When it comes to the brazen excesses of American culture, what better representative beverage is there than Mountain Dew? I say this with the ribbing affection of a Mountain Dew fan. When I was a picky little kid who wouldn’t touch Coke or root beer, Mountain Dew was the only soda I liked. This may have been due to the influence of my older cousin Sid, a self-described redneck who used to bring six-packs of Mountain Dew to family gatherings and then drink all six himself. That’s fitting enough, as coastal elites mostly see Mountain Dew as hick food — unworthy of our critical engagement as chitlins or megachurches or, hell, the entire South.
I still like Mountain Dew, though I like it less now that I’m an adult with access to less sugary caffeine sources. Either way, I think it’s fair to call the drink an exercise in excess. A 20-ounce bottle contains 113 milligrams of caffeine per serving; for reference, parent company PepisCo’s line of Starbucks coffee beverages starts at 115 milligrams per serving. Mountain Dew also contains the perfidious dye “yellow #5,” best known to us ‘90s kids as the thing that obliterates your sperm and shrinks your balls. (It doesn’t, but the urban legend does make quite a statement about Mountain Dew’s reputation, doesn’t it?)
And let’s not forget the color, a shameless chartreuse that looks like something you’d see in nuclear waste. And subsequent flavors like Code Red and Baja Blast were just as metallic in their respective red and aqua hues. My hunch is that the designers of Mountain Dew didn’t seek to create an appealing-looking beverage, but rather one whose appearance challenged its would-be drinkers: Are you sure you can handle me?
Reader, I was and remain sure.
That’s why I was so excited to try my hand at a few recipes from The Big Bold Book of MTN DEW® Recipes, available now wherever cursed materials are sold. Per the brand’s promotional copy, the recipes have been “collected from across DEW Nation and some seriously awesome chefs.” DEW Nation is Mountain Dew’s membership portal; the seriously awesome chefs go unnamed.
I’ve seen Mountain Dew make the odd appearance in a recipe before, most often as the tenderizing element in a brine or marinade. What I’d never seen is Mountain Dew cooking of the scale and scope in this book. It seems there’s a Dew for every occasion! The table of contents divvies the recipes into categories like “BADA$$ BREAKFASTS,” “DANG GOOD DESSERTS,” and my personal favorite, “DIPPIN’ WITH DEW” — yes, that’s an entire section of just dips, and yes, obviously those capital letters are all very much sic.
To be honest, I hadn’t even dared to imagine the uses that these perverts had for Mountain Dew. Believe me when I say cooking my way through this cookbook was one of the most insane things I’ve done in my life. And coming from me, that’s really saying something.
MTN Dew Pancakes
According to the book, “Mornings are hard. Pancakes help. MTN Dew makes ‘em even better.” Sold! I love a recipe whose introductory patter resembles a geometric proof this closely, even though the good people of DEW Nation seem to have forgotten to add a Q.E.D. at the end.
The general approach of this recipe is to add Mountain Dew and neon green food coloring to ready-made pancake mix. The whole thing is very Semi-Homemade With Sandra Lee, which means I love it. Jokes aside, I don’t believe food necessarily tastes better when the cook has worked their ass off to make every element of it from scratch, so I was on board. If I’m honest, I also didn’t think these pancakes would taste great and was therefore pleased that I wouldn’t have to spend much time on them.
The recipe advised that you only need to add the food coloring “if you feel up to it.” I’m up for anything, I thought boldly as I whisked my Mountain Dew and food coloring into my mix. “It’s not necessary, but it definitely makes this more fun,” chirped the recipe. I stared into my bowl of lime-green pancake batter and considered how much fun I was having. I didn’t, though, like looking at this:
As a relatively competent home cook, I understand that pancakes bubble in the pan, but as a human with feelings, I couldn’t have been more averse to what I was seeing here. Maybe I wasn’t as up for adding the food coloring as I’d believed. Maybe I’d food-colored too close to the sun.
But you know what? These were delicious.
The texture was spot-on. My theory is that the acid in the Mountain Dew reacted happily to the baking soda in the pancake mix and made for a perfectly fluffy pancake, just like buttermilk does in normal pancakes prepared by sane people. (Not everyone is cut out for that DEW Nation life.) Taste-wise, there was a hint of lemon lime, but these mostly just tasted like really good pancakes.
The pancake recipe was accompanied by a Mountain Dew syrup recipe, which contained sugar, corn syrup and Mountain Dew. Listen — I can’t do that. I’m sorry. I’m pretty sure my long-suffering dentist would straight-up break my neck if he learned I was guzzling Dew-cakes with corn syrup.
That said, I will note that one of the preparation instructions calls for the heat to be shut off once the syrup reaches 230 degrees, an instruction that’s instilled an unimaginable degree of fear and chaos in my already fragile mind. I have now spent three days puzzling over what sort of person buys a Mountain Dew cookbook full of semi-homemade recipes, and also owns a candy thermometer. If this describes you, please email me immediately at [email protected].
MTN Dew Toasted Almond Cheesecake
Cheesecake seemed like an almost sensible application of Mountain Dew’s overwhelming sweetness. I could actually imagine this tasting good, which I now realize was God fucking with me.
In keeping with the “do as little as possible” ethos of the cookbook, the recipe calls for a pre-made graham-cracker crust from the baking aisle, an item that I’ve never used. Lord knows I love to cut corners, but scratch-made graham-cracker crust is so easy that I always make it myself. Still, I can’t emphasize enough how badly I didn’t want to work hard on making Mountain Dew food, so into my cart went the pre-made crust.
