Good Sunday to you this fine morning. We’re only two days away from Halloween and by now you’ve probably got everything you need to celebrate what’s barely a holiday: tons of candy, fake cob webs, tissue-paper ghosts in the trees, and a scarecrow that sits on the front porch and scares nobody. Although it has all kind of history and tradition in paganism and the lesser religions, Halloween in America today is but an exercise in readiness for an economic future that might demand door-to-door begging as a survival tool for our children.
To Halloween I say, “Bah, humbug,” knowing that I’ve borrowed that Dickensian phrase from another holiday with pagan roots.
In addition to the de rigueur Blood Punch, Slime Green Jello, Cauliflower Brains, Angel Hair Tapeworms and Lady Fingers (usually sculpted from actual food, but if you have access to the real thing…go for it!), there is Head Cheese, a real food available in most grocery stores without regard to the October holiday, but that nobody but the French will eat.
There is also a Halloween favorite from Mssr. M and Mlle. H for Throat Roast, a fresh elk throat stuffed with wild field grasses, Rocky Mountain oysters, sourdough bread, turnips and local honey. It is typically sauced with ranch dressing. For many years I’ve resisted tasting it for any number of reasons, the least of which being that I’m afraid of offending my taste buds to the point that they might no longer recognize foie gras, trout meunière amandine or Cheerios.
I am not one willing to traumatize my taste buds, although they seemed to have survived the yam-and-marshmallow casserole last Thanksgiving.
But if we’re talking about really scary foods we need look no further than today’s Top Ten list of alleged food-like items that have found their ways into our diets.
#10: Sunny D It touts itself as being orange juice, but it’s orange juice in the way that transmission fluid is vodka. It appears to be orange because of the beta-Carotine that apparently might turn some consumers as orange as the drink itself. From what I can best determine from the mix of Latin and pharmaceutical English on its rather fantastical label, it is basically premixed Tang with added sugar and high fructose corn syrup. The fact that it doesn’t have to be refrigerated until opened should be warning enough of its inherent scariness.
#9 Miracle Whip The mayonnaise for people afraid of mayonnaise, Miracle Whip is both vinegary and sweet, but mostly repulsive. People in southern Indiana consider it a dietary staple and Mike Pence insists eating it by the spoonful at every meal even if his wife isn’t with him. I’ve read that you can make cakes with this hideously awful stuff and I can only imagine that such a creation would give new meaning to the word vile. Its ingredients include high fructose corn syrup, sugar, corn starch, dried eggs, mustard flour, paprika, soybean oil, vinegar, and egg yolk. In 2010 Lady Gaga, whose net worth is estimated to be $275 million, was paid to claim she liked it.
#8 White Bread Whether a Sweetheart loaf, a Ball Park bun or any other commercially made white bread, you’re looking at a product that will not die. And that’s because mass-produced American white breads, through the miracles of chemistry, are assured an unnatural lifespan. Bread, properly made with flour, yeast and water, is supposed to become stale after a couple of days; on the third or fourth day its mold suggests a connect to life-saving drugs like penicillin. Today’s white bread—a modern Wonder—goes from fresh to moldy in about two months. I’m more comfortable with bread that quickly ages than bread that contains calcium propionate and sodium bisulfite, two chemicals likely used in embalming the dead.
#7 Canned Soup Whether marketed under the labels of celebrity chefs, Campbell’s or any other regional brand, canned soups are salty enough to kill you. The low-sodium ones could use some salt. Enough said.
#6-4 Ethnic Fish What Ashkenazy Jews, Italians and Norwegians have in common are disgusting fish dishes that are so ingrained into their (our) ethnic imagination and traditions that they (we) continue to eat them despite their, well, horribleness.
From the Italians we get a salt cod called baccalà. I’m still not convinced that any food that needs to soak in one brine to get rid of the flavor of its first brine is worth eating. The Italians have no fewer than 137 ways to make this food barely palatable.
Lutefisk—Norwegian for “fish of the lute”—is nailed to a board and cured in lye, a chemical used to remove Viking blood stains from Scandinavian obelisks. Traditionally, the fish is tossed into the garbage and the Norwegians then eat the board, along with mashed potatoes drowned in butter.
Eastern European Jews–my people–offer gefilte fish as an appetizer to dinner guests only if they forgot to cook the brisket. That act will ensure that the guests leave before dinner was expected to be served. There might be something about gefilte fish in the Torah but I’ll be damned if I can find it. This “delicacy” is a blend of whatever whitish fish happens to be found around the kitchen with eggs and matzo and onion. This mixture is then formed into dumpling-like oval shapes, boiled for a month or two, and jarred in a heavily salted brine that makes the patties grow tiny octopus-like suction cups around the edges. It is not for the faint of heart or palate.
#3 Spam/Scrapple Here we have two disgusting amalgams of gelatinous pork products that only Hawaiians and Pennsylvanians like. I fail to see the connection but, as they say, whatever. I also fail to see much of a difference between the two products. Spam comes in a can and has enough salt to salinize a small inland lake. Scrapple is available frozen, except in Pennsylvania where it is available as arguably fresh, and it too has enough salt to salinize a small inland lake. Presumably, both products contain pig from snout to tail…everything but the “oink” as the trend-driven foodie-hip like to say. One difference between these products that I have been able to determine is that Scrapple, by law, may not include the pig’s lung.
It is interesting to note at this point of the discussion that the legendary bebop saxophonist Charlie “Bird” Parker composed a song in 1947 that he titled “Scrapple from the Apple.” The fact that it was written in F Major is, perhaps, significant, but I doubt it.
#2 Haggis This traditional Scottish dish is unspeakably scary, so much so, in fact, that the commercially made varieties are banned from import to America, which explains why they are so hard to find at the A&P. Haggis is made of a mixture of lamb’s offal (heart, liver, lung), oatmeal, suet and onions and stuffed in a lamb’s stomach and cooked until who-really-cares. It was bad enough that the Scots created bagpipes out of lamb’s lungs, then they had to go and do this. Anyway, haggis was immortalized in a poem by Robert Burns in 1787. I’ve read the poem. As poems go, it’s better than haggis.
#1 Cheez Whiz This cheese-type foodstuff comes in a jar that has no expiration date which, apparently, means that it will not rot. Ever. In the real-food world, that’s not a good sign and it puts it in a class with Twinkies, anything obtained from drive-thru windows, and Keith Richards. Technically, Cheez Whiz is a Frankenstein cheese that might be petroleum-based. Nobody knows for sure. It makes Velveeta seem like an exotic import. It is a close relative to canned cheese and Silly String.
But here’s the catch: You cannot have an authentic Philly Cheesesteak sandwich without Cheez Whiz and a great Philly Cheesesteak (with onions) offers hope for the future of mankind.