Halloween brings with it license to cut loose a little. Commentator
Stephanie Greene finds this is true in the kitchen as well.
In Louise Erdrich’s wonderful novel, The Antelope Wife , there’s a
story in which a group of Chippewa abduct a German from a nearby POW
camp. To save his life, he bakes them a transcendently delicious cake, a
Blitzkuchen, which they forever after try to reproduce. It’s not until
it is made once again for a wedding, and it’s rumored to have been
poisoned, that they finally get it right. The missing ingredient was
And one of my favorite quotes is from Jonathan Swift, who once said "It was a brave man who first ate an oyster."
From fugu to e coli outbreaks, eating has always been a daredevil’s game.
primitive – and some would say sensible – fear that has us dubiously
eyeing a tired, warm buffet salad comes from hundreds of generations of
trial and error. Will this plant kill us? Is that meat diseased? Does
that food handler ever wash his hands? It could drive you to live on
nothing but saltines and weak tea.
Which is why Halloween is so
much fun. It’s the one time of year we get to make really frightening
looking food. For the next couple of weeks, it’s breadsticks made to
resemble severed fingers, Jell-O in the shape of a human brain and
chocolate cake crawling with plastic cockroaches. What a relief!
trawl through websites devoted to the unabashedly gruesome names the
British can give their food: Dead Man’s Leg, Toad in the Hole, Clapshot.
The first is a suet pudding flattened, spread with jam, rolled up, and
even sometimes steamed in a shirtsleeve. Toad in the Hole is sausage
baked in crust. Clapshot is a potato and turnip mix served with Haggis,
the infamous Scottish meat pudding. I admire the British their resolute
refusal to mollify the diner in any way.
For the rest of the
year, I’m an expert in culinary disguise. I give my little inventions
bland, innocent-sounding names, like Suburban Zucchini. I knock myself
out trying to create eye appeal with beautiful vegetables, colorful
fruits and even flowers. But oddly, no one at my table is fooled.
fact, it backfires rather badly. The family dinner is carefully
inspected for Unidentified Lurking Vegetables. Is that a green bean in
the pizza dough? What’s it doing there? And what exactly, is in this
What have I done to deserve such scrutiny? Nothing, I
swear. I consider a certain amount of culinary subterfuge to be part of
my job as head chef. Shouldn’t I be trying to lure my family into eating
right and occasionally slip some mashed carrots into spaghetti sauce?
Or find a way to incorporate perfectly good leftovers into tonight’s
But by this time of year, I have become weary of
the battle, and the small devil on my shoulder whispers, " give them
something to really worry about."
So for Halloween, I gleefully do.