“There was the doughty doughnut, the tender olykoek, and the crisp and crumbling cruller; sweet cakes and short cakes, ginger cakes and honey cakes, and the whole family of cakes. And then there were apple pies, and peach pies, and pumpkin pies; besides slices of ham and smoked beef; and moreover delectable dishes of preserved plums, and peaches, and pears, and quinces; not to mention broiled shad and roasted chickens; together with bowls of milk and cream, all mingled higgledy- pigglely, pretty much as I have enumerated them…”
- Washington Irving, “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” (1820)
Few of us escaped high school without reading the tale of Ichabod Crane, the lanky, shrewd schoolmaster who becomes enamored by Katrina Van Tassel and competes for her affection with the brawny Abraham “Brom Bones” Van Brunt. Of course, the character we remember most is the Headless Horseman, the ghost of a Hessian soldier who rides through the night searching for the head he’d lost to a rogue cannonball during the American Revolutionary War. After a banquet at the Van Tassel’s (described in the passage above), Ichabod mysteriously disappears, leading the townspeople to speculate that he has encountered the horseman; Katrina is left to marry Brom Bones, who is said to look “exceedingly knowing” every time Ichabod’s disappearance is mentioned.
Washington Irving’s short story has been called a gothic tale, a political allegory, a satire of religion and American history, and an authentic piece of American folklore. Rarely, though, is the story appreciated for its gastronomic depictions and metaphors. The food imagery in “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” is incredible! Ichabod, though slimmer than the birch rod he uses to strike his pupils, has an insatiable appetite and a spirit that “rose with eating, as some men’s do with drink.” Looking upon the Van Tassel farm, he sees, “every roasting-pig running about with a pudding in his belly, and an apple in his mouth; the pigeons were snugly put to bed in a comfortable pie, and tucked in with a coverlet of crust; the geese were swimming in their own gravy; and the ducks pairing cosily in dishes, like snug married couples, with a decent competency of onion sauce.” Katrina is described as “plump as a partridge; ripe and melting and rosy-cheeked as one of her fathers peaches” and “tempting as a morsel.” Ichabod’s insatiable hunger is emphasized by his desire to devour everything he encounters.
In the Spring 2003 issue of Gastronomica, Frederick Kaufman considers the connection between food and Irving far more adequately and in-depth than I have here. Kaufman suggests that Ichabod’s desire for food is rivaled only by the “fearful pleasure” he derives from ghost stories, and that even in his early career as a journalist, Irving’s figure of the American brain is often re-imagined as the American stomach. Kaufman writes, “by the time [Irving] wrote ‘The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,’ his recurrent descriptions, invocations, and metaphors of food had come to permeate the essence of his plots and characters.” Kaufman argues that for Irving, the only process that matters in this literary world is the active, convulsing digestive process; America itself is a “vast, engulfing power, a grand, nationalist stomach which views the entire continent—if not the world—as its manifest dinner.”
Gulp. That’s one loaded “doughty doughnut.”
Okay, let’s face it, these aren’t really doughnuts; they’re doughnut-shaped cupcakes or something. Have you ever had a fresh, homemade fried doughnut? They are seriously the most delicious confection you will ever eat. Unfortunately, they are also seriously no good for the waistline, and our household is taking a few weeks off from heavy sweets to work off our “Novelbutts.” To make these “light” doughnuts, I used this wonderful baked doughnut recipe, substituted yogurt for the buttermilk powder and ginger for the nutmeg, added a half cup of shredded (yes, shredded) pear, and poured the batter into the doughnut pan. I drizzled a caramel icing (recipe found here) over the cakes and finished them off with coarse sea salt (if you try them, do NOT leave off the salt… I promise, it puts them over the top).
Spiced Pear Doughnuts with Sea-Salted Caramel. Ichabod, I believe, would approve.