You’ll Have to Pry Pillsbury Crescent Rolls from My Cold, Dead Hands

published Jan 30, 2018
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While you were popping Champagne corks on New Year’s Eve, I was popping cans — cans of Pillsbury Crescents, that is.

There are few sounds so aurally satisfying as hearing that gentle explosion when the cardboard canister is cracked against the edge of a countertop, seams bursting to expose khaki-colored dough. And for me, there’s no better time to enjoy a crescent roll than on New Year’s Eve.

I grew up on the poor end of the working class. My parents are living examples of the American dream, working hard to better themselves and achieve the typical trappings of success in this country — two cars, an annual vacation, retirement accounts, and homeownership.

But I didn’t recognize any of that as a kid. For me, the best harbinger of success came in the pantry. Pillsbury Crescents were a sign of prosperity in my childhood house.

When we didn’t have money, we ate beets that my mom canned and stewed venison that my dad hunted because it was cheaper than buying meat at the grocery store. A big splurge would be the nights when my dad worked the late shift, and my mom would reach deep into the cupboard to retrieve a can of La Choy chow mein that she worked into the grocery budget every so often.

When we did have money, it meant little luxuries like crescent rolls. As a kid in the late ’80s and into the ’90s, it was cheaper to make dinner rolls from scratch than to spring for a skimpy eight that came as pre-made perforated dough (that we had to roll ourselves anyway) from the refrigerated case. Whenever something store-bought found its way into our kitchen, I knew my family was doing OK. There was money in the bank. Someone got a raise. Usually, my mom bought them with a coupon she clipped from the Sunday paper insert, and we would typically eat them on a weekend, when she had more time to cook a Yankee pot roast from beef (not venison! Another treat). If they were on sale, she would store a few cans in the freezer for later use.

It was never about the taste, but let’s face it: They are delicious. Sweet and oily and pillow-soft, crescent rolls are more a borderline savory cake than a dinner roll, loaf of bread, or a flaky butter-spiked croissant. The spongy dough, the prefabricated demarcations for separating each piece into its own obtuse triangle, the saccharine smell as they bake off, puffing up higher and higher until the layers finally congeal and toast to the perfect golden color. It feels extravagant from the first unraveling of the can to the final bite of the last crescent roll you had to squirrel away or fight someone for.

A few weeks ago, while buying my monthly allotment of crescent rolls, I encountered a man smelling of pipe tobacco and clad as though he had just come from a pheasant hunting outing, his gray hair and mottled beard hidden under layers of plaid. He reached into the grocery case to retrieve the iconic blue and yellow tube, just like me, and compared the words on the packaging to the list in his hand. He handed me the list and the tube and asked in a grizzled brogue if this was the item scribbled on the list. I confirmed it was. He was flummoxed: “How are these dinner rolls?” he inquired, puzzled. I explained in great detail how they were so much more than a humble roll.

He queried if they were any good. “Oh, don’t worry, you’ll come to love them, too,” I happily chortled. I guess you’re never too old to try something new or appreciate a good crescent roll.