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Halloween’s become a monster of a holiday.
The National Retail Federation expects Americans to shell out $8.4 billion this year, compared to last year when we spent a mere $6.9 billion on decorations, soirees and entertainment, and elaborate costumes for both people and pets.
When I was a kid, most people still made their own costumes, put a few jack-o-lanterns on the porch, and called it a day. For trick-or-treating, Mom dressed me as a clown, hobo or ghost, then my dad took me to the houses of people my parents knew very well.
Back in 1964, a Long Island, N.Y., woman named Helen Pfeil, had horrified the nation when she handed out little packages of ant poison buttons, dog biscuits and steel wool to teens she thought were too old for trick-or-treating. Pfeil said it was a joke, but was arrested and sent for a mental evaluation, charged and ended up pleading guilty to child endangering. No one was physically harmed as a consequence of her bizarre actions, and she received a suspended sentence. Even so, the thought of candy poisoning spooked many a parent.
After my parents declared the wrappers safe, I was free to chow down on my sugary loot, and I especially enjoyed the new “fun size” Snickers and Milky Way bars. But the very best part of Halloween was in the few days before, in the kitchen where Mom made treats that would last our family at least a full week into November.
When I thumbed through “The Southern Cookie Book” earlier this year, I felt like I was reliving part of my childhood. I’ve been looking forward to sharing the accompanying recipes with you. They are very similar to some of the homemade goodies my family enjoyed around Halloween.
SWEET & SALTY POPCORN SNACK MIX
Makes about 17 ½ cups
15 cups popped popcorn (about ¾ cups kernels)
Vegetable cooking spray
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons firmly packed dark brown sugar
½ cup butter
½ cup dark corn syrup
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup lightly salted dry-roasted peanuts
1 (10.5-ounce) package candy-coated peanut butter pieces
1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Spread popcorn in an even layer on a lightly greased (with cooking spray) heavy-duty aluminum foil-lined 13- by-18-inch pan.
2. Combine brown sugar and next 3 ingredients in a small saucepan over medium-low heat; simmer, stirring constantly, 1 minute. Pour over popcorn, and stir gently to coat.
3. Bake at 325 degrees Fahrenheit for 25 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes. Add peanuts during last 5 minutes. Remove from oven, and spread on lightly greased (with cooking spray) wax paper. Cool completely (about 20 minutes). Break apart large pieces, and stir in candy pieces. Store in an airtight container up to 1 week.
Our assessment: The trick to light and extra-crunchy candy popcorn is baking it in the oven. Be sure to take the time to stir it every 5 minutes. Also, I revved it up by using M&M’s Almond Chocolate candies rather than peanut butter pieces.
Makes 2 ½ dozen
1 (6-ounce) package butterscotch morsels
1 cup dry-roasted peanuts*
1 cup shoestring potato sticks, broken into pieces
1. Melt morsels in a saucepan over low heat. Stir in peanuts and potato sticks.
2. Drop mixture by teaspoonfuls onto wax paper, and cool completely (about 20 minutes).
1 (6-ounce) package peanut butter morsels may be substituted for butterscotch morsels.
Our assessment: These drop cookies are a snap to make. When I was a kid, my mom used broken pretzels or crunchy Chow Mein noodles instead of potato sticks. I think I prefer the potato sticks — and if you don’t like butterscotch or peanut butter, use chocolate morsels instead.
From the book: “The Southern Cookie Book” by the Editors of Southern Living; 288 pages, $22.95. Published by Oxmoor, 2016.
What you get: This collection includes drop, filled and rolled cookies; bars and brownies; confections; and nifty tips for new bakers.
In her own words: “No matter where you live, or whether you are a seasoned baker or a cookie rookie, you will appreciate the tried-and-tested tips and techniques for baking success brought to you by the South’s most trusted kitchen at Southern Living.” — Katherine Cobbs, senior editor
NEXT WEEK: Candy Bar Cupcakes