On Cooking Southern: All Hallow’s Eats

group-DSCN5636Creepy craveables for the season.

By Laurie Triplette

ldtriplette@aol.com

SOUTHERNISM OF THE WEEK

Don’t let the grass grow under your feet: Excellent advice for anyone wanting to advance in a career, retain a top grade standing, or maintain that sports record. In other words, don’t stand around and do nothing. … Compatible with don’t rest on your laurels.

SOMETHING SPOOKY THIS WAY COMES

HAPPY HALLOWEEN, ALL SAINT’S DAY, and DIA DE LOS MUERTOS, y’all! Halloween has become one of the most popular quasi-holidays in America. But technically, Halloween is the Christian religion’s All Hallow’s Eve, the night before All Saints Day, when we remember and honor our recently departed. Halloween in recent years has become intertwined with the Mexican culture’s Dia de los Muertos, a celebration dating back thousands of years to the pre-Colombians. The current cycle of commemorating the dead encompasses All Hallow’s Eve (October 31), All Saint’s Day (November 1, when the departed come back to visit), and All Souls Day (November 2, when families go to the cemeteries to visit their departed relatives).

Some religious Christian denominations do not endorse Halloween. Nevertheless, children and teenagers have embraced the day for generations, as the day itself has evolved. We get to dress up in ridiculous costumes and conduct activities dedicated to scaring each other in a good way. And then there’s the candy. Who doesn’t want an excuse to beg candy from strangers?

When I was a child and pre-teen, we Baby Boomers ran amuck all over our towns on Halloween. We conspired to amass large grocery sacks full of trick-or-treat goodies. At the end of the evening the conspirators would dump out our sacks full of candy and compare the spoils, sharing with less favored younger siblings if feeling generous. When my own children were at the trick-or-treat age, they and their friends compared notes on which neighborhoods were known for handing out the “best” candy. Every Halloween, within 24 hours, every child in the community knew which neighborhood to target the following year because of the full-size chocolate candy bars and minibags containing multiple treats.

Today however, even in small towns such as Oxford, parents are leery of turning their children loose among strangers. Instead, the trend is to hosting Halloween parties and church events in order to protect children from mischief. Halloween-themed cookies and candies have become popular fare at such events. Cookies and cupcakes can be baked and decorated to resemble spider webs, goblins, and jack-o’lanterns. Candies also offer a multitude of opportunities for creativity.

This week The Old Bride is including two versions of Halloween cookies, along with a popular candy sweet that works as well at the year-end holidays.

WICKED WITCHES’ FINGERS

witchesfingers-DSCN5605Several versions of this Halloween-themed cookie are floating around the internet. They all are based on a rich sugar cookie embellished with almonds for the fingernails, and red gel for, well you know…. If your children don’t present sensitivity to food dyes, add green food coloring to transform the ordinary witches’ fingers into those of Elphaba, the green protagonist of Wicked fame.

1 c butter, softened (2 sticks)

1 c confectioner’s sugar

1 large egg

1 tsp almond extract

1 tsp vanilla extract

5 drops of green food coloring, OPTIONAL

2-2/3 c all-purpose flour

1 tsp baking powder

1 tsp salt

60 whole almonds (about 3/4 c)

1 (.75-oz) tube of red decorating gel, or two (.68-oz) tubes of red writing icing

In a mixing bowl, beat together the butter, sugar, egg, and extracts until creamy. Beat in up to 5 drops of green food coloring. Sift together the dry ingredients. Gradually mix into the wet batter until thoroughly blended to form dough. Cover and refrigerate one hour.

Preheat oven to 325˚F and line cookie sheets with parchment paper. Remove dough from fridge in small portions, keeping dough chilled as long as possible. Scoop a heaping tablespoon at a time and roll it to form a thin, finger-shaped cylinder. Press one almond into one end of each cookie, pressing the cookie tip to resemble a fingertip. Squeeze and shape each cookie near center to form a joint and again at the other end to form a knuckle. Arrange the shaped cookies on baking sheets, about 2 inches apart.

Bake on middle rack until bottoms of cookies turn light gold, about 20 to 25 minutes depending on your oven. Remove to a rack to cool. While still warm, pop off the almond from each cookie, squeeze a dot of red writing icing or gel into the cavity, and replace the almond, pressing until the gel oozes out around the nut. Allow cookies to cool completely before serving. Store in a metal container until ready to serve. Yield: About 40 cookies.

GHOSTLY GOBLIN COOKIES

goblincookies-DSCN5610These sugar cookies are iced. The icing can be colored with food coloring and the cookie shapes altered to create themes for other holidays.

White Icing Glaze:

2-1/4 c confectioners sugar

2 T light corn syrup

1-12 to 2 T plus 1 tsp milk

In a small bowl, whisk together the sugar, corn syrup and milk until smooth. Add the milk a bit at a time, adjusting the consistency. If too little milk is added, the glaze won’t spread properly. Too much milk, and the glaze becomes too thin and spotty, developing splotchiness. Allow the cookies to “dry” at least three hours before storing them. Yields enough for about 20 goblin cookies, so double the recipe as needed.

Cookies:

1 c butter, softened (2 sticks)

1 c confectioner’s sugar

1 large egg

1 tsp almond extract

1 tsp vanilla extract

2-2/3 c all-purpose flour

1 tsp baking powder

1 tsp salt

White icing glaze

Nonpareils or chocolate chips

Tube of red writing icing

In a mixing bowl, beat together the butter, sugar, egg, and extracts until creamy. Sift together the dry ingredients. Gradually mix into the wet batter until thoroughly blended to form dough. Cover and refrigerate 30 minutes to one hour.

Preheat oven to 325˚F and line cookie sheets with parchment paper. Remove dough from fridge in small portions, keeping dough chilled as long as possible. Scoop a heaping tablespoon at a time, roll into a ball, and place onto a piece of waxed paper, folding the paper over the dough. Press lightly with a rolling pin to elongate the cookie shape. Arrange the shaped cookies on baking sheets, about 2 inches apart.

Bake on middle rack until cookies are light gold, about 20 to 25 minutes depending on your oven. Remove to a rack to cool, and while still warm, decorate the top of each cookie with white icing. Press two black nonpareils or two chocolate chips near the top end to resemble eyes. Draw a circular mouth below the eyes with red gel or writing icing. Allow cookies to cool completely before serving. Store in a metal container until ready to serve. Yields: About 36 to 40 cookies.

spider-turtlesDSCN5619SPIDER BLOBS (PRETZEL TURTLES)

20 cheesy mini pretzel twists

20 chocolate-covered caramel candies (I use Rolos)

20 pecan halves

Preheat oven to 325˚F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Position the pretzels on the baking sheet, about 1 inch apart. Place one chocolate-covered caramel candy in the center of each pretzel. Bake in the oven for 3 to 4 minutes, until the candy is warm but not yet collapsing. Remove from oven and press pecan half in the center of each candy. Cool completely, and store in an airtight metal container until ready to serve.

Laurie Triplette is a writer, historian, and accredited appraiser of fine arts, dedicated to preserving Southern culture and foodways. Author of the award-winning community family cookbook GIMME SOME SUGAR, DARLIN’, and editor of ZEBRA TALES (Tailgating Recipes from the Ladies of the NFLRA), Triplette is a member of the Association of Food Journalists (AFJ),Southern Foodways Alliance (SFA)  and the Southern Food and Beverage Museum (SOFAB). Check out the GIMME SOME SUGAR, DARLIN’ web site: www.tripleheartpress.com and follow Laurie’s food adventures on Facebook and Twitter (@LaurieTriplette).

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