Written by By Sujata Rao, CNN London
The note on the stick. “Not a splat,” it says in small type on the foil wrapper. “It’ll reach your tongue in around half an hour or less. Pleasure or pain? You decide. Happy Christmas.”
It’s the original Fruit, Spice & Potato Patch Pudding — and it’s a nearly 70-year-old British tradition that resurfaces annually on December 22, a festive day for retailers when food manufacturers flood supermarkets with a cloying barrage of brightly wrapped products.
But does a group of small-time retail pranksters, known collectively as the “Snuffboxes,” who place decorative stickers on fruit and vegetables actually hurt the produce?
Many people are confused. Manufacturers frown upon the practice, supermarkets ban it, and many social media users are shocked — and some deeply offended — by an adulation that sees the fruit being advertised as delicious, when in actuality it contains harmful chemicals.
To set the record straight, CNN traveled to the northeast of England and chatted with one user known online as Snuffbox Sup, who puts away the stickers until the day of their consumption.
“We’ve just removed the second sticker on a pomegranate that people had placed on this week, so now there’s just one left,” he says. “I peel it off the tree and put it back, and then I rub it back onto the tree the same day, and it’s nothing then.”
Here are five questions we asked him.
Who are the Fruit, Spice & Potato Pudding Snuffbox Snipers?
Snuffbox Sup. Credit: Sujata Rao/CNN
“I’ve got a crew of about five people, and a number of their friends. Some have been doing it for about 10 years.”
Why do they do it?
“It’s our weird, old British thing that for the past 70 years, we’ve done this where, in a tree, we hang little stickers on fruits and vegetables, and then we lick them off of our finger the next day.”
Who is particularly lucky to receive stickers, and who is unlucky?
“I personally have the most stickers on my fruit and vegetables. Unfortunately, people that I personally dislike, I get bigger stickers on them. But I want the trollies (popsicles), so, technically, I’m happy for them to get much bigger stickers.”
What’s the next step in the process?
“Today we’re doing it with a pomegranate. I kept opening it and opening it and opening it, and then once they clear the stick — that’s when we start putting the stickers on.”
Is it dangerous?
“I don’t think it’s actually any more dangerous than eating fruit and veg. So, if someone’s a bit grossed out, there are actually other reasons to treat fruit and veg well. The other reason is that research has shown that people don’t like eating stickers. That’s probably better for your health.”
How long do they keep in the gut for?
“As long as it’s fresh. On some days, you eat them the night before, because it’s still fresh, and then you put them on the tree and the next day you eat it after three days. That’s fine if it’s fresh.”
It’s done in the dead of winter?
“Yes, and it’s so cold that half of the time I almost get a taste in my mouth.”
Are you the first to put them up there?
“Of course, we don’t hide it. We put stickers up in the store, which usually cause a bit of a stir, so people get upset. But then the following year, I put two stickers on that tree and everyone was in stitches.”
What’s the worst you’ve had?
“There was a particularly big wave of carrots that flew onto the tree, but it went straight past my eyes. Then the last couple of years, there were a lot of lumps in carrots that had bitten off their seeds.”
How much does it cost you to print out the stickers?
“I’ve got a lot of regular business people who do it regularly, and then there’s also other people who don’t even know what a sticker is. But, since around the time that clothes police started putting them up on garments, I’ve always had something pretty handy.”