Museum From Home: Trick-or-Treating Through the Chapels
By Ashley Frenkel and David Rigano
Hello, Cathedral blog readers! Ashley and David here again with another chapel tour of seasonal foods. If you haven’t read our blogs on donuts and pancakes as represented by the Cathedral’s Chapels of the Tongues, make sure you check them out. This month, October 28 is Chocolate Day, just in time for Halloween!
Halloween comes from the ancient Celtic New Year tradition, held on November 1, called Samhain (pronounced sow-ween). The night before Samhain was All Hallows Eve. As the harvest season moved to cold winter, the ancient Celts believed that for one night a year, the dead could walk on earth. Ancient Romans had a similar holiday of Feralia honoring their dead, and they incorporated Celtic traditions as the Roman Empire conquered Europe. As Christianity took over, this became All Souls Day. Every culture took from what had come before and added their own tricks and treats to the holiday. Fast forward to 20th Century America and you get the addition we’ll be discussing today: candy; some chocolate, all delicious.
The Chapels of the Tongues at the Cathedral are so named since each was dedicated to a different immigrant group that was coming to New York at the turn of the last century when the Cathedral was being constructed. Normally we’d go through those cultures exploring how each one handled the topic of the day, but in the case of Halloween candy, rather than America adopting traditions as they joined the melting pot, most other countries that celebrate Halloween have now adopted the American model. But we dug deep to find the best candies (and even a few Halloween traditions) from each culture represented.
As always, our tour starts in the northernmost chapel, the Baptistry, dedicated to Dutch immigrants. While Halloween is as American as apple pie (which isn’t actually very American because apples are from Central Asia), some parts of the Netherlands have a feast for Sint-Maarten in mid-November. Children don masks, sing, and go door-to-door to get candy. One of the candies kids might collect is called Hopje. These coffee caramels trace their roots back to the 18th century and were ostensibly created by accident when a coffee-holic left his mug of coffee and sugar on the heater overnight where the contents evaporated and caramelized. These sweet treats are so beloved there was even a museum dedicated to this sweet in The Hague—though it is now closed unrelated to the pandemic.
Tannic, astringent candy—just what every kid wants? The Chapel of St. Ansgar is our Scandinavian chapel, and in the Nordic countries of Denmark, Norway and Sweden, these popular liquorices weren’t just a confectionary. Ammonium chloride gives salmiak liquorice its hallmark salty flavor, but is also an expectorant used in cough medicine, which means this treat probably originated from pharmacies. Yum… Traditionally ghoulishly black and diamond shaped, these liquorice pastilles have contained varying levels of ammonium chloride over their traceable history starting in the 1930s. So, if you’re feeling like having a tangy and confusingly savory-sweet medicine-treat, look no further than salmiak liquorice which you can now find in fun shapes like pirate coins, dogs, and fish.
As we make our way to the Chapel of St. Boniface, dedicated to German immigrants, we get a candy that feels quintessentially American—but isn’t! The German candy gummibär was created in 1922 by the Bonn based company Haribo. Even now, Haribo is the most famous maker of Gummy Bears, though other companies and other gummy candies have found their way into the candy zeitgeist. In recent years, gummy candy with added vitamins or cavity-fighting agents has become popular.
The Chapel of St. Columba is the British chapel, and as Halloween started as a Celtic ritual, the Brits do Halloween very similar to Americans. There is a “Mischief Night,” dressing in costumes, trick-or-treating. And chocolate. We won’t say that British Cadbury is the reason we wanted to write a blog about chocolate and candy, but British Cadbury kind of is the reason we wanted to write a blog about chocolate and candy. Cadbury’s signature bar is their Dairy Milk chocolate, which boasts a higher milk content than most milk chocolates. It is a favorite at Buckingham Palace, receiving the Royal Warrant from Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth II. Yes, we have Cadbury here in America, too, but it’s a different recipe and without the monarchical associations. The British chocolate is creamier, smoother, and comes in many more varieties than its American counterpart. Some flaky, some crispy, some filled, and some simply solid chocolate goodness.
