Invented during the 1960s, the humble Pop-Tart consists of a thin rectangular slab of pastry a little bit smaller than a slice of bread, thus allowing students1 to warm them up in a toaster. Each Pop-Tart contains a sickly-sweet filling such as chocolate, strawberry, blueberry or s'mores (marshmallow and chocolate), and many are also covered with a sugary frosting of a matching flavour. Pop-Tarts are formed by rolling pastry dough into two sheets, with the filling being added in between the two. The pastry is then sliced into rectangles, which are baked as they slowly pass through a large oven. The frosting and sprinkles are then added, following which the Pop-Tarts are cooled and packaged. Pop-Tarts are usually sold in boxes similar to cereal packets, with pairs of the pastry snack being sealed together in air-tight foil wrappers.
Before the Pop-Tart was invented there was the pocket pie, a hand-held version of the traditional American pie. The idea of placing a hot filling between layers of pastry has also long been used in many countries, ranging from Italy's calzone to Britain's Cornish pasty, and so the only real innovation involved in creating the Pop-Tart was to make it small enough to fit into a toaster.
The first 'Pop-Tart' was in fact announced by Post Cereals in 1963. Given the name 'Country Squares', Post Cereal's invention was intended as an addition to the breakfast menu and was wrapped in a foil to keep it fresh. However, the Kellogg Company quickly whipped up an imitation of Country Squares, branding them Pop-Tarts2 due to the popularity of pop-art at the time. While Country Squares didn't sell too well, the Kellogg version succeeded due to both the name and the fact that shops were told to place the Pop-Tarts next to the biscuits as opposed to the cereals.
After a trial run in Cleveland, USA, four varieties of Pop-Tarts, namely blueberry, apple currant, strawberry and cinnamon, were released across the USA. Frosted Pop-Tarts were introduced in 1967 despite previous fears that they would melt when toasted, and a wide range of regular and 'low fat' Pop-Tarts now exist. Pop-Tarts didn't appear in the UK until the 1990s and, despite a large advertising campaign, they failed to take off in the same way as they had done three decades earlier in the USA. Pop-Tarts are now available in the USA, UK and Canada, and were available in Australia up until they were discontinued in 2005. Pop-Tarts also appeared in Afghanistan in 2001 when more than 2 million were air-lifted there by the invading US Army. Several brands of generic Pop-Tart also exist and are more or less the same as the Kellogg's version.
Though the staple food of students across the whole of the USA and parts of Britain, the Pop-Tart has had its share of unfortunate incidents:
In 1971, Milton the Toaster arrived on TV screens across the USA. Milton was square, white and huggable, and was often seen toasting Pop-Tarts right up until his advertising campaign was cancelled in 1973 due to fears that children might hurt themselves by hugging hot toasters.
Although there are many ways of heating a Pop-Tart, the toaster and microwave tend to be the most popular implements for the job. Unfortunately, Pop-Tarts merely need warming and not incinerating, and those who leave their Pop-Tarts unattended for too long will get a nasty surprise. Due to their high sugar content, Pop-Tarts will readily catch fire if heated too much, usually wrecking the appliance within which they lie. This discovery was made following a court case in 1992 in which Kellogg's were sued for damages by a man whose unattended Pop-Tart had become stuck in the toaster and had subsequently ignited. Meanwhile, microwaving a Pop-Tart can be especially hazardous, as many students are liable to either microwave the pastry inside its foil wrapper or abandon the microwave to do its job, returning only when smoke begins to fill the room. All Pop-Tarts now bear a warning that they should not be heated in a microwave and should only be toasted for a short length of time.
Having successfully heated the Pop-Tart without setting fire to anything, some will find that the pastry has become too hot to comfortably hold, and will be forced to either take quick bites or wait for the pastry to cool. However, even when the outside has cooled sufficiently to handle, the sugary filling of the Pop-Tart can still be extremely hot, leading to a burnt tongue and an unhappy student.
Finally, a generic Pop-Tart appeared in the Quentin Tarantino film Pulp Fiction, in which a toaster ejects a Pop-Tart in the middle of a stand-off between boxer Butch Coolidge and hit man Vincent Vega, leading Butch to unload quite a few sub-machine gun rounds into the unfortunate Vega.