My favorite Halloween was when I was ten. I lived in a small Vermont town in the 1960’s where every kid went trick-or-treating with few of the modern hyped fears of abduction, poisonings, or occult murders. Our only fears were the fantastic, spooky ones we could conjure in our imaginations as we raced around in the dark in hideous disguises. That year, my costume was a sheet to which my mother had stitched the rubber skull mask I’d worn the year before. The skull was nicely ghoulish, with rubber nails driven into its forehead and deep, black eye sockets that made my eyes seem fiendish as they darted back and forth from behind. I had verified the effect in the bathroom mirror but had stronger evidence of the mask’s hideousness–my mother had raised an eyebrow and sighed when I had chosen it at the store.
There was a full moon in the sky that night, with a high wind that sent dark-bellied clouds sailing fast and grand against a bright-starred sky. It was very cold, and my mother had made sure I had on my long johns and red flannel winter coat under the ghostly sheet. What cold bit through this armor only set a nice shiver along my spine, quite in keeping with the holiday.
Our town swarmed with costumed kids at Halloween. We’d form up into groups of friends and start the evening by gathering treats. These were all completely worthless by current nutritional standards. Word of who was giving out good treats, such as candy bars or gum, quickly spread and brought mobs of supplicant kids. Some houses in the center of town got hundreds of callers. One pair of elderly sisters got so many callers that they had children sign in to discourage trick-or-treaters from collecting twice. This wasn’t a foolproof system. Often, a kid would discover that someone with exactly the same name as theirs had already visited the old ladies. They’d look up from the ledger like a John Smith trying to register with a Jane Smith at a motel and swear that someone else had skunked them by stealing their name. The kindly ladies would look skeptical but they never turned a kid away.
After filling our sacks with candy, we’d turn to tricks. Soaped windows and toilet-papered trees were about as wild as my friends and I ever got. We’d also try our best to surprise girls, popping out from behind bushes or the corner of a house. They’d always shriek but they seemed to enjoy it, especially when the boy yelling “Boo!” was someone they liked. An older eye might have noticed that the same girls somehow managed to be surprised over and over by the same boys behind the same bushes.
For us grammar-school boys, the heroes of Halloween were the high-school boys who executed spectacular pranks. They did things like hang a dummy from a telephone pole or put a dress on the statue in the town common of a Civil War soldier. One year, a couple of farm boys put a manure spreader to rather spectacular use that made the park lawn much greener in the spring.
The fun always seemed to end too soon. Parents would call from their porches, Jack-o’-lanterns would flicker and die, and the streets would empty. We lived on a farm at the edge of town, and I remember feeling a wonderful, wild thrill as I ran home with a pillowcase full of candy across the cow pasture. The dark woods came down from the hills to edge the pasture, and I could imagine all sorts of things hiding in them, peering out at me. I should have been nervous, but, as the wind cast my sheet around me and I gazed out of my rubber mask, I felt quite different. I felt like whatever was crouched out there under the evergreens should be afraid of me. Then I crested the stone wall that topped the hill above our house. I could see the barn, dark and huge, like a monstrous creature snoozing a bit before moving on to crush Tokyo. Across the road was our house. My folks had left the porch light on for me. It cast a small circle of yellow warmth matched by the shaded windows of the house. The wind had grown icy. It pushed heavier clouds overhead and it suddenly began to spit snow. Winter comes early in Vermont. I should have wanted to run down the hill and into our warm kitchen, but I almost ran off into the woods. Of course, I didn’t. But every Halloween since, I’ve wondered if I should have.
–Ed Morrow is author of The Halloween Handbook: A Complete Guide to Tricks, Treats, Activities, Crafts, Decorations, Recipes, History, Costumes and Creatures, from which this piece (and recipes) are excerpted.
There are patches full of pumpkin pie recipes. Here’s a simple one published by the Vermont Department of Agriculture has published a recipe for pumpkin custard pie that reads:
2/3 cup honey
1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1/2 tsp. allspice
1/2 tsp. ground cloves
1 1/2 cups cooked pumpkin
1 2/3 cups evaporated milk
Refrigerate a 9 inch pie shell for several hours. Preheat your oven to 425 degrees F. Combine ingredients. Beat till smooth, then pour into the shell. Bake at 425 degrees for 15 minutes, then lower heat to 350 degrees and bake for another 35 minutes or until the filling has set. Take care, as it is easy to undercook or overcook the pie. Let the pie cool before serving it.
A batch of 16 pumpkin muffins can be made using the following recipe:
1/4 cup molasses
1/4 cup chopped pecans
1/2 cup softened butter
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 cup pureed pumpkin
1 3/4 cups flour
1/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
1 beaten egg
Cream the molasses, butter and sugar. Add the egg and pumpkin. Blend. Mix the flour, salt, and baking soda. Beat this into the pumpkin mix. Fold in the chopped pecans. Fill the cups of a greased muffin pan half-full with the mix. Bake at 375° for 20 minutes.
For variety, small quantities of raisins, whole cranberries, and/or orange zest can be added.