The Chapel of St. Savior is our Eastern Orthodox chapel which encompasses a large area from Greece to the Caucasus and Siberia. In Greece, a particularly popular treat actually hails from Turkey, called Turkish delights or loukoumi. Rather well known from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, these squares of candied gelatin flavored with rosewater or bergamot and dusted in sugar probably wouldn’t be enough to get us to turn our back on our family to join the White Witch, but maybe our weakness lies with candies of the chocolate variety. Though, if there were some chopped up pistachios, hazelnuts, or dates, we can’t be held to any promises.
The Chapel of St. Martin is the French chapel and if there’s one definitive thing our research showed us, it’s that the French pretty much hate Halloween. While expats can find costume parties (likely in windowless rooms with a secret code) don’t look for French trick-or-treating. But that doesn’t mean they hate chocolate! From the south of France, we get boulets, small cannonball shaped chocolate covered hazelnuts with a candy coating. Kind of like the fanciest Peanut M&M you’ll ever have. And, of course, it’s from the French that we get mousse au chocolat, which literally translates to “chocolate foam,” and eating rich, fluffy chocolate mousse really does feel like delicious foam melting in your mouth.
The Chapel of St. Ambrose gets its name from the Italian patron saint of bees. While we have bees to thank for sweet and sticky honey, a different sweet treat represents the best of Italian confectionaries: Ferrero Rocher. Ashley here taking over for a second. While these festive gold-wrapped balls of hazelnut, chocolate, and wafer are particularly popular around the holidays, any time I went to my Italian great-grandmother’s house as a child she would have some sitting on the butter shelf in the fridge. Every time I unpeel and pop one in my mouth, biting through the crunchy, creamy, and nutty layers, I travel back to my great-grandmother’s kitchen. In addition to these nostalgic chocolate spheres, the Ferrero brand is also responsible for Nutella and assorted Kinder goodies. They’re not paying us to say this (unless they want to) but what would we do without them?
The Chapel of St. James is the final chapel we have to visit, dedicated to immigrants from Spain. It’s the largest chapel at the cathedral and honors the culture with seasonal traditions to match. If there’s a culture that takes Halloween-time festivities even more seriously than Americans, it would be the Spanish tradition of Dia de los Muertos. Celebrated by 10 countries worldwide and immortalized in the Pixar film Coco, this is actually a three-day celebration! While we’re celebrating Halloween on October 31st, our Spanish brethren are celebrating Dia de los Brujas, or Day of the Witches, followed on November 1st by Dia de los Santos, or All Saints Day, and finally Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, on November 2nd. Unlike the American traditions, though, we’re not talking about spooky ghosts and zombies. The time right after Halloween is one to honor the dead, the one day a year when the ancestors can walk the earth and visit their friends and family. Much of the imagery surrounding Day of the Dead revolves around painted and decorated skeletons, and the confections are no exception. Decorated chocolate skulls are ubiquitous this time of year. And for All Saints Day they have a treat called huesos de santo, or saints’ bones, to serve as a reminder of relics of saints in churches worldwide. Not actual bones, huesos de santo consist of marzipan formed into a tube shape to evoke bones with a center of sweet egg yolk filling. In case this didn’t sound sweet enough, the whole “bone” is covered in a syrupy glaze.
We hope our tour of the ambulatory has proved educational and even inspirational for anyone looking for some new Halloween ideas. Many of our Halloween traditions are shifting in this season of social distancing. Certainly we here at the cathedral have amended our usual Halloween festivities. This year is as good a time as any to look to other cultures for your tricks and your treats. And for the particularly intrepid, our favorite food youtuber has a recipe for homemade chocolate bars—from scratch!
Thanks for taking this tour with us, and we’ll be back next month for cultural pies, just in time for our Thanksgiving celebrations!
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