Nosh Box: Spooked in October


Mondelez of Norway makes Kvikk Lunsj, shaped almost exactly like a Kit-Kat Bar. Very popular in Europe, this confection’s available on line from several vendors.

CC ChickenFalls

This month, somewhere around the globe, people will celebrate International Coffee, World Smiles, Animals, and Mental Health days.

Just before mid-month domestically, October brings Columbus Day. At one time it was good for a school holiday and a parade. But not so much now, as Chris’ luminance has dimmed in recent years, much like Saint/Mr. Christopher, and dwarf-planet Pluto.

Near month’s end two obscure celebrations on the 28th and 29th, National Chocolate Day and National Cat Day, ramp up to October’s capstone holiday: Halloween.

Depending on your perspective, I was either the beneficiary or the victim of parochial schooling in the 1950s. Taught by sisters in starched habits who instilled rote learning, where right answers were expected, and wrong answers fetched whacks from a ruler.

While my boyhood pals in public school celebrated holidays, we observed holydays. Christmas and Easter yielded similar vacation time in both camps. But come October, those secularly schooled drew jack-o-lanterns, heard spooky stories, and wore costumes to class at month’s end. In parochial school, no special to-do was made of Oct. 31—other than calling it a pagan celebration.

At Our Lady of Perpetual Bingo [name changed to protect my grammar school], that term usually arose when discussing pagan babies. In a process blending parsimony with extortion, nameless children in far-off places could be ransomed into Christianity for the tidy sum of $5 each. And every time our class paid the bounty, there was no homework that evening.

However, parochial schooling did have its advantages: At age 9, I could recite the 22 auxiliary verbs, and diagram any English sentence. These skills I retain to this day—and they remained nearly unmatched by my peer editors at the University of California.

Today’s Halloween foci are kids and candy. But that doesn’t prevent adults from indulging in both the costumes and the calories. Adult Halloween parties likely motivated Ogden Nash when he opined, “Candy is dandy, but liquor is quicker.”

What’s Hot: In a nutshell, mass-produced chocolates from Hershey’s and Mars dominate the top-five favorite Halloween candies. In descending order, they are: Reese’s, M&Ms (No. 1 in CA), Snickers, Hershey’s Milk Chocolate, and Kit-Kat.

And What’s Not:

Candy Corn is a North American confection shaped more like a hominid bicuspid than a corn kernel. Made from carnauba wax, artificial coloring, binders, and sweeteners—not surprisingly—it looks better than it tastes. Eat it only to win a bet.

Circus Peanuts are pink, peanut-shaped, hard-marshmallow candy that tastes like neither peanuts nor marshmallows.

Not a Halloween favorite, chalky NECCO Wafers were a product of the oldest candy company in America. New England Candy Company closed unexpectedly in Massachusetts last July, after being sold at a bankruptcy auction. But come February, their love-quip embossed Sweethearts will be sorely missed as Valentine favorites.

Popcorn balls and candy apples share the same maladies: Traditionally homemade, these treats are time-consuming, and turn tacky when humid. Trick-or-treaters are schooled to avoid them, because urban legend has rumored they conceal (choose one): dead bugs, a powerful laxative, or leftover MREs.

Bobbing for apples fell from grace with the disappearance of washtubs, whence washboards plied lye-soap to dirty duds. Contributing further, bobbing rewarded big-mouthed folks. And heated competitions could morph into waterboarding. Plus, the final rewards were neither sanitary nor attractive: tooth-pocked apples.

Upscale Approaches—Consider Halloween just another excuse to eat chocolate? Then consider these upscale options.

• Their namesake square may be a San Francisco landmark, but world-renowned Ghirardelli Chocolate’s factory, headquarters, and outlet store lie in San Leandro at 1111 139th Avenue.

Scharffen Berger originated as an independent Berkeley chocolatier founded in 1996 by sparkling winemaker John Scharffenberger, and a physician, Robert Steinberg. But Hershey acquired the company in 2005. This chocolate’s available at local retail outlets, including many Peet’s.

• Mondelez of Norway makes Kvikk Lunsj, shaped almost exactly like a Kit-Kat Bar. Very popular in Europe, this confection’s available on line from several vendors. Just point you search engine at “Kvikk Lunsj”—and be willing to shell out a couple of bucks.

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