Halloween originated about 2000 years ago with the Celtic Festival of Samhain, celebrated on the eve of the Celts New Year. It was a superstition associated with the end of harvest and the beginning of the cold, dark winter when ghosts of the dead were believed to return to earth. Huge bonfires were built, crops and animals were sacrificed to the gods and the Celts wore costumes of animal heads and skins. Lovely.
About 600 years later, the Catholic pope at the time dedicated the Pantheon in Rome to honor all Christian martyrs and the feast of All Martyrs Day was established. Originally in May, the observance of this day was later moved and renamed All Saints’ Day on November 1st. Because the influence of Christianity had spread into Celtic lands, the older rites were blended with the new feast. It is believed that the church wanted to replace the Celtic festival of the dead with a church related holiday. So the traditional night of Samhain began to be called All-Hallows’ Eve and eventually Halloween.
The United States today celebrates Halloween as a child-friendly community event featuring parades, private gatherings and trick-or-treating in addition to being just another commercial holiday. Retail sales in America now exceed Christmas at this time of the year.
I have very fond memories of trick-or-treating as a child in the suburbs of Montgomery County, MD. I can still feel the crisp air, smell the mustiness of the fallen leaves and hear the crunch of those leaves under foot. Also, because I have an unrelenting sweet tooth, I still love candy corn (oh come on, you either do or you don’t)! However, I don’t like to be frightened; probably because I startle easily, so horror movies are never on my agenda. And I would be remiss if I neglected to mention It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown as it is always a must see TV this time of the year…endearing.
Halloween is a perfect opportunity for festive food with friends. I personally don’t consider it a holiday but love any excuse for a party especially when it involves a masquerade. An alternative to the typical costume party could be that you ghoulishly ask your guests to come dressed in attire that they wish to be buried in ~ utterly wicked!
I have a friend Midge who LOVES Halloween and her parties are always famously fun. She has the appropriate decorations and the artistic ability to pull it together. A few of the photos in this post were taken in her home by the two of us at her last party. By the way, her home IS haunted.
Midge’s food is ‘dressed up’ as well and dishes are named for the occasion such as blood stew and creepy fingers.
So let’s journey down the path of admiring any intricately carved pumpkin and I’ll share an easy, spooky menu for your party. Your guests will be bewitched.
First, you must set the mood. Honor the day with orange and black everywhere. How about rust colored calla lilies (my favorite flower) or orange roses? Dry some roses ahead and spray paint them black. Include some painted curly willow branches placed in skinny candlesticks as well. Votive candles always create a luminous yet mysterious ambiance and make sure to keep the lights low. Creepy spiders or skeletons add to the theme and are readily available online. I use pumpkins and gourds with dried flowers indoors and mums outdoors. Good enough to switch it up for Thanksgiving when you keep it fall-ish.
Music is just as important. Create a playlist with songs like the Monster Mash, Spooky and I Put a Spell on You. Of course don’t forget Michael Jackson’s brilliant Thriller album. I can still visualize the music video featuring Vincent Price from so long ago. You could also have typical sound effects like creaking doors, ghostly voices and a woman screaming!
Start your party off by offering a signature cocktail, say a Bloody Orange Cosmopolitan. Serve in a pharmacy ‘tincture’ bottle with a black licorice stick for stirring if desired.
Place trays of snacks around the room. Popcorn sprinkled with Old Bay seasoning, a charcuterie plate including eyeballs and my apple cheese tartlets*. If you want to be decadent you could prepare toast points with black and orange caviar. They create a beautiful presentation but are risky as not everyone cares for caviar so spare the expense! Opulent, right, Peggy?!
Depending on the number of guests, a simple buffet will complete the menu. Serve butternut squash bisque, mustard crusted lamb chops**, wild rice***, sweet potato biscuits and a fall salad. Finish the meal off later with a chocolate cake drizzled with orange ganache. Caramel apples or a candy bag can be your party gift!
*Ali’s Apple Cheese Tartlets
- 2 Granny Smith apples, peeled and diced
- 2 T. butter, melted
- 2 T. fresh lemon juice
- Puff pastry cups
- Sea salt
- Brie cheese, rind removed, cut into small pieces
- Toss apples with butter and lemon juice in a baking dish.
- Bake at 425 degrees until tender, 15-20 minutes.
- Bake pastry puff according to label.
- Turn oven off.
- Cool pastry slightly and pull out the tops of the cup.
- Fill with cooked apples.
- Top each with a small piece of brie, return to the warm oven just until brie begins to melt.
**Ali’s Mustard Crusted Lamb Chops
- 2 + 1/2 c. panko bread crumbs
- ¼ cup fresh parsley, chopped
- 2 large cloves garlic, minced
- 1 T. butter
- 30 lamb rib chops
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 5 T. Dijon mustard
- Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
- Combine bread crumbs, parsley, butter and garlic in a mini food processor.
- Season chops with salt and pepper.
- Brush 1 tsp. mustard on each chop.
- Press enough of bread crumb mixture over mustard to cover.
- Bake chops for 10-15 minutes for rare but watch that the coating does not burn.
***Ali’s Wild Rice
- 5 T. butter, divided
- 2 c. wild rice
- 3 + 1/3 c. chicken stock
- 2 – 14 oz. cans artichoke hearts, drained and hearts diced (discard leaves)
- 1 + ½ c. seedless green grapes (they add a bit of tart sweetness as wild rice can be quite earthy)
- ¾ c. pine nuts, toasted
- Salt and pepper to taste
- In a large skillet, melt 2 + ½ T. butter over medium heat.
- Add rice; stir to coat.
- Add broth, bring to a boil.
- Reduce heat; cover and simmer for about 50 minutes until rice cooked through and stock gone.
- Melt remaining butter in another large skillet over medium heat.
- Add artichokes and grapes; sauté just until warmed through.
- Add to rice with pine nuts. Season with salt and pepper.
Have fun and be safe!