Of all the recipes I developed for Gourmet magazine, these Potato Ghosts are my favorite. There’s nothing unusual or special about the simple vegetable purée. It’s just that by the mere addition of two little seed “eyes” to each pointy mound of potato, the little “ghosts” suddenly anthropomorphize into individuals with characters of their own.
I’m sure I wasn’t the first to think of it. The idea came to me in the shower one morning when I was in the midst of creating a Halloween menu for Gourmet back in 1995. In the history of mashed potatoes it’s probably been done countless times before, but that didn’t stop me from trying it out myself.
The vertical squirts of “mash”, formed by a pastry bag, looked like miniature volcanic eruptions in the shallow baking dish until those little seeds were applied. The transformation from potato to person was instantaneous. When I pulled them out of the oven, the cute alert traveled around the office swiftly, and practically the whole staff wandered in for a look and a laugh.
The ghosts, along with the rest of the Halloween menu, were first photographed in the former home of photographer, Romulo Yanes. At the time, he lived in one of the old silk baron mansions in Patterson, New Jersey (Patterson was known as Silk City in the late 19th and early 20th century). The house was cavernous, with high ceilings and rooms that rambled on. All it took was a smoke machine to turn it into the perfect spooky stage set.
Several of the recipes featured in Gourmet Live’s Creepy Crawly Halloween issue under the heading, Eight Great Halloween Recipes were from that October, 1995 menu, and they were reshot in 2009: Witches’ Brew, Poppy Cheddar Moon Crackers, Black and Orange Halloween Pasta (revised and updated by Melissa Roberts in 2009), and Devil’s Food Cake With Chocolate Spider Web. Seventeen years later, the ghosts, along with their pals from that menu, never fail to bring on the smiles.