A Halloween that doesn't know jack
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I have an e-penpal in England, a teenager named Kathryn. She rescues me from getting work done by messaging me with updates on the escapades of her aunts, the progress of swine flu through her cousins and the frequent appearance of police helicopters in her neighborhood, perhaps drawn by the escapades of her aunts.
In one of our online chats, I mentioned how much I look forward to this time of year. The glorious foliage, the cider, the pumpkin pie and jack-o-lanterns.
Kathryn is 18 years old and has never carved a pumpkin. Even more tragic, she has never tasted pumpkin pie.
You hear about these suffering children overseas, but Sally Struthers never mentioned the terrible deprivation endured by these plucky islanders who almost speak the same language we do.
The English do celebrate Halloween. Kids dress up and trick-or-treat for disappointing, inadequately sweetened candy made of suet and chalk.
"We do have things with pumpkins on, though, despite not carving," Kathryn says. Which is even odder. It's like having wrapping paper and cards with pictures of Christmas trees on them without the joy of ceding half your living room to a fire hazard.
I was still recovering from the astounding pumpkin-shortage news (an airlift may be in order) when Kathryn sent me this breathless message:
"Sam! Have you ever had 'candy corn'?"
Can you be a fully conscious North American in October and not somehow ingest candy corn?
I never really intend to, but it's so inescapable it finds its way into my mouth, like pet hair. Candy corn simply appears, everywhere, bursting forth like worms after a rain. I think it hibernates all summer, begins breeding on Labor Day and achieves full-blown infestation inside a month.
Have I ever had candy corn. Please. How has Kath managed to miss it?
Apparently, this is another New World wonder that is rarely carried back to the unfortunate porridge-eaters in the Old Country. For me, candy corn is a fairly tasteless sugar pellet. For her, it was a revelation. Somebody brought some back from a trip to the States. It was a big hit.
"I think it's epic!"
Well, that's because you've never tasted pumpkin pie.
Pumpkins are, of course, native to North America. But the English have been here since the 17th century and knew from the Indians that the big squash were edible. You'd think a cuisine so heavy on bland root vegetables would have enthusiastically embraced a fibrous gourd.
I asked Kath if she'd ever had sweet-potato pie, and she had -- but only by accident. Her grandmother had to make a sweet-potato pie because the man of the house had mistakenly bought sweet potatoes instead of the intended pie filling: potatoes.
My God, is it any wonder they lost the Empire?
Incidentally, the jack-o-lantern was not unknown before the pumpkin. The Celts celebrated their autumn festival by carving turnips and putting a burning lump of coal inside.
If you've ever eaten in a pub, you know that this is still a staple of British cuisine.
Perhaps there is hope yet. Kathryn said she saw a display of pumpkins in her local supermarket for the first time this year, and her infant cousin is going to be dressed as one. One of the larger humanitarian organizations should be able to arrange for a few C-130s full of Libby's canned pumpkin puree. We are a giving people who hate to see others suffer.
Sending cans of Libby's should be easier than trying to mail an actual pie, though that's what my heart is telling me to do. The English do have the resources to make pies. They just insist on filling them with inappropriate things like organ meats and badgers.
We could send them candy corn too. With instructions not to boil it.
It would be epic.
First Published October 29, 2009 12:00 am