Thursday, June 4, 2009

The Glory of the Vachon Cake Part 1 - The Jos Louis

Back in the day, school lunches were pretty simple. In those days, no one was allergic to anything. Or, if they were, their parents told them not to trade their lunches for something they were allergic to. As far as I ever knew, no foods were banned from the school because of someone else's allergies. So most school lunches consisted of peanut butter sandwiches. There may have been other sandwich fillings on the go, but for at least the first nine years of school, I had a peanut butter sandwich for lunch for at least four out of five days. You could count on it. Most other people had the exact same sandwich. Only difference might be whether they had crusts and/or jam with theirs.

The variety came with the lunch additions. You looked to compare juice boxes. If you were lucky, you got a fancy-pants milkshake drink box. If you were really lucky, you got one of those candy bar milkshakes in a little plastic bottle. (Yogurt drinks are something for another discussion). You also had some kind of a recess snack. Various fruit snacks, fruit roll-ups and the like, or granola bars, which may or may not have ben covered in chocolate.

The real glory, though, was what you got for dessert. And the Vachon Cakes were among the best of the best. As a note for Americans and other aliens: Vachon Cakes are more or less equivalent to Twinkies or Ding Dongs or whatever those other disgusting-but-oh-so-tasty treats are. You know what I'm talking about: individually wrapped cakes with a lot of sugar and sticky sweet cream. Or perhaps it was creme.

The jewel of the Vachon crown was the Jos. Louis. At one point in university, a friend commented on how he hadn't had a Jos. Louis in years, and just the memory of it compelled me to go out and buy a box of them right then and there. Jos. Louis was two round chocoalte cakes, with creamy sweet white filling sandwiched between. Then the whole business was coated in chocolate. Very good eats.

The approved way to eat your Jos. Louis was thus: carefully work at splitting the two cake layers apart, as if you were splitting an Oreo. This took plenty more skill and patience, because unlike a hard cookie, the cake was likely to split and tear, leaving half the upper cake still stuck to your cream. In an ideal world, the two would come neatly apart, and you got to lick the cream off the bottom. If you had any sense, you'd eat the top half next. There's more chocolate on the bottom, and for some reason it tasted different. Eating the top half was a bit of an anti-climax after the bottom. I'm really not sure why.

From time to time, my parents would branch out and get us the other, very similar Vachon Cake: the May West. So far as I can tell, and as far as Wikipedia and the Vachon homepage can tell me, they were exactly the same, except that a May West has white cake instead of the chocolate cake of a Jos. Louis. I'm not sure, though. I think there was a different flavour to the filling, but I'd be hard put to tell you exactly how it tasted different. Does anyone else remember them?

And here's one last thing that I've noticed about the Jos. Louis. When I was nearing the end of my school days, they came out with a thing called the '1/2 Jos. Louis', which was half the size, but still covered in chocolate (not to be confused with the 1/2 (or Lune) Moon. Interestingly enough, today you can buy a box of six Jos. Louis for $3.39, or a box of 10 1/2 Jos. Louis for exactly the same $3.39! So you get much more snack for your buck buying the real thing, but if you go the 1/2 size, you get more of them, and you get to be a cheapskate while packing your kid's lunch. Why not make him share his juice box with his little brother while you're at it?!


  1. I'd comment on Twitter, but the 140 characters leaves me very little space.

    This sounds a lot like the lunches we had in school. However, there were sandwiches than PB&J. Of course, we did have PB&J, it was a year or two after me that they pulled out the rules. We also had tuna, ham, bologna (often on mine) and many other meats. Some of us, including myself because I was not and still not a big fan of sandwiches, had something in a thermos.

    And yes, the dessert was the big thing. I did have Jos. Louis, but I would often give mine away to the British kid, because let's face it, he spoke with a British accent and was a little bit cute. I couldn't say no if he wanted my Jos. Louis.

    Yes, the creme is different in the Mae West. It's more yellow. The Jos. Louis had more of a vanilla flavoured creme. The yellow somehow gave it another flavour. I also thought the Mae West chocolate was a bit harder, but I can't remember. Maybe I'm mixing up my cakes.

    However, my personal favourite was, and still is, Ah! Caramel's. Two little cakes in one package. Eat them both or save one for later.

  2. The May West was more of a custard, sort of like whats in a boston cream pie :) My favourite was always the Ah! Caramel's too! I'd scoop the caramel out with my tounge, or eat around the little icing ring that held the caramel in the middle, and save that one, perfect bite for last!

  3. Just thought that you might want to post this video.

  4. I realize I'm a bit late, but I feel compelled to add to this, having been an ardent fan of the Stuart May West. The May West and the Jos. Louis were most decidedly not exactly the same albeit with a different flavour of cake.

    The May West was originally made by Stuart Ltd who were subsequently bought out by Vachon in the very late 70s (much to my dismay). Vachon continued to market them under the Stuart brand, to my recollection for many years, before retiring the Stuart brand and rebranding the line to reflect a consolidated Vachon line up.

    The May West had a slightly drier cake, and a much drier filling (not a custard, certainly not a Boston cream) that resembled a dry cake icing unlike the creamier more chemical Jos. Louis filling. Overall the May West seemed a drier, cakier, product that seemed less processed.

  5. Sad days now,,,,,,,,,I've been eating Jos Louis (plural)since the fifties. The six pack box went from 410 grams down to 324 grams. Three good bites and there's nothing left to eat. What am I going to do with all the milk left in my glass? Too much to swig down in one shot!

  6. Smaller cakes, yes, so now eat two with your glass of milk - problem solved!

  7. Do vachon cakes contain tartrazine which causes all sorts of problems in children?

    1. Who cares? Not going to live forever!

  8. The May West filling was exactly like creamed butter & sugar - it had a yellowish colour and was most definitely not the same filling as the Jos. Louis