I used to think that I was pretty creative, but the years have shown that this was mostly in my head. Oh well, at least my imagination is good, right? For many years now I have carved the exact same face into the pumpkin for Halloween. I always have grand ideas of creating something new but when it comes down to it, I end up drawing the same face as the year before. When I wander through the neighborhood I always see houses with these fantastically carved pumpkins that I would never be able to duplicate. Some people's pumpkins have super intricate details that can only come from using tools I do not own. I have heard of people using drills, saws and Dremel tools to carve their pumpkins. I think if I tried to use those it would just be a huge mess, and I would still end up with the same design as always. I especially like when people create shadows and different effects by not carving all the way through their pumpkins, a technique I have never been able to master. Some people even use parts of the pumpkin that I usually throw out like the seeds and the pieces that are carved away. A lot of homes have three or four pumpkins and they perch them on top of tables and chairs forming a little pumpkin tableaux or stack them on top of each other to make a pumpkin totem. For me it’s two round holes for eyes, one small round hole for a nose, and one round hole for the mouth, slightly off center. That's basically it. The pumpkins I carve are actually for my mother’s house and for the past several years she has purchased two pumpkins to carve. For the second pumpkin I search the Internet for a simple stencil that I can tape to the pumpkin and carve by following the pattern. Shout out to pumpkinlady.com where I always find a stencil I like (and can carve). In general though, pumpkin number two is pretty much like pumpkin number 1, two holes for eyes, one for the nose and one for the mouth. Maybe one of these days I’ll try a more complicated stencil and see what happens. I have to say however, despite my simple carvings and a repeated pattern every year, no one has ever complained about my pumpkins, kids don't stop at the door and refuse to take candy based on the fact they saw the same pattern last year. In fact I think it's a treat for them, a way for them to remember the 'good ole' days of last year, yeah... that's my story and I'm sticking to it!
I remember the very first year David and I were in our current home. When Halloween came around I went to the market and bought a whole lot of candy for the trick-or-treater’s. I decorated the front porch with plastic ghosts and lined the walkway with glowing brown paper bags. I put a cassette tape (that's right I said cassette tape) in the “boom box” that had spooky sounds on it and let it play though the window. I carved my pumpkin, put a candle in it, set it out by the door and then I waited. The neighborhood has a lot of kids but our house was new and I suppose they didn't know to come down our block, so every now and then I would walk out and stand on the sidewalk to see if anybody was coming down the street, then walk back into the house slightly dejected, my head hung low like I was a failure. A few kids finally came by and I handed them each a few fun sized candy bars and off they went. Again I waited and waited. Just as I was about to give up, turn out the porch light and extinguish the pumpkin, a group of about four or five kids came to the door. I looked at the kids, looked at the giant bowl of candy and said to myself; what would the Great Pumpkin do? So I tipped the bowl and shoveled handfuls of candy into each kids bag. For the last kid, I just took the bowl and poured whatever was left into the kid's bag and he gasped loudly. I shut the door, turned out the lights and went to bed. The next year when Halloween came around, I decorated, put out the pumpkin, put on the scary sounds tape and hoped for a better turnout than the year before. A little after sunset I was surprised to see there was a line of kids forming at our door. I think every kid in the neighborhood came by our place that year and I wouldn't be surprised if they had invited kids from other neighborhoods to tag along with them as well. I imagine those kids that had come by our place the year before had told all their friends how they scored a jackpot of candy from our house and they all wanted to see if that was true. I did have a lot of candy ready, so no one was disappointed, but no one got those giant handfuls that I suppose they were imagining.
Remind me sometime to tell you the story of how, before the next time Halloween came around, we had gotten a German Shepherd who barked so loudly every time the door bell rang, we didn't need to purchase candy anymore because no kid ever dared venture down our walk again!
So Halloween is almost on us again and I thought I would share with you one of my favorite things... Caramel apples. I don't know why I like them so much, maybe it's the tart apple offset by the sweet caramel. Maybe it's the way I tell myself "hey it's fruit, fruit is good for you..." right? Maybe it's just that it's food on a stick, how cool is that? Whatever the reason, I am a big fan. There were a few times on Halloween that I made caramel apples and brought them to the office for the staff and was surprised that they went over so well. No one likes to admit they would ever eat one, but usually before lunch they would all be gone and all that would be left on the plate was the candy corn I sprinkled on as decoration. At the end of the day I would go to the kitchen and retrieve my plate only to find the candy corn was also gone. I am going to honest and tell you though that I am the type of person who uses a knife to slice the caramel apple rather than trying to bite into it (I know, I’m weird), but I think this stems from the fact that I really like eating caramel apples from the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory. If you have one of these stores near you, you’ll know what I’m talking about. Their apples are BIG and not only covered from top to bottom in thick caramel but they also roll them in crushed peanuts, almonds, pecans, Oreo cookies, or even M & M’s. They are super good, but just a little hard to actually bite into.
So, there are two ways to make caramel apples, you can buy a bag of caramels at the store and unwrap each one, melt them down, and dunk your apples, or you can make your own caramel. I have often followed the recipe on the bag of caramels from the store (hey they even include some sticks in the bag, so that makes things easy) and I have never been too terribly disappointed (I never had to throw an apple away, that's for sure). Around Halloween grocery stores will start stocking bags of caramels usually somewhere near the apples (look for Kraft Classic Caramels). Pick up a bag and simply follow the instructions on the back of the package. It doesn’t get easier than that. At other times I have made my own caramel and there are some benefits to doing so. For one, you can choose how dark you want your caramel to be while you're cooking your sugar, which will give you different flavor notes in the caramel and secondly you don't have to unwrap all those little candies. Today I made my own caramel and I let the sugar get dark amber in color before adding the cream, which gives the caramel a nice nutty flavor that I really like. You can make your own caramel by following the advice and recipe of my good friend Stella Parks over at SeriousEats.com. I call Stella my good friend because she once responded to an email I wrote her! OMG, BFF's, right? Thanks Stella, and if you're ever in the neighborhood, feel free to stop by; it would be an honor. There's is only one thing I will say about Stella's recipe and that is I usually only get about 6 or 7 apples out a batch of caramel, not the 8 to 12 her recipe indicates and I am sure that has everything to do with the size of apples I choose, and the amount of caramel I let run off after dipping.
I almost exclusively use Granny Smith apples because the tart apple and caramel taste so good together (and Stella's recipe has some salt in it to which adds an extra layer of goodness) but you should use your favorite apple.
Check out Stella's post to learn how to make these caramel apples here. Also do yourself a favor and check out her cookbook Brave Tart: Iconic American Desserts!
Oh, and have a safe and happy Halloween folks!
PS, if making caramel apples isn't for you at all, and you're lucky enough to have a Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory near you, go there and treat yourself to one! It will make your taste buds very happy!