As a kid growing up in Hawaii, it was a big deal to go to the crack seed store. We’d scrounge a few pennies, nickels, and dimes from under the couch cushions, the ashtrays in the car, and the top of Dad’s dresser and beg for rides into town. Crack seed is what we called any kind of dried, pickled, or preserved fruit. We loved it better than candy.
Brought to Hawaii by thrifty Cantonese immigrants who worked on pineapple and sugar plantations, most crack seed was originally made from fruit scraps. Peels like lemon or mango or the pits of fruit like apricots or plums with just a scrap of deliciousness clinging to them were seasoned and preserved. First fished out of jars and later plastic packets, the flavors burst in your mouth: li hing mui, lemon peel, rock salt plum, dried mango, candied shredded ginger—salty, tart, spicy, sweet, wet, or dry. Every shop and family had their own secret recipes and flavors, and unlike candy, a little crack seed went a long way. A single lemon peel would last days because you ripped it into pinkie-nail-sized pieces and kept it in your mouth forever—the best thing for a sore throat.
When I was a kid the Yick Lung crack seed brand was king. We’d even tell jokes about it: Did you hear what Yick Lung’s class voted him? Most likely to suck-seed. (Hilarious when you’re 10, trust me.) Just watching the ads for it on Checkers and Pogo, Hawaii’s afterschool version of Captain Kangaroo, would make my mouth water. My hands-down favorite was rock salt plum. Every Christmas I’d find a bag in the toe of my stocking that I would hoard through January, savoring each piece, sucking all the goodness from each one until only a flavorless pit was left. It was the perfect book-reading snack.
Sadly, Yick Lung, a family-owned business started in the early 1900s, filed for bankruptcy in the mid-1990s, and while other crack seed and Hawaiian snack brands quickly filled the void, they aren’t the same. Disappointed, but undaunted, I’m still sampling them all, trying to replicate that wet, sweet, salty memory from the bottom of a Christmas stocking.