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The sweet taste of childhood

Even as other memories fade, many remember their favourite chocolate treats from when they were kids. It's something an Alberta couple is discovering firsthand.
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An Alberta couple is bringing back long-lost sweet treats, memorable to many a prairie childhood. Photo submitted.

Chocolate. It's sweet, decadent and often addictive. But for Alberta couple Crystal and Bert Westergard, chocolate represents so much more. It serves as a tasty conduit to all things past.

Chances are, if you were born and raised in Alberta, Saskatchewan or Manitoba, and are 40 years or older, you will recall snacking on a Cuban Lunch chocolate bar: a rich rectangle of chocolatey-goodness with crinkled edges and a shiny, smooth bottom that is embedded with a handful of salty Spanish peanuts. The unusual name for the delicious treat found its way into the vernacular during the Spanish-American war fought in Cuba in 1898. Intriguingly, a Cuban Lunch was defined as “a soldier's rectangular chocolate ration.”

The slang term hung on. The Paulin Chambers company of Winnipeg began a bakery in the early 1900's, manufacturing not only their version of the Cuban Lunch, but also other confections, biscuits and treats. But that prairie company ceased to exist more than thirty years ago.

When Crystal's elderly mom, Elfie, was struggling with memory loss, she said “My mom couldn't remember her favourite colour or what she ate for breakfast or even the date of her birth. But she did remember being a young girl, eating her favourite chocolate bar; a Cuban Lunch.

When everything else has been stripped away from a senior, why can't they have just one simple pleasure? Eating a plain, historical, chocolate bar.”

Crystal wanted to re-create the humble Cuban Lunch, but, as the Westergards' soon discovered, it was easier said than done. The non-chocolate-type-couple set out on a quest to satisfy not only Elfie's craving, but that of many others like her. First, they got the trademark for Cuban Lunch, and then they met with chocolate factory owners to find a suitable partner. It wasn't long before the duo realized chocolatiers prefer to work on their own creations and not necessarily go back in time and “copy” someone else's work.

Undaunted, Crystal and Bert studied the book “The Art of the Chocolatier.” They also took a class on making truffles and got a food handling permit to establish credibility in the marketplace.

Then the two began experimenting with chocolate recipes at home after their day jobs were through. Once they felt close to having a replica of the Cuban Lunch recipe, they took the project to a chocolate factory in Delta, B.C., that agreed to work with them. Unfortunately, the factory ended up discarding the Westergards' recipe entirely because it used Hersey's chocolate chips, and the factory didn't have the rights to use that brand.

Experimentation of the elusive recipe continued as the pair worked on perfecting the chocolate and peanut mixture, this time renting a commercial kitchen for the task. The recipe was a winner, as Crystal and Bert produced a few thousand bars which sold out almost immediately. Today, the new Cuban Lunch has sold well over one million bars and can be found in many western Canadian supermarkets.

The company's website (www.CubanLunch.ca) is a great source of history, stories and testimonials. Josephine, a retired nurse said, “I was in a Calgary Co-op and discovered they were selling Cuban Lunch chocolate bars. I purchased several and was in seventh heaven as I slowly ate them. I am 87 years old and cherish your Cuban Lunch bars and the memories they bring back to me.”

Rum & Butter is the couple's next chocolate re-creation, another bar that saw a first run also sell out quickly. Now, Crystal and Bert are awaiting their turn at the chocolate factory for production of more stock.

Crystal says the couple's dream is to continue to grow their little company and produce more chocolate nostalgia like Pep Chew, Wigwag and Liquid Four Flavours. Remember those? Their reward, she says, is knowing that, just for a few minutes, customers can again walk in the shoes of a seven-year-old child.