Goulash for a Ghoul

Reading Time: 5 minutes


My friends will tell you that I’m eclectic. I’ve had a varied career having been at one point in my life a Jesuit specializing in exorcism. But eventually the collar got too tight – so to speak. I traveled and collected recipes from all over the world. An inheritance, including a mansion in Provence, permitted me to indulge in my whims. But mostly I puttered in the kitchen and sat on the patio reading, thinking thoughts both holy and not so holy.

I subscribed to a variety of magazines and journals and was surprised when I read the same ad in a gourmet magazine and another called Hiddenly Haunted (a mysterious gift subscription):

Ghost banging pots and pans seeking special meal. Serious replies only.

They included a PO box in Budapest.

Naturally I was curious and wrote. I received a written reply 10 days later. They asked me to send a letter with my bona fides, explaining that ghosts have been listening in on the internet since the very beginning: “It’s not glitches but ghosts that cause all the problems. Phone lines are not any better. They have their ways.”

(Image created by Marie Ginga from an image by upircek from Pixabay)

We exchanged several letters. They inquired as much about my culinary skills as my experience with “forces from the other side.” I submitted my Aunt Lilies recipe for stuffed cabbage, modifying it for Hungarian tastes, leaving out the tomatoes and cabbage leaf wraps while adding a generous amount of paprika as well as copies of articles on a few of my more significant exorcisms.

We came to terms. I was to prepare a banquet for a special family reunion. The dinner was to commemorate the 300th anniversary of the family’s residency in an old mansion halfway to Debrecen. Payment for my services was contingent on exorcising their ghost.

They sent a first-class train ticket quoting an old folk saying – there is little in the air but many ghosts in the heavens – and were waiting for me Saturday night when I arrived at Keleti pályaudvar – the main train terminal in Budapest.

They wished me to see the ghost for myself. It appeared every Sunday at 2 AM, floating around the kitchen banging pots and pans. For safety there were remote monitors in the den connected to two cameras set up at opposite corners of the kitchen.

The following day I was given a detailed history of the family and a painstakingly thorough tour of the house. I napped in the afternoon and stayed up to view their ghost. I was skeptical. At 1 AM the lights were turned on in the kitchen and the access doors locked. We all went into a large paneled den safely watch events unfold in the kitchen. There were animal trophies roaming the walls and skins sleeping on the floors. There was one large monitor sitting on the desk, another hanging below the family crest.

Forty-five minutes later, a mist rose from the area of the sinks and moved across the room. The clock begun to chime 2, and a swirl of smoke came down the hood over the range, picked up two large pots and banged them together again and again. The noise could be heard even behind the heavy wooden doors. This went on for 10 minutes and then the pots were tossed on the large table in the center of the kitchen; the mist and smoke dissipated. The ghost that remained hovered above the table. It was one of the most emaciated ghosts I’ve ever seen, more ghoulish than ghostlike. Then it flew up the hood over the massive range.

I was given free access to the mansion. However, even with the two helpers that were provided, I had little time free to investigate. I had exhaustively examined the kitchen the next morning but could find no signs of trickery. But the banquet now took over. I was only able to spend a few hours each night in the library, turning brittle pages in old leather volumes I found about the family.

All too quickly a week passed. On Sunday the chimes were rung promptly at 4:45 and 15 minutes later the family, formally dressed, assembled in the library for champagne and hors d’oeuvres, including Sajtos Pogácsa (cheese puffs), and several platters with a variety of bean spreads, all heavy on the paprika. These were prepared by their own chef.

The banquet commenced at 5:30; everyone was in high spirits. I’m pleased to report that the menu I prepared was received with enthusiasm. Twice I was summoned from the kitchen to be congratulated. My goulash, was especially remarked. Two of their grand dames implored me to share my secrets. I smiled and modestly confessed that the secret was in the Hungarian paprika. There was unanimous applause.

Soon it was time for dessert. Digestifs were brought for the men who had adjourned to the study and for the ladies who had moved on to the drawing room. I supervised the cleanup indicating that things could be washed the next morning.

Eventually the family retired. A few cousins who lived nearby had their chauffeurs bring around their cars. By midnight all was quiet; the heavy meal and alcohol apparently did the trick. And truthfully, I too was exhausted. I had made sure to prepare a large quantity of goulash and there was enough left to fill two large baking trays. These I put aside. My reading of the family histories had given me an idea. Not wanting to stay up and watch the monitors by myself, I went to bed but only after putting two trays of goulash on a hot plate and securely locking the kitchen.

At seven the next morning, there was a knock on my door. An excited maid said I should come quickly down to the kitchen.

The kitchen was spotless. The copper pots and pans hanging from the hood sparkled. The two baking trays that I had left out, were now empty. You could see your reflection in the bottom.

Shortly thereafter my employer came in, circled the central prep table and then clapped his hands, stopping in front of me. “I didn’t hear our family ghost last night. I thought perhaps I had overeaten but now I believe he is gone. You are to be congratulated. Perhaps you can share your secret?”

I smiled. “Some I can share; others are a chef’s secret. Clearly your ghost looked famished. I thought it only proper than he too be able to share in the anniversary dinner. I modified the goulash especially for him. Apparently it was a success.” I didn’t think it necessary to provide any more details. I had added copious amounts of a hot paprika that I had made myself as well as a few special ingredients from my Jesuit days. In any case, I doubt that the ghost will be back.

Proving: a ghastly goulash is good for a ghostly ghoul.

This story previously appeared in Bridge Eight, 2022.
Edited by Marie Ginga


Kenneth M. Kapp was a Professor of Mathematics, a ceramicist, a welder, an IBMer, and yoga teacher. He lives with his wife in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, writing late at night in his man-cave. He enjoys chamber music and mysteries. He was a homebrewer for more than 50 years and runs whitewater rivers on the foam that's left. His essays appear online in havokjournal.com and articles in shepherdexpress.com. Please visit kmkbooks for more information.