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37-year-old Twinkie, world’s oldest, still a sweet treat at Blue Hill school

Posted Nov. 21, 2012, at 3:28 p.m.
Last modified Nov. 21, 2012, at 4:45 p.m.
A 37-year-old Twinkie sits in a glass case in Libby Rosemeier's office at George Stevens Academy in Blue Hill. The Twinkie sat for years atop a chalkboard in the chemistry classroom of Roger Bennatti, who placed it there after a student asked how long it would take a Twinkie to decompose.
A 37-year-old Twinkie sits in a glass case in Libby Rosemeier's office at George Stevens Academy in Blue Hill. The Twinkie sat for years atop a chalkboard in the chemistry classroom of Roger Bennatti, who placed it there after a student asked how long it would take a Twinkie to decompose. Buy Photo
Roger Bennatti points to a Twinkie diagram in August 2004 as his former student turned George Stevens Academy teacher Libby Rosemeier can't help but laugh as she holds the venerable 30-year-old Twinkie which became the subject of scientific inquiry in Bennatti's classes over the years.
John Clarke Russ
Roger Bennatti points to a Twinkie diagram in August 2004 as his former student turned George Stevens Academy teacher Libby Rosemeier can't help but laugh as she holds the venerable 30-year-old Twinkie which became the subject of scientific inquiry in Bennatti's classes over the years. Buy Photo

BLUE HILL, Maine — There’s a maxim that says there’s one treat that will last forever. We imagine a post-apocalyptic landscape upon which the only survivors — perhaps cockroaches and Cher — survey the burning rubble while eating the only food that hasn’t gone bad: the Twinkie.

So when Hostess recently announced its intent to shut down for good, ending production of the popular yellow, cream-filled sponge cake, it wasn’t long before stories emerged of mad rushes for Twinkies at supermarkets and convenience stores.

In Blue Hill, the snack is nowhere to be found. A worker at Tradewinds Marketplace said the store sold out. Searches at Merrill & Hinckley and Rite Aid turned up nothing. But there’s one place in town where you can always find a Twinkie: George Stevens Academy.

Odds are good, though, that you won’t want to eat it.

A nearly 40-year-old Twinkie sits in a wood-and-glass case in an office at GSA, where it has been a school fixture since 1976, when chemistry teacher Roger Bennatti placed it on top of his chalkboard for an experiment to observe decay (or lack thereof) in preserved foods. The Twinkie sat there for nearly 30 years, until Bennatti retired in 2004.

When the teacher left, he passed the torch … er, Twinkie, to Libby Rosemeier, who had been a student in Bennatti’s class the day the experiment began and had gone on to become a teacher at GSA. Now she’s the dean of students and caretaker of Bennatti’s Twinkie.

Bennatti’s retirement sparked interest in his ancient cake. The Twinkie’s tale first was reported in the Bangor Daily News, but it wasn’t long before it was featured on BBC, NPR, the New York Times, USA Today and countless other media channels. The oldest Twinkie in the world had become the most famous.

“It’s positive publicity for GSA,” said Bennatti in an interview Wednesday. “I always point out to people that no one knows who the heck I am, but they do know about the Twinkie.”

Despite having an official shelf life of just 25 days, the Twinkie is a symbol of longevity. In a 1999 episode of “Family Guy,” the Griffin family sought a Twinkie factory after a nuclear holocaust because of the treat’s perceived infinite shelf life.

Woody Harrelson’s character in the 2009 movie “Zombieland” was driven by a fanatic urge to locate Twinkies, not only because he loved them, but because, he said, they have no expiration date. (As Hostess would be quick to point out, that’s not true).

Bennatti’s Twinkie, now 37 years old, looks pretty good for its age. Its once-yellow color has faded, partially because of years spent sitting in the open, collecting chalkdust. Once spongy and soft, it now looks delicate and flaky. Bennatti used a term from geology to explain the snack’s current state: “It’s exfoliating,” he said. “It’s losing its outer layer.”

Though there’s no official record kept of aged snack cakes, Rosemeier said she’s pretty sure the Bennatti Twinkie is the oldest in the world.

“A teacher in one of the Carolinas somewhere emailed me and said, ‘I heard your Twinkie doesn’t exist anymore, and I want to claim the title of World’s Oldest Twinkie,’” she said. “His was only 20 years old, and I told him, ‘Tough luck, buddy.’”

Rosemeier said that the Twinkie has become an invaluable tool at GSA. It’s a scavenger hunt item for incoming freshmen, she said, and they’ve almost always already heard of it before they first walk through the doors.

As dean of students, she said, it’s important that the students feel comfortable talking to her. The Twinkie is a great ice-breaker.

“It gets kids in my office just to talk,” she said. “They come to see the Twinkie, and then all of a sudden I have a dialogue going. It’s great.”

Despite all the benefits Bennatti’s Twinkie has brought, the retired teacher said there’s one myth he’d like to dispel: As more people learned about his famous Twinkie, some people have taken his experiment to be an indictment of processed foods.

It’s easy to see why, he said, joking that his ancient cake’s fame was certainly bad for Hostess — “I’m surprised they haven’t sent a SWAT team to come destroy it,” he said. But anti-Twinkie proselytizing was never his goal. The Twinkie is simply an ongoing science experiment, one that he said may never end.

Besides, he said, he actually rather likes Twinkies.

“When I gave my graduation talk the last year I was here, the present they gave me was a box of Twinkies,” he said. “And I ate all of them.”

Follow Mario MOretto on Twitter at @riocarmine.

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