Photo by @CogntiveDish
We all know the stories well. A beautiful girl with questionable taste in footwear makes a mad dash for her carriage at the stroke of midnight before it turns into a pumpkin. Or a naïve, young boy trades his family’s non-lactating cow for some magic beans. Food is an important plot device in these dark and macabre tales. From poisoned apples and winter strawberries to edible houses with windows of sparkling sugar, these stories engage our deepest fears and fantasies while connecting us through one of life’s most basic necessities. So, grab some porridge, settle in, and read on as we discuss the role of food in fairy tales.
A Grimm menu
Whether it’s gingerbread, a basket full of baked goods, or mock turtle soup, food is central in the cultural narratives from which these tales were derived. Hunger and famine were a way of life, with many surviving on crusts of bread (literally), often resorting to the cannibalization of women and young children. Kind of gives a whole new meaning to having someone for dinner. Brothers Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, better knowns as The Brothers Grimm, experienced hunger firsthand. Their family was so severely impoverished, they ate only once per day. It’s no wonder their stories are as shocking and well, grim, as they are. And rightfully so. Fairy tales weren’t originally for children. In her book, The Annotated Brothers Grimm, author Maria Tartar writes, “Fairy tales were once adult entertainment, designed to pass time and told to the rhythms of repetitive labor.” It wasn’t until the 19th and 20th centuries were these stories considered a part of children’s literature.
Fee Fie Foe Yum!
Fairy tales draw on universal themes such as the myth of creation, death, transformation, and resurrection. Culinary victims are (usually) brought back to life, undergoing a kind of rebirth, where they come back as a plant or animal. In The Juniper Tree, the stepmother kills her stepson so her daughter will inherit the family’s fortune, chopping up his body and making stew. Yikes! But don’t worry, the boy re-emerges as a bird, drops a millstone on her head, and rises from smoke and ash as a boy again. That sounds like a happily ever after to me!
Evil to the core
No fairy tale food discussion would be complete without the story of Snow White and the ubiquitous poisoned apple. In Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the Evil Queen (aka SW’s stepmother) orders her huntsman to kill the girl and bring back her heart to eat. What is it with stepmothers, anyway? The huntsman refuses so the queen disguises herself as an old woman and gives Snow White an apple laced with poison, sending her into a death-like sleep upon biting into it. And in the typical anachronistic and patriarchal fashion, only true love’s kiss can break the spell. Pfft… Like many other fairy tales, the story of Snow White weaves in the myth of creation. Snow White is tempted by the apple as is Eve in the Garden of Eden. They ultimately give in and suffer for it in the end. *Rolls eyes.
The circle of life
In The Hero with a Thousand Faces, American mythologist and author, Joseph Campbell writes, “Grace, food substance, energy: these pour into the living world, and wherever they fail, life decomposes into death.” Food is central to our survival. It fosters personal relationships and a sense of community and is often weaponized, as in the story of Snow White’s apple. But at its most basic, food is a symbol of life which is at the very heart of these extraordinary tales. So, the next time you encounter a stranger on your way to grandmother’s house, be sure to share your Turkish Delights. It just may bring you riches beyond your wildest dreams.
And now here’s something I think you’ll really like →Print
Easy Apple Galette
3 large apples (about 4 cups) – Honeycrisp or Granny Smith, sliced into ¼” slices then cut in half (the apples slices should look like half moons)
2 Tbs lemon juice (about ½ a lemon) – to prevent apples from browning
1 store bought pie crust – I use two Pappy’s pie crust dough; you can find it in the freezer section
1 egg for eggwash– beat until yolk and white is mixed
¼ cup light brown sugar
¼ cup sugar
2 Tbs all-purpose flour
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
1/8 tsp ground allspice
1 tsp vanilla extract
Pinch of salt
Store bought caramel sauce (optional)
Vanilla ice cream (optional)
Preheat oven to 400°.
Lightly flour a piece of parchment paper cut to fit a cookie sheet and your rolling pin to prevent dough from sticking.
Roll out the dough in the shape of a circle.
Place the apple slices in a large bowl and add the lemon juice, mix until the slices are covered.
Add the brown sugar, sugar, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, flour, vanilla, and salt; toss to coat the apples.
Starting in the center of the crust and working your way to the outside, overlap the apples until you reach the edge of the crust. Leave about 1 ¼ “ from the edge.
Fold the dough over the apples, pleating as you go along if you’d like.
Brush the egg mixture over the crust.
Bake for 30 minutes or until the crust is a golden brown; take care not to burn the crust.
Cool slightly and drizzle with caramel sauce; serve with ice cream.