This is a no-bake cheesecake, which I’ve never trusted. I love a good icebox pie and other such chilled-not-baked desserts, but to my mind, one of the chief pleasures of the cheesecake is its texture — that not-quite-custard, not-quite-cake toothsomeness that’s characteristic of a really good New York-style cheesecake. I’ve never met a no-bake cheesecake that could pull off that texture. They’re mousse-like at best. But for DEW Nation, I was game to try.
Unfortunately, the texture of my batter didn’t inspire confidence. I’m genuinely sorry if this photo ruins cheesecake, Mountain Dew and living for you. It certainly did for me. Those little white nubs are cream cheese, which whipped up nicely on its own but didn’t seem to react well to the soda once it was mixed in. I employed every trick I knew to get this thing to act right and still ended up with a pie crust full of yeast infection.
Also noteworthy: I forgot to take a photo before sticking the cheesecake in the fridge to chill, so that photo was taken after I’d been chilling it for almost two hours, which is the low end of the recipe’s recommended chill time. As you can see, it was in no way set.
I waited four more hours, and it never did set:
I mean, how could it? This thing is pure liquid, not a thickening agent in sight. Cream cheese is the most solid element of the batter — everything else is soda or condensed milk, both in large quantities. This recipe seems to want to be a real recipe, calling as it does for the home cook to “top with toasted sliced almonds and maraschino cherries.” But I ask you based on the above photo: Top what? And how?
The taste was strikingly, uncannily Gogurt-like. Even Gogurt doesn’t taste this much like Gogurt. I can’t say this thing behaved anywhere in the neighborhood of how I expect a cheesecake to behave, but it could have tasted worse.
MTN Dew Grilled Cheese
What this experience taught me was that I should trust my instincts — about cooking, and about life. My instincts told me that the pancakes would be okay, and they were. They told me there was no way a cheesecake made of cream cheese and soda would set, and they were right about that, too. And when I saw the recipe for grilled cheese a la Mountain Dew, my instincts screamed at me to go no further, to drop the project entirely, to possibly emigrate. I did none of the above, and I wish I had.
No disrespect to the people who compiled these recipes, but what the fuck were they huffing when they wrote this one? The first step is to simmer a can of Mountain Dew on the stovetop until it’s reduced practically to a syrup, which isn’t the first step of any grilled cheese recipe this side of the gates of Hell. From there, the enterprising chef is instructed to mix cream cheese, cheddar cheese and green food coloring into the syrup on the stovetop until the whole thing has melted into an… admixture. You then spread the unholy stuff onto some bread and do the rest of the process most of us mortals recognize as making a grilled cheese, as if trying to convince yourself you’re still human.
I have never cooked anything this bad. I’ve made some fucked-up stuff for you guys, but at the end of the day, most of it tasted mediocre-to-okay. No such luck with this grilled cheese. Here is a candid photo of me taking my first bite:
And a close-up of the demonic thing itself:
Notice how liquid-y that cheese spread is and those aggressive burn marks on the top. The cheese mixture wouldn’t hold together no matter how I prayed and pleaded. Instead, it seeped through the holes in the bread and burned up in the pan. At first I agonized over what I could have done wrong, but then I realized that the whole recipe is ass-backwards as hell and there was no way it could have gone right. My first mistake was allowing Mountain Dew within 10 feet of my poor grilled-cheese sandwich.
It tasted like salty Mountain Dew. It was like drinking curdled Mountain Dew milk. After eating it, I chugged half a liter of water. Anything to get the taste out of my mouth.
The Dew Shall Never Be Done Like This Again
Now, I don’t like food writing whose entire upshot is “I cooked this disgusting food and hated eating it, you won’t believe what happens next!” Such stunts are in poor taste when so many people spend their lives hungry. I honestly thought this cookbook would be a fun exercise in unconventional uses for the much-maligned Mountain Dew; having seen it used successfully as a brine, I didn’t think it was so far-fetched that it could play a role in other foods, too. The pancakes went well, and had me feeling optimistic. But after eating the other things I ate, I kind of want to malign Mountain Dew myself. I went in hoping for an expression of the tart irrepressibility that makes Mountain Dew good (if you, like me, believe Mountain Dew is good). Instead, I got some light indigestion from eating the world’s gnarliest sandwich.
It occurs to me that there’s something wicked about a Mountain Dew cookbook, particularly one whose recipes seem this slapdash. The cheesecake and grilled cheese were both deeply troubling at the level of the recipes’ construction — they seemed to have been written by people who had never tried to cook these things before. I’m not so full of myself as a home cook that I instinctively believe it’s the recipe’s fault every time I cook something that comes out bad, but this was different. These recipes seem doomed to fail based on everything I know about food, chemistry, the righteousness of which I like to think humankind is capable… I could go on. Absent any reasonable basis in actual cooking, the whole thing looks like a cash grab, which perhaps solidifies my thesis that Mountain Dew is the representative American beverage.
If this book wasn’t written to share a little Mountain Dew recipe love with fellow travelers, what might it have been written for? To cash in on Mountain Dew’s recent meme-ishness? As a product of pure nostalgia for people with fond memories of the beverage? I don’t know. But I’ll tell you one thing: I will not be contemplating the matter over a slice of cheesecake or a grilled cheese sandwich, possibly ever again.