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Halloween treats

With Halloween at our doorstep, it would behoove us all to lay in provisions that will satiate the hungry horde of ghastly ghouls who might land on our doorsteps.

But so much for unexpected visits from the in-laws. We must also prepare for an onslaught of under-tall door-to-door marauders, otherwise known as trick-or-treaters.

The food group that these peripatetic panhandlers most desire is the one known as “candy.” Woe betide the homeowner who hands out Halloween treats from any of the “healthy” food groups — which includes fruits and vegetables and that bizarre industrial product called tofu — unless he or she enjoys the sight of their trees festively draped with several miles of Halloween TP.

Back when I was a whippersnapper (the Triassic Period), it was common for trick-or-treaters to find homemade goodies in the brown paper grocery sacks that were used to hold their Halloween loot.

Popcorn balls were a popular offering. This was not only because popcorn balls were cheap and easy to make, but also because they were a blank canvas that cried out for decoration. This could be as simple as splashing on some food coloring to make the balls ghoulish green or bloody red, or as complex as using a paint brush to create a menacing corn-based jack-o’-lantern.

Caramel apples were high on the list of coveted treats. Yes, they were technically part of the fruit food group, but this was canceled out by their thick layer of gooey yumminess. Eating a post-Halloween caramel apple usually meant consuming the caramel and token amount of the fruit, usually just the skin.

Speaking of caramel, it was customary back then for people to make their own caramel. By varying the way that you cooked the caramel, you could produce anything from a goo that would glue your jaws shut to a product that was so hard that it could be used to repair railroad tracks.

On chilly autumn afternoons, our family might make a batch of peanut brittle. Creating this confection involved heating a combination of sugars in a kettle until they reached the same temperature and consistency as hot lava. Peanuts would be incorporated into the concoction, which was then mushed into a layer of varying thickness on a greased cookie sheet.

Our homemade peanut brittle was far superior to the store-bought kind, which I think is too heavy on the “brittle” part. The prepackaged stuff tends to shatter into glass-like shards when you bite into it, putting the consumer at risk for oral lacerations. And as we all know, it’s extremely difficult to apply a Band-Aid to your palate.

One fall afternoon when I was a teenager, I watched as my sister Di whipped up a batch of divinity. I don’t recall all of the steps, which consisted of a complex series of heating and mixing and cooling and forming. Not understanding the process did nothing to reduce my enjoyment of the end product which was, well, divine.

And don’t get me started on fudge. Without following a written recipe, Mom could throw together some milk from our herd of Holsteins with cocoa powder and some sugar and produce fudge that was a taste of chocolate heaven.

A pan of fudge generally lasted less than a day at our house, so we never gave fudge to trick-or-treaters. It’s just as well; the peewee panhandlers probably wouldn’t have appreciated the artistry that it took to marry locally produced milk to a bean powder that had originated half a world away in the exotic tropics.

As you may have surmised, all of the delectable homemade treats I’ve mentioned involved the use of massive amounts of sugar. In our defense, this was before sugar had become a dietary boogeyman, a category of food products that might be labeled “toothsome, but bad for your teeth.”

Sadly, handing out homemade treats on Halloween has become verboten. Any person who would even think of doing such a thing would be summarily carted off to prison where he or she would be forced to exist on food that was prepared by convicted felons such as Martha Stewart.

As part of our annual Halloween preparations, my wife and I have acquired a supply of prepackaged treats. Examination of their labels reveals that their main ingredient is usually some form of sugar.

While we wait for menacing munchkins to knock on our door, I sample the candy to check on its quality. It’s all uniformly, boringly, fine.

Which is OK. But there’s something to be said about the nuances of homemade caramel that is so gooey that you can’t open your mouth for a week.

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