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Harry's mouth fell open. The dishes in front of him were now piled with food. He had never seen so many things he liked to eat on one table: roast beef, roast chicken, pork chops and lamb chops, sausages, bacon and steak, boiled potatoes, roast potatoes, fries, Yorkshire pudding, peas, carrots, gravy, ketchup, and, for some strange reason, peppermint humbugs.

The Dursleys had never exactly starved Harry, but he'd never been allowed to eat as much as he liked. Dudley had always taken anything that Harry really wanted, even if It made him sick. Harry piled his plate with a bit of everything except the peppermints and began to eat. It was all delicious.

-- Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by JK Rowling.

I don’t get from what reason Harry excluded peppermints. Is it just a dessert that has to be picked up after his meal? Or is there any other reason?

4

Peppermints are, shall we say, not a normal part of a meal. Like all mints, they have peculiar effects on the mouth, changing the taste of anything eaten after them, usually not for the better. And peppermint in particular tends to be associated pretty strongly with toothpaste.

You will sometimes encounter after-dinner mints, which are often mint-flavored (not peppermint-flavored) chocolates, but could be peppermint candies (the round ones with red stripes), or even, indeed, peppermint humbugs. However, as the name "after-dinner mint" implies, these are something eaten after the meal, as a sort of palate-cleanser or breath freshener.

That all said, the passage doesn't imply any particular reason for Harry leaving out the peppermints, and there isn't a cultural reference that you're missing or anything like that. Harry could have been putting off the peppermints for eating after dinner, or perhaps he was just a sensible boy who didn't like his food to taste like toothpaste. (Disclaimer: I hate all things mint in any use other than toothpaste. Mint chocolate chip ice cream, in particular, is a mortal sin in my book.)

peppermint candies peppermint humbugs

Note that "humbug" as a type of candy is definitely a British term: on this side of the pond, we only use the word "humbug" in the "bah, humbug" sense.

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The set of items that were on offer for Harry were:

 {
   roast beef, roast chicken, pork chops and lamb chops, 
   sausages, bacon and steak, boiled potatoes, roast potatoes, 
   fries, Yorkshire pudding, peas, carrots, gravy, ketchup, peppermint humbugs 
 }

He put on his plate everything except peppermints, i.e. he put the following items on his plate:

 {
   roast beef, roast chicken, pork chops and lamb chops, 
   sausages, bacon and steak, boiled potatoes, roast potatoes, 
   fries, Yorkshire pudding, peas, carrots, gravy, ketchup
 }

No reason is given for his choice, but presumably it is due to his own personal preference. Perhaps he just doesn't like peppermint humbugs. There are no cultural implications for his choice implied by the passage.

  • 1
    It may be a bit of a stretch, but one might surmise that since Dudley took everything good from Harry, 1. Harry probably never got many peppermints and 2. Harry probably observed that Dudley always made himself sick eating peppermints and so didn't really view them as a desirable item. – Jim Nov 27 '13 at 3:33
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"roast beef, roast chicken, pork chops and lamb chops, sausages, bacon and steak, boiled potatoes, roast potatoes, fries, Yorkshire pudding, peas, carrots, gravy, ketchup," are all dinner items.

Peppermints are more suitable for a snack, or maybe dessert.

Harry was smart enough not to mix dessert with dinner.

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I think another reason is it is supposed to show that despite his deprived upbringing, Harry's still capable of exercising restraint. Peppermint is a dessert, and it wrecks your palate if you try to eat anything after, so it is prudent of him to not take any.

I think the scene is also indicative of how wizards do things in kind of a weird way compared to muggles. Muggles wouldn't put anything peppermint out with savory dinner things, but wizards do.

  • Given that he's piling his plate I think it's about the fact that it's a bit weird to have sweets in the middle of your meal not that he's showing restraint. – starsplusplus Feb 7 '14 at 11:20
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I daresay, peppermints humbugs have a pretty strong taste. In fact, they're usually use as palate-cleanser or breath freshener. And I suppose, (because I don't know many British's habits) peppermint humbugs should be offered after dinner and many people could find its flavour hot. But everybody knows, Dumbledore's eccentric. It could be the best explanation!

Only Jo Rowling knows.

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