On the Menu

Halloween: A Study in Food Culture



 

Halloween has always been this holiday that has evolved through history and become what it is today: A day where you can dress as who you are not, eat lots of candy and be scared, all at the same time. When people think of Halloween they primarily think of going door to door receiving candy or eating cupcakes made to look like pumpkins, but it has not always been that way.

What we traditionally know as trick-or-treating used to be part of an event associated with the church where the poor folk would go door to door and say prayers in exchange for food. The Irish would have great feasts on the night of Nov. 1 and eat lots of desserts made with apples and colcannon, which is mashed potatoes with kale or cabbage, butter and cream.

In the 1900s, when the concept of going door-to-door for free food came to America, the Americans used the Irish tradition of celebrating with apples by making candied apples or playing games like Bobbing for Apples, but also appointed a new staple food: the pumpkin. Jack O’Lanterns were carved to welcome the ghosts and spirits. With the pumpkin carving came pumpkin pies, sweet pumpkin and dried pumpkin seeds.

It was said that prosperity came to those who gave food to passers-by, and by the 1950s the boom of trick-or-treating had begun. Almost every child had heard of this custom, and it went from begging for food to dressing in elaborate costumes and receiving candy.

The craze of this candy tradition started with jellybeans, Hershey’s Kisses, Jordan Almonds, Double Bubble gum, pure sugar apples, butterscotch, chocolate nonpareils and candy corn, which was made with inspiration from chicken feed. Toward the 1960s, candy sales during October skyrocketed and companies were making novelty candies and packs of candies especially for Halloween.

Now, we celebrate with party-sized mixes of Twix, Snickers, Starburst, Three Musketeers, Almond Joy, Skittles, candy corn, M&Ms, Hershey’s Kisses and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.

Nowadays we not only enjoy with candies, but with cupcakes with Halloween-inspired designs on them: French éclairs made to look like fingers, fruit punch bowls with dry ice placed in them to make it look like a bubbling witch’s brew and Oreo cookie mud pies with gummy worms coming out of them.

Halloween has truly evolved through time, but it has always revolved around one thing: Good food and the company that comes with it.

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