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Vintage Cookbooks: Halloweens of yore featured treats from home

Thursday, October 05, 2000

By Alice Demetrius Stock, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

October. Halloween. Goblins and ghosts. It's the time of year I get into a playful mood and find myself chanting, with Macbeth's witches, "Double, double; toil and trouble. Fire burn and cauldron bubble."

The chant (especially with a few high-pitched cackles thrown in), has a darkly humorous, Addams Family feel to it, recapturing memories from my childhood of crispy Halloween nights, flitting from lighted porch to lighted doorway, challenging the neighbors to hand over the expected sweet tribute, which I carted home triumphantly in a pillowcase slung over my shoulder, shamelessly bulging with, as Shakespeare might put it, undeserved loot.

Those were the days ... the 1950s ... before modest commercial bags and puny, plastic pumpkin pails. Those were the days before bite-sized, commercialized, tasteless, waxy candies no more generous than an afterthought.

In those days, besides full-sized, full-flavored candy bars, I was likely to haul home, in triumph, wax-paper-wrapped, freshly-made candy apples, caramel apples or jelly apples; small, white paper bags stuffed with chocolate-dipped marshmallows, peanut brittle, heavenly fudge or taffy -- all homemade. Sometimes -- thoughtful and much appreciated on a chilly, Halloween night -- I accepted a paper cup full of warm apple cider, handed to me at the open door from a tray. Those were the days -- when many people still made special treats for the tricksters right in their kitchens.

It's unclear whether the witches' stew with "eye of newt, toe of frog, wool of bat and tongue of dog" was meant to be eaten eventually or was just a formula for conjuring up tempting visions of kingship for Macbeth. Perhaps it was both.

In any case, if they could have secured that recipe, I'm sure the people who compiled "Henley's Twentieth Century Book of Formulas, Processes and Trade Secrets" would have included it.

Browsing "Henley's" is like getting a peek into a witch's book of magic. With this how-to-make-everything manual, one could restart civilization if need be. It's the most fascinating tome on my cookbook shelves though it isn't, strictly speaking, a cookbook.

It explains not only how to make candies, condiments and beverages of all kinds, but also how to make buttons, tooth powder, ink, paste, soap, paper, perfume and insecticides.

It explains not only how to preserve fruit and make coffee substitutes but also how to make lipstick, how to "fluff the hair" and how to remove old wallpaper.

It was first printed in 1907, last printed in 1981; but various editions are available at some libraries.

And did you know, according to "Henley's," that salt eaten with nuts aids digestion?

Old-Fashioned Halloween Nut Brittle

While this recipe is super-easy to make, we don't recommended it as an activity for young children since melted sugar syrup splashed onto skin will burn to the bone. Also, refrain from adding any kind of liquid (water or flavoring extracts) to the hot syrup, as that may cause it to splatter out of the pan.

1 cup white, granulated cane sugar (we use Domino sugar since beet sugar may not work as well)
1/2 cup salted cocktail peanuts (or cashews or mixed nuts)
1 tablespoon butter (for greasing pan)

Butter a 9-inch metal cake pan. Do not use glass or ceramic because you will need to break the brittle out of the pan later.

Scatter the nuts evenly over the butter in the pan.

Melt sugar in a heavy pan (we used a 10-inch iron skillet) over medium heat for about 2 minutes just until light, golden brown. (You don't want a burnt taste to the sugar.)

Pour the sugar syrup carefully and evenly over the nuts in the buttered pan. The pan will become very hot. Using a pot holder, set the pan aside to cool.

Loosen the brittle by rapping the cooled pan sharply on the counter to break the candy into small pieces.

Makes about 1/2 pound of candy.

-- Source unknown: Stock family treat since 1979.



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