Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Food Stories

One day I noticed the majority of the tales I was telling had something to do with food. Some are about a character with a prodigious appetite who devours everything in sight. Others feature an unlikely hero who uses cleverness to keep from being eaten by a bully. Then there are the trickster tales, where a greedy character uses trickery to get food. There are stories where magical objects produce an unending flow of salt, rice, porridge or pasta. Some stories emphasized the mouth-watering look and smell of food, while others contained lessons about sharing. The following are some of my favorites for telling - solo or tandem, many times using puppets, songs and audience participation. Tis the season! Enjoy all the great favors-and stories-of the season!

Prodigious Appetites

“The Very Fat Cat”

It would be hard to find a culture that doesn’t have a story of creature so hungry that it consumes everything until it pops like a balloon or gets cut open. I’m particularly fond of the version from India about a parrot who invites his friend, a cat, to dinner. Unfortunately, the cat is so hungry that it swallows up everything on the table, eats its friend the parrot, goes down the street and eats everyone it meets, until it eats a little crab. When the crab uses its claws to cut a hole inside the cat, everyone escapes, but the cat is hungry again. One source is Fat Cat: A Danish Folktale, by Margaret Read MacDonald.


An Appalachian tale of a bear who swallows up a whole family that is intent on getting “sody” (baking soda) to make biscuits for breakfast. A quick-thinking pet squirrel defeats the bear and rescues the family. Half the fun is describing how the biscuits smell while cooking, look with butter melting down their sides, and taste when you take a great big bite of one! One source is “Sody Sallyraytus” in Grandfather Tales by Richard Chase. 

How to Keep From Being Eaten

“How the Turtle Cracked His Shell” 

Wolf steals persimmons from Turtle and in turn is tricked into almost dying from choking on an extra big persimmon. When his life is saved by the other wolves, Wolf seeks vengeance on Turtle. Faced with being boiled for supper in a clay pot, Turtle outsmarts Wolf and ends up safe in the river, although his shell gets cracked in his escape. A Cherokee story adapted by Robin Moore, in Ready-to-Tell Tales, edited by David Holt and Bill Mooney.

“The Lion and the Rabbit”

An evil lion is tricked by a very clever rabbit into attacking his own reflection in a well. This fable from India, as adapted by Heather Forest, can be found in Joining In, compiled by Teresa Miller. There are a number of variants (some featuring an evil tiger) from Africa and the United States.

Just Like Magic

“Sweet Porridge”

A good little girl receives a magic pot, along with special words to make it start (and stop!) cooking sweet porridge. One day the little girl is away when her mother wants porridge and says the magic start-cooking words to the pot, but forgets the words to make it stop. By the time the girl returns, the whole village is covered with porridge. A Grimm’s fairy tale adapted in Storytelling Activities by Norma Livo and Sandra Rietz. Probably its best known version is Tomie de Paola’s Strega Nona, where the magic pot cooks pasta. You can also find tales of a grinder that makes salt, a wooden mortar and pestle that produces rice, and a kettle that duplicates anything put in it. 

“The Gingerbread Man”

This runaway cookie gets away from everyone until he meets a cunning fox. There are many versions of this classic tale, including a poem by Rowena Bennett, in her The Day Is Dancing and in Sing a Song of Popcorn by de Regniers. For a kinder ending, try Jan Brett’s Gingerbread Baby (with a boy’s help, he escapes) and Gingerbread Girl (she out-foxes the fox). Runaway food stories can be found all over the world, including ones about bannocks, pancakes, buns and rice cakes.

Greedy tricksters

“Spider and Turtle”

Turtle visits Spider just at dinnertime. Spider invites him to eat, but insists that Turtle first wash his paws in the stream downhill. When Turtle returns, much of the food is gone, but Spider says his paws are still dirty. After a couple of trips, Turtle’s paws are clean enough, but all of the food is gone. Politely, Turtle thanks Spider for the “fine dinner” and invites him to a meal at Turtle’s house. When Spider visits Turtle, he hears that dinner’s ready, on the table at the bottom of the river. “Hurry on down, Spider.” Spider jumps into the river, but is too light to go under -- diving, splashing, nothing works. Then he stuffs rocks in his jacket pockets, jumps in the river, sinks right down to the table, and reaches for the food. “Stop!” Turtle says, “it’s bad manners to wear a jacket to dinner. Take it off!” Spider does and pops back to the surface, without eating anything. One source: Anansi and Turtle Go to Dinner, by Bobby and Sherry Norfolk.

The African trickster spider (sometimes known as Anansi) loves food, is notorious for not wanting to share and often resorts to stealing food. Two other fun stories are “Anansi and the Hat-Shaking Dance” and “Anansi and the Moss-Covered Rock”.

“Stone Soup”

(A tale about a good trickster.) A ragged stranger comes to a town where everyone is poor and hides any bits of food they have. The stranger says he needs is a fire, a pot and some water, because he has a special stone that makes soup. When the stranger tastes the soup he laments that it would be better with just a bit of… And as he mentions each item (salt, pepper, meat, vegetables, bread), someone remembers a little something that they can add to make the soup better. Finally everyone has contributed, the soup is done, and it is delicious. Stone Soup, a version by Heather Forest, gives special emphasis to to the lesson learned about sharing and helping each other

Contributed by Susi Shaeffer
Ormond Beach, FL.