Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Grace's Worms in Dirt

As Beatrice's mother would say, "Eat your dirt!"

Happy Halloween, everyone! Halloween is one of my favorite holidays, and I'm always excited to get a chance to celebrate it. Admittedly, that usually gets a little harder to do when you get older and trick or treating if off the table, but now that I'm finished with school and employed, I decided this year I'd throw my first ever Halloween party. 

The theme? A certain animated miniseries that perfectly blends Americana, folklore, fairy tales, and general Halloween fun called Over the Garden Wall. Jessi and I carefully planned a menu full of treats inspired by the show and one of them is an old favorite classroom treat of mine: worms in dirt. Read on to learn a little about the history of this perfectly spooky treat!

Growing up, I knew this pudding with Oreo cookies and gummy worms as worms in dirt, but you might know it as dirt dessert or dirt cake. It was a staple of classroom Halloween parties when I was in elementary school in the 1990's and early 2000's, and would occasionally get trotted out in the spring time with a more floral theme. 

The first known published recipe for a dirt cake or dessert was in 1988, when a reader to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette submitted a recipe for "Kansas Dirt Cake." The dessert continued to spread around the Midwest and then traveled across the country throughout the 1990's. Early recipes sometimes used vanilla pudding, while the version I grew up eating definitely was an all chocolate extravaganza. Prepackaged versions began to hit the shelves in the 1990's and I believe have largely died off at this point, but the dessert is no bake and more than easy enough to make yourself. 

Despite always really enjoying this treat when someone else's mom or dad brought it in for the class to share, I'd never actually made it before, so I was really eager to give it a shot. I was also interested to see if it tasted as good as I remembered, as it had been at least fifteen years or so since I'd eaten it. 

To start, you crush up about 14 ounces of oreos. You can do this in a food processor, or throw them into a Ziploc bag like I did and mash them up with a rolling pin. The food processor is probably faster, but I still don't have one that isn't my immersion blender, and that definitely wasn't going to get the job done.

Next, mix two packets of instant chocolate pudding with four cups of milk. Whisk them together for two minutes, then let stand for five minutes. The pudding will get really nice and thick.

In a separate bowl, beat together one cup of powdered sugar with 8 ounces of room temperature cream cheese and 1/4 of a cup of room temperature butter. Add this with 8 ounces of Cool Whip into the pudding and fold the ingredients together until everything's combined. It should be a nice light brown color with no streaks of pure pudding or Cool Whip.

You can get as fancy or dressed down as you want with the presentation. I've seen people do individual flower pots with cookie flowers inside or just piling it into a baking dish. It's flexible that way. What you want to make sure you do is layer your crushed Oreos with the pudding so they're sprinkled throughout instead of just on top. 

I layered my dessert in a serving bowl and made three layers of cookies and two of pudding. The top layer was especially generous.

To garnish, you need gummy worms of course! I prefer the sour variety, but Jessi requested some of the non sour variety. 

You can also layer these in the dessert itself, but letting them sit in the pudding for too long makes their texture get pretty slimy, which is all well and good for worms, but might not be your speed for gummy worms.

Refrigerate it for at least four hours, and you're ready to serve! 

Let's take a look at what else made it on the table.

I tried to brainstorm ideas for treats that would reference almost every individual episode of Over the Garden Wall, which sounds ambitious until you realize there are only ten episodes, so not so bad, right? We ended up making: 

- Rock Fact spice cookies 
- Quincy Endicott Brand Ice Tea 
- Lorna's chocolate turtles 
- Edelwood Cake, a Swiss roll with orange marmalade filling 
- Huskin' Bee pumpkin pie 
- Worms in Dirt (eat your dirt!) 
- And, of course, potatoes and molasses

We also had plenty of Halloween candy courtesy of our guests! 

The party was a big success, and I'd definitely like to throw another, maybe with some cloud shaped meringues, puppy chow for Beatrice's dog, and some of the yummy treats in the tavern. Guess I have a year to think about what else to add to the menu! 

Over the Garden Wall is a really well done show and I can't recommend it enough. It first aired on Cartoon Network in 2014 and feels like a Brother's Grimm fairytale meets 1800's Americana and is a good mix of funny, cute, and genuinely a little spooky. It's available on DVD or for purchase on most streaming services for a reasonable price, and is definitely worth the investment.

Of course, it was also a costume party. Guess who I went as!

It's quite possibly the best Halloween costume I've ever put together. Finding the sweater was a challenge, but I'm really pleased I held out and kept looking for the right one. Definitely think this is going to see more use in years to come.

As for the worms in dirt?

It came out really well! Taking a spoonful immediately took me back to third grade, but in a good way. It tasted pretty much exactly as I remembered, and although it's super sweet, the texture of the softened Oreos and the silky pudding is very nice. 

Plus, finishing it off with a fruity gummy worm is always a good time.

I've always been interested in throwing fun theme parties, and while this required a lot of work, I'm really pleased with how it turned out. Our guests had a good time and we managed to time the prep of all our treats perfectly. There was no scrambling to the finish line at this party, and that's a rock fact! We even managed to get a good roll with minimal cracking on our Edelwood cake! 

Next year, if you're looking for a crowd pleasing dessert that feeds a lot of hungry guests, doesn't require putting on the oven, and comes together super quickly, give this 90's classic a shot. You won't regret it!

Happy Halloween!


  1. Happy Halloween! You were a super-cute Molly. I've seen "Over the Garden Wall" for rent at a local library. I might need to give it a look. :)

    1. If you do, let me know what you think! It's well worth a watch. :)

  2. I remember making these as part of a volunteer gig. We were a lot less fancy, with ready made pudding and Oreos as toppings only. What stuck out to me most was my first taste of dirt cup and how the gummi worms didn't pair well with the chocolate. The kids enjoyed them however, which mattered more.

    1. Yeah, it's definitely meant as a fun dessert for kids, so I don't think the gummy worms clashing is really an issue. ;)