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Laurie Colwin's Halloween




"A grandmother pretends she doesn't know
who you are on Halloween."

.~ Erma Bombeck

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Happy Halloween, Jack O'Lantern at Window
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Pumpkin Halloween Festival, St. Joseph, MO
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Grinning Lit Jack-O-Lanterns Filling a Tree and a Porch
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La Belle Cuisine



More Home Cooking:
A Writer Returns to the Kitchen

by Laurie Colwin, 1995, HarperPerennial

“As every parent knows, children are great traditionalists. All you need to
do is set something in motion and you will find yourself doing it the same way, year after year. Psychologists say this is good for us. The things that keep mankind going – ritual, stability, routine – are beginning to fray, and
we are all the worse for it.
No matter what else happens in October, Halloween is still the big deal. Therefore, if I forget to buy that nasty, synthetic wooly stuff that one
tacks to windows to look like fake cobwebs, chaos reigns. My daughter
likes the same thing, year after year, and I must confess that I do, too.
On Halloween the parents in our neighborhood dress up their precious
angels and form a parade, complete with flashlights and homemade noisemakers, and march around the General Theological Seminary.
Afterward people must be taken home and fed, usually the same thing
that you fed them last year.
I don’t mind admitting that I have never liked pumpkin. I hate pumpkin pie
and am lukewarm about pumpkin soup. I once had an unhappy encounter with a stew served in pumpkin: It did not further endear pumpkin to me. I have bought cheese pumpkins as well as ‘pie’ or ‘sweetie pie’ pumpkins. These are pale orange, dense-fleshed, and not a bit stringy, and not to be
used for jack-o’-lanterns. I have steamed them and baked them and fried
them. I have dotted them with butter and brown sugar and scattered them
with garlic and cheese, and I still say it’s pumpkin and to hell with it.
Children, however, seem to require something pumpkin-like on the table
at Halloween even if they don’t eat it. For them I recommend butternut
or acorn squash split, seeded, and baked with butter and brown sugar.
The seeds, of course, go into a colander with the seeds from the jack-o’-lantern to be endlessly washed and separated from any pumpkin or squash sludge, then drained, salted, and roasted. When you serve these before or after dinner, even adults will tell you how delicious they are.


For grown-ups, I suggest the Pumpkin Tian in John Thorne’s noble
and mighty ‘Simple Cooking’. John Thorne, who lives in Maine, puts
out a newsletter of the same name that is enchanting, opinionated, and
full of good things. The pumpkin tian, in addition to being one of the
most delicious things you will ever eat, demonstrates that the whole is
more magnificent than the sum of its meager parts. The first time I
made this dish I almost collapsed at the realization that something so
easy could taste so wonderful.
My version of the recipe calls for either butternut or delicate squash or
a combination of the two. For Squash Tian, proportions aren’t the issue, method is; but for 4 people you’ll probably need about 2 big butternuts or
4 of the sweeter, medium-size delicatas. Peel, seed, and cut the squash
 into 1-inch chunks. Shake the chunks in a bag of flour, shaking off the
excess flour, and put them into an oiled or buttered shallow baking dish.
Scatter the squash with about 1/3 cup of good Parmesan; 1 large garlic
clove, minced; and pepper to taste. Drizzle the tian with about 1/4 to 1/3
cup best olive oil and put it into a preheated 400-degree F. oven. The
oven must be really hot, or instead of a crispy-topped, melting (‘molten,’
John Thorne says) dish you will end up with a sodden mess – trust me, I
have had this happen. Bake the tian for 30 to 40 minutes. I myself would
be very happy to eat this with a salad, but as we do not necessarily live
by vegetables alone, something else must be provided – especially if you
provided it last year.


