Khaki (my mother) and my sister Andrea are two of the biggest Halloween fanatics I have ever met. Halloween on North Park Street in my hometown is like Bourbon Street for children. To have a thousand trick-or-treaters stop by is a conservative number. It’s always been a hotspot, but for some reason the popularity of the place exploded about 10 years ago. I haven’t been in a couple years but will get my chance this weekend. The excitement is already killing me.
I’m not sure who to thank or chastise for the level of participation. The evening begins with us thinking how great it is to see all the ghouls and goblins with the super heroes and princesses, but a couple hours into it we get a little claustrophobic. It quickly turns into shift work. One person goes inside to rest a spell while another works the candy basket. Grumblings of “I hope my kids don’t act like that,” and, “isn’t this one a little old to be doing this?” quite literally wash away once the final Jolly Rancher hits the last plastic pumpkin and the porch light is extinguished.
By then it’s time to help your kids count their take and pray it’s not more than we gave away. It’s time to crack open a cold one. It’s time to remove the wig and fake beard from your real hair and beard and take off that God awful footwear. It’s time to enjoy what is waiting on the decorated dining room table and buffet.
Here the spread, laid out before me, is traditionally the same. Vegetable soup, chili, redneck caviar, tea cakes, witches’ wands, a pie pumpkin hollowed out for vegetable dip, roasted pumpkin seeds, and a fridge full of whatever I choose to imbibe. Khaki is a tee-totaler.
It doesn’t sound that extravagant. But when you walk in there is a sense that something special is there. It’s a spot where simplicity meets complexity. Some recipes we know by heart. Others require a trip to the pile of index cards with handwritten instructions passed down to us from neighbors of yesteryear. It’s things like Miss Hightower’s cheese straws or some dark rum elixir Tucker had given me when I was still underage (remember Khaki doesn’t touch the stuff) that make this party all about the neighborhood rather than a single household inviting its cross-town friends. It goes back decades.
So here’s a taste of Halloween from my hometown.
Roasted pumpkin seeds
Lucas would be upset if I didn’t make these. My first taste was when my dad made them. He was a younger man then than I am now, so hopefully mine are just as good. We never carve fewer than three jack-o-lanterns and most of them are picked too early for anything other than decoration, but the seeds are perfectly good for eating. I don’t even attempt to get all of them, just enough to cover a cookie sheet.
Cover the seeds in a large pot of water. This makes it easier to remove the stringy excess pumpkin bits. As I clean them I transfer them to a colander. It’s a tedious process, but worth it. I may wash them ten times just to be sure.
At this point some people like to boil the seeds for 10 minutes. I never do. I prefer them crunchy, almost brittle, and I intend to eat the whole thing. Either way, dry the seeds on paper towels.
Spray cookie sheet with cooking spray. You could coat the seeds in olive oil or even use butter if you’re daring. I give them a light spray on top once they are on the lubricated cookie sheet.
Season. This is up to you. Seasoned salt seems to be the best thing for my boys right now. I personally prefer a fine ground Creole seasoning, but some of those are a little spicy for Graham. Lemon pepper has also worked well in the past. Why not make a few different batches?
Slap those babies into a 325-degree pre-heated oven for about 10 minutes and you’ll be good to go.
Pumpkin and ghost tea cakes
These are the favorite of Graham. I love them because they aren’t very sweet and the texture is different from your normal cookie. I actually do enjoy them with hot tea, but cider would be a better choice.
2 and 1/4 cups sugar
2 sticks of butter
1 cup shortening
1 tablespoon vanilla
5 cups self-rising flour
Cinnamon to taste
Pumpkin and ghost cookie cutters
Beat together the sugar, butter and shortening. Add the two eggs and the vanilla. Mix well. Add the flour. Once fully incorporated cover and chill for at least an hour.
Roll thin and cut out with cookie cutters. Place on an ungreased cookie sheet and sprinkle with cinnamon. Bake at 325 degrees until lightly brown (about 10-12 minutes).
Sure, tea cakes are actually cookies. These are supposed to be relatively dry and pretty crunchy. A trick is to tell a friend it’s a sugar cookie. Muhahaha! Evil to the core! If you know what you’re getting into these are delicious, and I don’t want a Halloween without them.
Whatever you decide on serving this Halloween, make it count. These kids are only young once, and I hope they have traditions that last as long as the ones I still celebrate. Carve up those pumpkins, roast those seeds, bake those cookies, and have a safe Halloween!