sun, packaged in light plastic sheaths that, when wet, allow for you to slip your thumb and forefinger clean up the outside and push their contents into your mouth. What’s inside is really a combination of two ingredients humans have mixed and remixed in almost too many ways: water and sugar.
They are summer incarnate, also known as freezer pops.
Then again, you may not know them as freezer pops. I’d know what you were referring to if you said that, but I call them freezie pops, as did everyone else where I grew up in New Jersey. The Wikipedia entry for the treat has 14 different entries for the name, including “ice pop,” “tip top” and “ice pole.” In a BuzzFeed poll that garnered over 600,000 responses, 23 percent of people said they preferred the term “freeze pops.” The second most popular response, with 15 percent, was “Otter Pops,” which, like Kleenex, is an example of a brand name becoming synonymous with its product.
Part of the nostalgia I feel for freezie pops as an adult has to do with their complete lack of nutrition, a reflection of the careless and wanton choices that so many of us are allowed to make as children.
And, as it turns out, when it comes to freeze pops, choice is an illusion. As Eater reported, one company manufactures Otter Pops, Fla-Vor-Ice and Pop-Ice: the Illinois-based summer ice pop tycoon Jel Sert.
Regardless of what you or I call them, freezer pops unearth seasonal feelings in many of us. For a quarter from the floor or found under a couch cushion, I could stick my whole arm into a bodega ice chest to grab one — the cheapest possible snack. And though the main draw is the flavored ice inside, I always relished what remained at the bottom: a deposit of melted boldly colored sugar water. When the frozen bits were gone, I would slurp up the remaining slush.
Of course, everyone had a hierarchy when it comes to flavors. As with Skittles, I loved the red and purple freezies the most. (I always referred to them by color, not flavor.) I liked blue. I tolerated green. I detested orange.
For such a simple pleasure, their utility seemed endless. Moms doled them out as rewards for good behavior, or as pacifiers to stave off bad behavior. To me, they were like packs of batteries kept in the freezer, an endless refuel for summer days spent outside with friends or, most likely, inside playing N64 or Sega Dreamcast. And, hey, if you were hot, you could lift it to your forehead and rest one on your temple. They were an antidote to everything that ailed us from June through August. Their cold sweetness was a palliative response to the season’s blistering heat and pungent sour smells.
I probably wasn’t supposed to eat as many each day as I did when I was a kid; I knew I wasn’t. Being a fat kid, I learned early to be ashamed of my eating habits. So, after I had snipped the top of the pops open with kitchen scissors and gotten to what was inside, I’d hide the sleeves under other trash in the kitchen garbage. Of course, that was only a temporary solution; my mom still saw the rapid-fire rate at which they got eaten while she worked and I sat at home.
Part of the nostalgia I feel for freezie pops as an adult has to do with their complete lack of nutrition, a reflection of the careless and wanton choices that so many of us are allowed to make as children. Fooducate, a site dedicated to grading foods based on their health value, grades freezer pops a “C” — which seems high. Aside from their dubious nutritional value, they also get red exclamation marks for artificial coloring, sodium benzoate and processed ingredients.
But sometimes, you want to make a bad choice. Or, in my case, another couple of bad choices.
I spent most of my summer college years in New York City, living on campus at a discount rather than moving back home, and cramming in all the dating I didn’t (or couldn’t) do during the academic year into that too-short 12-week break. Summer romances were ephemeral pleasures, confined to the season — quick and sweet and probably bad for me, but I always wanted to fit in just one more.
Because freezie pops were one of the few foods that you could buy in packs of 100, it was pretty easy for me to keep my dorm room freezer stocked with them, and they ended up being my go-to comfort food for everything: including weathering those summer breakups. When my summer romances would go up in inevitable flames, I’d quench the fire with a freezie pop.
It turns out that Jel Sert was hoping to capitalize on my nostalgia (and my heartbreak) just as much as I was trafficking in it. Certainly, as a bodega ice chest staple, Jel Sert doesn’t need to reach out to young people to buy them. But, they are still actively courting millennials like myself and younger people than me, hoping that — just as they did when we were kids — they can solve our problems with a frozen rush of sugar-induced dopamine.
“Let’s say you’re a 24-year-old, you go on social media, you see what’s going on in the world — we are a product that allows you to escape all of that, whether that brings you back to childhood memories or allows you to create new memories with your friends and family,” Gavin Wegner, marketing manager at Jel Sert, told Eater.
Nostalgia is, of course, a distortion of the past, or a “a yearning for a different time — the time of our childhood, the slower rhythms of our dreams,” as Svetlana Boym once wrote. And while I do often yearn for the slower pace of childhood, time with a freezie pop was not slow; it always went too fast. Despite the lingering headache and stained tongue as evidence that I had just eaten one, my time with each freezie pop was just a few moments at most. Just me, my thumbs pressed against the plastic, trying to draw something sweet out of a day that felt a little bitter.