I recommend
Meat Loaf
which is good hot, cold, or at room temperature and can be made in
advance. It is nice, homey food and usually a hit with old and young.
I love meat loaf of any kind. Like potato salad, it always seems to be
good. I have never run into an unlovable meat loaf [I have!], but I have
loved some better than others. A few years ago I ran into a really deli-
cious meat loaf at Caldwell’s Corner, the premier breakfast and lunch
place in West Cornwall, Connecticut. This meat loaf’s winning feature
is its texture, which is light and velvety. Naturally I attempted to prize
out of David Caldwell (an agreeable, bearded former coffee buyer and
father of twins) the secret of his success, which actually may be that of
his wife, Alice. The trick is to soak two 1-inch-thick slices of home-
made bread (crusts discarded) in 1 cup buttermilk for 20 minutes
and stir the mixture into 2 pounds ground chuck with 2 large eggs.
The Caldwells make their own bread, but any good, grainy loaf, such
as levain, will do. Perfectionists can buy a round loaf – about 7 inches
in diameter and about  3 inches high – and cut 2 slices from the middle.
(In a pinch, 2 slices of the best packaged bread you can find will do.)
It doesn’t matter how you season the meat loaf: Every cook has a dif-
ferent method. I use 1 large garlic clove, minced; 1 tablespoon Dijon-
style mustard; 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce; and 1 tablespoon
. Sometimes I add a couple of tablespoons of a nice thing called
Ortolina, which tastes rather like a concentrated form of V8 vegetable
juice. You can buy it in a tube or a jar in specialty food shops. Bake
the meat loaf in a loaf pan, 9 by 5 by 3 inches, at 350 degrees F. for
about 1 hour. The bread and buttermilk combination makes this meat
loaf light and springy. If you keep kosher, rich chicken stock would
probably work as well as buttermilk.


After a green salad, the children will want dessert.
Of course, you have stayed up the night before decorating a spiderweb
cake. I made this one year and have not been permitted to stop. It is
any old cake decorated with orange icing using the fine nib of the cake-
decorating kit (the one you write ‘Happy Birthday’ with) in a spiderweb design. And because you have been a good person and have bought the
nasty, synthetic wooly stuff that makes fake cobwebs, you also have a
black plastic spider (it comes in the package) to put on your cake. That
is, unless you are amazingly energetic and have decided to create your
own spider out of icing, which can be done by anyone possessing paste
food coloring and a field guide.
But what kind of cake? My vote is for something called Wensley
Cake, a recipe from a now-defunct cooking magazine. (It is a sad fact
of life that many of my best recipes come from now-defunct sources.)
A Wensley Cake is meant to have a layer of Wensleydale cheese. I
have made it this way, and although I thought it was delicious, my
family found it weird. Made without cheese it is just plain delicious.

Wensley Cake

1. Beat together 2 sticks butter [1 cup] and 1 cup brown sugar.
2. Beat in 4 lightly beaten large eggs.
3. Stir in 2 cups all-purpose flour, 1 teaspoon baking powder,
1 teaspoon ground ginger, and 1/4 teaspoon each of mace,
ground cloves, and cinnamon.

4. Stir in 1 cup golden raisins (dried cherries are a very nice
substitute if you’re lucky enough to have some). 1 1/4
cups currants, 1 cup dark raisins, 1 cup grated apple,
and the grated zest of 1 orange
. Mix well.
Bake the cake in a buttered 8-inch round cake pan (2 inches deep) lined
with parchment paper in the middle of a preheated 375-degree F. oven for
25 minutes. Reduce the heat to 325 degrees F. and bake for 1 hour more, checking the cake from time to time. It is done when a skewer comes out
with some crumbs adhering to it.
The cake, wrapped in wax paper and stored in a tin, improves after a
few days and keeps well if you happen to have any left. This nice, old-fashioned dessert has a lot of depth to it. In fact, the whole meal has a lot
of depth to it – a cheering supper on a spooky night, usually right after
daylight saving time disappears and the sky gets dark around 4:30.

Last year our children marched happily around the block, and the minute
they got inside a torrential storm broke. A ten-year-old neighbor appeared
wearing a gorilla suit and a terrifying mask with little red eyes that blinked,
and although he kept taking off his mask and saying, ‘Don’t be scared!
I’m Robert Jordan!’ my daughter and her friends remained in a state of
exhausted petrifaction.
Then my husband appeared, having been pelted with eggs and almost
mugged by some overzealous teens. The rain beat down, Robert’s mask
was taken off for good, my husband’s jacket was put in the washing
machine, and after dinner not a crumb was left.”

Featured Archive Recipes:
Laurie Colwin on Red Peppers
Laurie Colwin's Roast Chicken
Laurie Colwin on Chocolate
Laurie Colwin on Potato Salad
How to Make Gingerbread (Laurie Colwin)
Three Chocolate Cakes (Laurie Colwin)
Gratin of Pumpkin (Jacques Pepin)
Old-Fashioned Meat Loaf
Pumpkin and Shiitake Ravioli with Sage Butter
Spice Applesauce Cake

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Holiday Central!
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