From Harold and Maude to Harry Potter: Making Fictional Foods Real | Arts & Culture | Smithsonian

From Harold and Maude to Harry Potter: Making Fictional Foods Real

One blogger's quest to recreate the ginger pie from the movie Harold and Maude got us thinking about other fictional foods

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Several months back I read a great piece by Matthew Rowley, the author of a book on moonshine and a blog called Rowley's Whiskey Forge. Inspired by one of my favorite cult classic movies of the early 1970s, Harold and Maude, Rowley embarked on a quest to recreate a dish from the film: Ginger pie.

If you aren't familiar with Harold and Maude, it's about a macabre teenage boy, played by Bud Cort, who has a life-changing encounter with an exuberantly kooky woman four times his age, played by Ruth Gordon. When Harold first goes to Maude's home (which is a rail car), she serves him oat straw tea and ginger pie.



After searching high and low for a ginger pie recipe—oat straw tea didn't appeal, for some reason—Rowley realized that he would have to recreate it himself. "I went back to Maude, the root of my inspiration," he wrote. "Her eccentric, nuts-to-tradition take on life is a big part of the film’s appeal.... By offering a slice, Maude extends not only hospitality, but a slyly camouflaged offer of herself."

I liked the article because it reminded me of two things I admire: the creativity of the screenwriter who originally dreamed up the perfect food to describe his character, and the ability of the baker (Rowley) to then translate that character into a real dessert.

It got me thinking about other fictional foods, in three categories—some that were turned into real products, with varying degrees of success; some I wish existed; and a few I'm glad will stay in the realm of fiction.

First off, I would remiss if I didn't mention the Harry Potter series of books and their film adaptations. (Didn't I hear a new one came out recently? I could be wrong.) As one blogger and self-described Harry Potter nerd pointed out, the young wizard's favorite dessert, treacle tart, is a real dessert eaten in Britain. But J.K. Rowling also filled her books with other marvelously imaginative foods in all three categories. Although the magical properties of many of these foods can't be conjured, many have attempted to interpret them for the real world. In fact, there is at least one blog devoted to recipes adapted from foods mentioned in the series, and an unofficial cookbook.

The flavoring wizards at Jelly Belly saw marketing potential in Bertie Bott's Every Flavor Beans, which include jelly beans with nasty flavors like vomit and booger. These were discontinued, as were the equally disgusting sounding Cockroach Clusters, which had a gummy underbelly and a crunchy candy shell (the fictional version of which, apparently, was itself inspired by a Monty Python sketch).

The Roald Dahl book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and the 1971 movie version, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (I'm intentionally omitting the abominable Tim Burton remake), is another treasure trove of imaginary food.

The Wonka candy brand, owned by Nestlé USA, makes several treats inspired by the fictional factory, including chocolate bars that look like Wonka bars from the film, and Everlasting Gobstoppers, jaw-breakers that change colors. Of course, the fictional gobstopper really was supposed to last forever; the real ones, obviously, don't.

In the "wish it were real" category, wouldn't it be fun if there were a Fizzy Lifting Drink that made you float higher as you drank it? The three-course-meal-flavored gum, on the other hand, doesn't sound very appealing. I wouldn't mind if it skipped right to the blueberry-pie-and-ice-cream part, as long as it didn't really turn you into a giant blueberry, as happened to Violet Beauregarde.

Fictional food also occasionally figured into the TV series Seinfeld. One food that can't be recreated is the Mackinaw peach, which is said to be ripe for only two weeks a year and which Kramer describes as "like having a circus in your mouth." But muffin tops, the half-baked business venture Elaine joins in season eight, were later translated into a real product by Eggo, to mixed reviews.

Finally, in the "so glad it doesn't exist" category is the eponymous green wafer from the 1973 science fiction movie Soylent Green. What is this food from the overpopulated, dystopian future? In the immortal words of Charlton Heston: "It's people! Soylent Green is made out of people!"

What fictional foods do you wish were real (or are glad they aren't)?

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About Lisa Bramen
Lisa Bramen

Lisa Bramen was a frequent contributor to Smithsonian.com's Food and Think blog. She is based in northern New York and is also an associate editor at Adirondack Life magazine.

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