In honor of April Fool's Day, food writer Sally Ketchum is serving up a fun look back at some of the zanier concoctions to ever grace our dinner tables.
Get ready to sink your teeth into a banana 'n popcorn salad or how about a tomato frappe which is little more than a frozen can of soup!
Take it away Sally... and happy April Fool's everyone.
Throughout history cooks have concocted food eminently suitable for the April Fool's table. Many times, the concoctions are the result or famine or a depression.
The Irish ate Seaweed (and now we have sushi), Depression Salads were made of garage sale vegetables, and Depression Casseroles basically cleaned out the icebox.
A natural rationing system developed during the Middle Ages that is still interesting, and I think, subtly in place under modern guise. When Polish medieval royalty ate steaks, nobles ate pork roasts, and the peasants-if very lucky-ate pig's feet.
Depression America brought such treats as Banana 'n Popcorn Salad in the 1920's and a Tomato Frappe that is frozen tomato soup, messed up a bit in a pretty glass and top with shredded lettuce.
One food historian termed the 1920's the "decade of truly awful food." I can believe that. Consider Turnips Au Gratin, Tomato Jelly Salad, and Caramel Dumplings.
The Great Depression was also the Jazz Age, and the two trends merged in nomenclature.
Welsh Rabbit/Rarebit (cheese sauce on toast) was made with what was handy and variously called "absurd tictum chitti," and "ring rum diddy," "rum rum tiddy," "rinktum ditty," and worse. There's more: The funny sounding dish has no rabbit... none. It was named after an English rabbit hunter came home emptyhanded so his wife cooked the simple dish for dinner.
But foolish foods appear in good times, too. After all, there are foolish cooks throughout history.
Some memorably bad meals result from attempts at something new or glamorous. A one-color meal is usually disastrous. I tried an elegant White Meal -- it was bland and blah. Red, white and blue (corn chips) are Titanic efforts that never should have left the port.
As a writer of humor, I've been called silly at times, mainly because I can be just that. My motto: If you're going to be silly, then go ahead and make a darned fool of yourself.
Some of the best chefs, usually culinary intellectuals, can be cute, even foolish, if they want.
The French Laundry, the famous San Francisco restaurant (reservations nine months ahead and nine months salary for the bill), has Tongue and Cheek on the menu (braised beef cheek and veal tongue). While I think that's worth a giggle, I was afraid to have anything to do with it. However, when a beef cheek later appeared on my plate of mixed treats, it proved heavenly! It melted in my mouth and tasted more or less like black angus flavored butter!
Since I eat at my own table, my trick today will be to promise He-Who-Must-Be-Fed hot dogs today. But, instead we'll have Pan-Roasted Rib Steaks with Stinking Roses. (The latter is kooky Californian for garlic.)
Sally Ketchum is a northern Michigan journalist who has fun writing and eating.