One of my favorite food concepts in a work of fiction (a beloved book and movie, in this case) comes from Charlie And The Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl. I’m specifically talking about the scene where the “beastly girl,” Violet Beauregarde, constantly chewing on her three-month-old wad of gum with her mouth open, gets into something she shouldn’t. And it gets her into a whole world of blueberry-filled trouble.
The item in question was a stick of gum. Not just any piece of gum, but a marvelous bit of engineering that packed an entire three-course meal into single chewing experience. The coolest part about it is that it all happened in order, first with a piping hot tomato soup followed by roast beef and potatoes, and finally, an out-of-control blueberry pie dessert that turned Beauregarde into an indigo-colored berry hybrid who needed to be de-juiced. Oh, to be a bulbous mass of blueberry juice.
Ever since I was a kid, I’ve obsessively thought about this stick of gum, and how it needed to become a real thing. In terms of gum technology, the flavor-changing aspect certainly isn’t impossible. And about a decade ago (damn, time really does fly), I remember trying a flavor-changing gum by Stride that was supposed to change from a berry flavor to a mint one, a product that could have given me hope. I regret to inform you it didn’t really deliver as promised; it just ended up being a minty berry gum without much flavor separation at all.
I will never stop dreaming about this gum, but now, as a jaded adult, I know to temper my expectations. This gum probably won’t happen, plus, roast beef and potato probably wouldn’t translate too well when artificially messed with (one time I tried blue cheese vape juice and it was as bad as you’d imagine). But I still wanted the experience, so I sat down and thought hard and long about what I could do to make this happen.
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Then it hit me, big time: When in doubt, you can turn anything into a sandwich, and that’s exactly what I did. Say hi to the Violet Beauregarde, the three-course sandwich!
Now, in order to experience every course of the meal in order, there’s no way I’d layer everything together like a sub (or a hoagie, pipe down in back, clowns), since mixing tomato soup in the same bite as blueberry pie would probably be kind of gross. So I’d construct this thing in segments, starting at the end of the meal and working my way to the front.
I looked for a baguette-shaped loaf of brioche at our local big supermarket, but since brioche doesn’t really come baked that way, I settled for a cheap mass-produced spongy French loaf instead, and I hollowed out the center of it with my tiny baby-sized hands. The key was to keep the bread I tore out because I’d be using it in just a moment.
Since dessert is usually at the end of your meal, you’ve got to start piping it in first. Lazy Dennis would normally just use a spoon and dump the filling into the hole, but unfortunately doing it that way would smear blueberry filling all the way through the entire loaf of bread, so I took a Ziploc bag, filled it with pie filling, and cut the corner off the bag. I then carefully deposited a healthy dose of filling at the bottom of the loaf. Nice. No sloppy mess.
To avoid dessert mixing with the beef and potatoes, I used the torn-up bread that I saved and created a bread wall. This is important for two different reasons: First, this’ll keep a barrier between courses, and second, the bread barrier will also serve as an intermission, signaling that your current course has been completed and you should wait for a moment before continuing.
For the main course, I had some sous-vided and seared ribeye from last night’s dinner (to be honest, deli roast beef would be fine, or if you’re even lazier, Dinty Moore canned stew) and some gravy, mixed it together, and stuffed it down the hatch, along with some mashed potatoes.
I alternated a little between the steak and potatoes so there’d be enough gravy dispersed throughout without making the bread soggy. In this case I didn’t mind the idea of a bit of the savory mixture mixing with the tomato-soup-to-come layer, so I let myself be a little lax and skipped the piping And again, I constructed another bread wall.
The soup was the biggest challenge. Putting a ladleful of tomato soup into a loaf of bread was going to be a terrible idea, especially if I was trying to keep everything segmented. So enter an over-the-top trick: xanthan gum.
Xanthan gum is one of those ingredients a contestant whips out on Chopped that signals they’re immediately going to lose, because they didn’t know what they were doing. Honestly, this is the first time I’ve ever even touched the stuff. All I knew was that xanthan gum exists in a bunch of stuff I eat on a regular basis and it acts as a thickener.
Xanthan gum is a flavorless food additive that is a byproduct of bacterial fermentation. Which naturally means I had to try it by itself, a horrendously terrible idea! I dipped my finger into the dry powder and put a little into my mouth. It turned my saliva into a thick mealy gel and it stuck my lips together. It was terrible and everything tasted like a postage stamp for a few minutes. But I have that life experience now and nothing can take this away from me.
I mixed an equal amount of melted butter and powdered xanthan gum together (it’s suggested to mix the powder with oil to create a slurry prior to mixing it into anything) and stirred it into the soup. Was I about to experience a chewable soup?
Well, if I added any more xanthan gum to the soup it probably would have turned into chewing gum, because the tomato soup thickened up immediately. Wild. I’ve never seen soup with soft peaks before. If a soup thickens into a gel, is it no longer soup? That’s a philosophical question, really. This was definitely still a texture that I could slurp, but wouldn’t sink into the bread, or even be in danger of pouring out.
Against my better judgment, I pointed the entire sandwich toward the floor to see if anything would fall out, like they do at Dairy Queen after they fix you a Blizzard. This would have ruined my afternoon if the filling slid out, but everything stayed in place. Time for lunch!
The first layer, the soup, was indeed a little mealy. I could probably have done with less xanthan gum, but hey, I did science. It was basically just classic tomato soup that was the consistency of pudding, which wasn’t offensive. The bread wall absolutely came in handy, as I got to pause appropriately. Then came the steak and potatoes, which were rich and delicious, especially since the steak was tossed in plenty of gravy, but just enough that it didn’t soak all the way through the bread. That last bread wall was the perfect signal to wait and get ready for dessert.
While I’m not usually a dessert person, this was easily my favorite part. Violet Beauregarde and I have something in common, and it’s that we both love our blueberry pie. Sure, bread isn’t a pie crust, but it served its purpose as a shell, a handle, and also the only baked component of the dessert.
This sandwich isn’t a magical stick of gum, but to be honest, this is the most fun I’ve had eating anything in a while. It was like lunch and entertainment all mashed together in one, which was no doubt what Willy Wonka wanted to achieve with the gum itself. Even better, I don’t need any juice extracted from me. For now.