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Pumpkins, sweets, spookiness and costumes

It’s that time of year. Autumn’s red turned first to gold and now, to gray. The earth goes to sleep for the long winter. It is the time we think of death, as trees shed leaves for their winter slumber, bears hibernate, and spring bulbs sleep in the ground preparing for spring’s re-awakening.

This mid-point between summer and winter is full of special days. Oct 31 is Halloween, also known as All Hallows Eve. Nov. 1 is All Saints’ Day and November 2nd is All Souls’ Day. In Mexico, Dia de los Muertes (The Day of the Dead) is officially Nov. 2 but preparations begin much earlier.

Halloween comes from “hallow,” which means holy. The suffix “een” means evening — thus we have All Hallows Eve. This is the night before All Saints Day and All Soul’s Day, when many honor those who have passed on.

In northern Europe, people come together on All Hallows Eve — the Feast of the Saints — seeking protection from evil. In many countries, grave sites are visited and decorated with flowers, candles are lit, and meals are prepared for those who have departed.

But the holiday has pre-Christian roots; it was once the Celtic harvest festival Samhain, which means “summer’s end.” It was thought that the walls between the worlds of the dead and the living were thin at this time of year, allowing ghosts to move back and forth between the worlds. The Gaels lit bonfires to keep evil spirits away and set places at the dinner table for any spirits who were visiting.

You know it, you love it, you can make it yourself: It’s a pumpkin latte. (Photo provided — Yvona Fast)

By the beginning of the 20th Century, Halloween lost most of its religious overtones, and became the popular children’s holiday it is today. Today, Halloween is a dark night of mischief and terror. We watch horror movies and share spooky, scary stories. Children dress in costume and beg for sugary treats. We carve pumpkins and bob for apples.

Trick-or-treating for candy was made popular in the 1950s by the Disney cartoon, “Trick or Treat,” featuring Donald Duck and his nephews Huey, Dewey and Louie. In the 1970s, rumors of razor blades hidden in apples and poisoned home-made candy made parents wary of anything that wasn’t manufactured and plastic-encased — a boon for the candy industry. Today, homemade treats are reserved for parties. Candy aisles are overflowing at the supermarket and the big-box stores provide acres of plastic-wrapped boxed sweets.

In contrast, in Latin American countries, the Day of the Dead is a day of bright color and life-affirming joyful celebration. It’s a time for showing respect and love for family and friends who have gone on. Although the holiday has now blended with Christian traditions, it originated thousands of years ago with the Aztecs, Toltecs, and other Nahua people. In their culture, death was a natural phase in life’s continuum, and mourning the dead was disrespectful.

Pumpkins and jack-o-lanterns have become the iconic symbol of Halloween. We use them as decorations, we carve them, and … we eat them! They’re also common in fall-themed children’s picture books.

Pumpkins are native to North America and were a staple of the Native American diet long before the Pilgrims landed. They are the largest member of the Cucurbita pepo family, which includes all winter squash. Like other winter squash, they are a nutrient-dense, easy-to-digest food. Pureed pumpkin adds flavor and moisture to baked goods.

While kids obviously prefer candy, apples also are a great Halloween treat. (Enterprise photo — Elizabeth Izzo)

Halloween ushers in the season’s sweet, sugary treats. We all know that candy is not a health food — so keep the portions small by making bite-sized goodies. And always remember that candy is not part of your daily diet. It’s a treat.

Maple

Candy

Ingredient:

1 cup real maple syrup

Tools:

Candy thermometer

Deep saucepan (with high sides)

Wooden spoon

Molds

Directions:

Place syrup in a deep saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally.

Lower heat and simmer until the thermometer reads 233°F. Remove from heat and cool to 110°F. Some like to add a teaspoon of vanilla at this point, but this is not necessary. Now beat well with wooden spoon for several minutes, until the syrup begins to hold its shape and its color lightens to a pale caramel. Vigorous stirring ensures the candy won’t have a grainy texture. Pour into prepared molds of the desired shape, or form into patties and place on a plate to cool and set the shapes. Makes about 1/4 pound of maple candy.

Pumpkin

Latte

Ingredients:

1/2 cup whole milk (or half and half if you want it richer) — use more milk if you like it creamier

3 tablespoons pumpkin puree

2 to 3 teaspoons maple syrup or honey (more if you like it sweeter)

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon cloves

1/2 cup strong brewed coffee

Whipped cream for topping (optional)

Directions:

Place milk, pumpkin puree and maple syrup in saucepan.

Blend with immersion blender (not necessary but it will make it more frothy and help break up any pumpkin).

Heat over medium heat, whisking, about 5 minutes or until steamy. Add vanilla and spices, and continue whisking a minute or two longer for the spices to dissolve.

Once the milk is frothy, pour into your mug, and add the coffee. Top with whipped cream and an additional sprinkling of cinnamon, if desired. Serves 1.

Author of the award-winning cookbook Garden Gourmet: Fresh & Fabulous Meals from your Garden, CSA or Farmers’ Market, Yvona Fast lives in Lake Clear and has two passions: cooking and writing. She can be reached through her website, www.wordsaremyworld.com; by email at writeyvona@gmail.com, or on facebook as Author Yvona Fast.