A few days back, my four-year-old niece lamented that there "isn't a Batman with the Ninja Turtles in it." Ah, yes, I know what you're thinking—why are you assailing me with the unintelligible musings of a small child, Mayukh? Is this food media's equivalent of assigning words to children who may not have actually said them?
No! Enough with the accusations. My niece really said this, and the little angel was onto something. She knew that there was a time when the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, those beloved crime-busting reptiles with the names of long-deceased Italian men, were everywhere: clothing. Towels. Throw pillows. Food.
A photo posted by Bring Back TMNT Pudding Pies! (@resurrectturtlepies) on
These Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle-inspired foods weren't just one-offs; there's a whole Wikipedia page dedicated to the universe of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle food tie-ins that surfaced in the early 1990s. Most had been released in 1990, concurrently with the first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie. To wit, some of the foods included Ninja Turtles cereal; Chef Boyardee-brand pasta; cookies from the Delicious company; "cracks" (uh) in the vein of goldfish snacks; fruit snacks; "Pizza Crunchabungas" (um); frozen pizza; Nabisco "Royal Gelatin" desserts; popsicles; and juice. They've all been discontinued, even Hostess' Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle (Pudding) Pies.
Man. What a commercial. Let's take a closer look:
We're first treated to the revelation that these turtles are "heroes in a half-shell, baking a surprise—Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Pies!" Nice. Green frosting splats through a sieve and onto these pies before the reptiles emerge from a manhole on a busy street, trafficked by cars and kids, whom I presume are meant to be audience surrogates. Oh hell yes. Straight from the sewers, all the way to me? How kind of you!
The turtles present these children with slime-filled delights. They inform the kids—and, by extension, the audience—that the pies are filled with "mutagen goo," before reassuring us that it's just vanilla pudding. These jokesters. The pie's crust, they boast, is better and more flakier than it is on pizza. "And it's green—like us!" Great. This is precisely what I desire from a "pudding pie," for it to be the color of a scaly anthropomorphic turtle.
These products emerged from Hostess' sloppy seconds. In 1987, Hostess discontinued its similar pies filled with vanilla. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Pies were this very discontinued pie reborn, its crust deep fried in a blend of beef fat, its filling with Yellow No. 5 and 6. The pies were 470 calories each, 17 grams of fat and 400 milligrams of sodium.
This doesn't make the admission that "you couldn't eat two in a sitting" entirely surprising; the pies perished easily, which is perhaps why no monster has kept them in the annals of their food cabinet. The pies came in four different wrappers—one for each turtle. On each wrapper was a "Pudding Point" that could be used to obtain heralded mail-in "merch" that included metallic "Battle Signal Clickers" affixed with Leonardo's face or a black Ninja Turtles t-shirt. They came with trading cards and stickers, too, in the likeness of the human actors who appeared as the turtles in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: Secret of the Ooze. Hostess kept the pies in production for months longer than originally intended before eventually phasing them out in 1991.
The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Pie continually occupies real estate on lists of "discontinued foods we miss the most," (who is 'we', I ask?) even though its appeal seems rather puzzling from today's purview. Paper of record Houston Press said it was the fifth greatest discontinued dessert of all time, for example. "[T]hey had what no other Hostess pie had at the time, and that is pudding," this John Seaborn Gray character writes. "Pudding is awesome, and when stuffed inside an iced pastry shell...just phenomenal."
I don't take a Houston Press endorsement lightly. In fact, there are few discontinued foods that have evoked such rabid, nostalgic fervor as Hostess' Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Pies. The food has inspired such an enormous wealth of tribute sites, some stretching as far back as the early aughts, that beckon for its return to the American market. In Hostess' refusal to act, there have been home cooks who've tried to parrot the pie's taste through their own recipes.
I mean, look at this bevy of merchandising—stickers. Fridge magnets. Posters. T-shirts. All for a product that no longer exists! There's even a six-foot cardboard store display going for $650 on Ebay; I wonder why no one's bought it yet. Of course, peeking at this merchandise is to avoid the "awkward turtle" lurking in the room: the actual foodstuff is conspicuous by its absence. Why? Who was the gatekeeper who decided that the Pudding Pie no longer deserved to exist? Is there any chance they could return? Could I...taste them?
"Hungry" for some answers, I reached out to Hannah Arnold, who manages Public Relations for Hostess Brands, and she didn't respond to multiple requests for comment. Ugh. After a few days of waiting on responses via phone and email from her, I reached out to Hostess' hotline—in spite of my awareness that my past attempts at securing information through such channels have proven futile.
Yesterday morning, I spoke to a kind-hearted woman named Steph whom I asked for more information on the commercial and the product's whereabouts. Who produced this commercial? She kept me waiting for but a minute—a curiously short amount of time—before informing me that she didn't have any information on products created before 2013, and that information died with the original manufacturers. Ah, yes, I remembered—Hostess filed for bankruptcy in 2012, dissolving its assets to Hostess Brands, which formed in June of 2013 in the original company's stead.
“So maybe do some research and Google it?” Steph crassly suggested to me. Oh boy. O-kay. Talk to you later, Steph.
Little did "Steph" know that I already tried that to no avail, emailing roughly five whole people who have run tribute sites or, at some point in the past sixteen years, publicized how badly they ache for this food's return. I'd even reached out to the old manufacturers, Interstate Bakeries Corporation, whose website was dead. No dice. There's a dusty old Tripod website from the early aughts—most recently updated in 2006—that contains what's perhaps the most exhaustive repository of information on this long-gone product. I reached out to the email attached to the site's owner, Jonathan Frishman; my inquiry bounced back.
Is the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Pie ripe for a comeback? Honestly, unclear. Some poor souls seem to believe that it can given the resurgence of Hi-C Ecto Cooler, originally released to pair with animated series The Real Ghostbusters before being discontinued later in the 1990s; it came back to markets earlier this year to coincide with the movie's release. This didn't happen for the pudding pies with 2014's trainwreck of a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie.
In trying to chase this ontological question, I can't help but hear Steph's voice, simultaneously dejected and sorry for me, ringing through my head. And so I find myself on the pudding beat once again. It's quite lonely here when no one gives you the answers you want, or the custard squeezed between two beef fat-fried crusts you so desire.
Did you have a favorite Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle food tie-in? Remember these pudding pies? Let us know in the comments?
UPDATE, 10/13: The original version of this post incorrectly stated that turtles are amphibians. They are reptiles. We've updated the post accordingly.