When Halloween rolls around, creative party-throwers go out of their way to create creepy cuisine. Recipes abound for witches’ fingers (which are really just breadsticks with nuts as fingernails) and cheese balls that – with a careful manipulation of food coloring – resemble bloodshot eyes. For the daring, there’s even a Jell-o mold in the shape of a human heart. Veins and all.
But even the hostess with the ghostest can’t match Tony Sohns’ morbid menu. During his “Creepy Critter Cuisine: Beyond Bugs” workshops this weekend at the Maine Discovery Museum in Bangor, Sohns will serve up alligator kebabs, yak with yams and 100-year-old Chinese duck eggs. OK, they’re not really that old. But they’ve been salted, soaked in tea and buried underground in ash until they pickle and rot. The whites turn a glistening, gelatinous shade of blue-black.
“One of our goals is to introduce kids to different ways of life, different cultures, and a great way to do that is through food,” Sohns, the museum’s natural history educator, said recently. “The grosser, the better – it has more impact.”
Sohns has been an adventurous eater since he was a boy. His mother hails from Washington County, and he ate all sorts of game meats – “The food in the freezer was usually deer or moose,” he said. His dad is from France, so ox tongue, escargots and raw oysters weren’t uncommon at the family table, either.
While in college in Oregon, he had a house and filled it with roommates from around the world. One of them grew up in a rural village in China without a refrigerator. She also grew up eating cat, so Sohns’ pet cat completely freaked her out.
“You’d open the fridge and it would look like this,” Sohns said, gesturing toward a table filled with international delicacies such as bird spit, beetle grubs, tortoiseshell tea and canned silkworm pupae, a common Korean bar snack.
A couple of years ago, Sohns started throwing “bug and beer” parties for his friends, and last year, he held his first bug buffet – minus the beer – at the museum.
“You need to keep an open mind,” he said. “In our country, we eat very little of what we actually can eat. We limit our food to pig, cow, chicken and a couple of fish. In other countries, people eat bat and moon rat … if you go down South, people eat possum and squirrel.”
Sound strange? Not so long ago, beaver bakes were as common as bean-hole beans in this part of Maine. In Bangor, sea urchin ovaries – aka “uni” – and roasted eel are on the menu at Ichiban’s sushi bar. And those tasty SoBe drinks and Ruby Red grapefruit juice? They get their rosy red color from a dye called cochineal – which is a fancy name for insect blood.
It may be enough to give parents the creeps, but Sohns says the kids just eat it up. Literally.
“I think it’s good to get them into it young,” he said. “Textures are big, and tastes. They definitely will associate these things with other things they’ve eaten … and at that age, they’re pretty adventurous.”
And that sense of adventure goes far beyond “eyeballs” and spaghetti “brains.” Save that for the grown-ups.
“Creepy Critter Cuisine: Beyond Bugs” will take place at 1 and 3 p.m. Saturday, October 28. The workshop costs $4 for museum members and $5 for nonmembers, plus the cost of museum admission. Pre-registration is required and space is limited. To register, call 262-7200.
And for dessert …
Halloween isn’t all ghouls, goblins and grossness – at least not if Trudi Plummer has anything to do with it.
Plummer, the education director at Maine Discovery Museum, will lead the “Sinister Sweets Workshop: Uncanny Candy” at 1 and 3 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 29, at the museum. Part chemistry lesson, part cooking class, this workshop will be a nice foil to the previous day’s creepy cuisine.
“I figure Halloween is really all about the candy,” Plummer said. “This is your ‘just desserts’ after you manage to choke down yak burgers, African grub stew and 100-year-old eggs.”
She’ll teach aspiring mad scientists to cook up bubbling brews with lemonade and dry ice. Also on the menu are cricket- and worm-stuffed bubble gum, and candy clay, an edible, sweet play dough that can be molded into mummy fingers and tiny skulls.
“When we make bubbling brews, we talk about carbonation and gases,” Plummer said. “When we make bubble gum and other concoctions, we talk about solutions and suspensions, how things mix and how they don’t mix, solids and liquids, waxes and oils and crystallization. It’s basically a chemistry workshop.”
Science never tasted so good.
“Sinister Sweets Workshop: Uncanny Candy” will take place at 1 and 3 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 29. The workshop costs $4 for museum members and $5 for nonmembers, plus the cost of museum admission. Preregistration is required and space is limited. To register, call 262-7200.