Going back in time is the place to find fresh ideas for your party Oct. 31
Halloween used to seem so simple. Now, it’s fully commercialized, from costly costumes to cavity-inducing candy bars.
Whatever happened to bobbing for apples or eating homemade popcorn balls? What about telling ghost stories or making costumes from old sheets?
This fall, get your Halloween blast from the past by throwing a retro party with your family’s friends and neighbors.
“Years ago, Halloween was much more spooky and scary and silly rather than all of the gore and blood and guts that characterize it now,” says Cindy Shanholtz, a party planner in the western suburbs of Chicago. “There has been a return to simplicity and family-oriented gatherings, so I’ve seen a shift to more classic harvest-centered themes, rather than hanging skeletons and bubbling dry ice. It’s all a more understated atmosphere with more of a community block-party feel.”
Because the holiday’s on a Friday this year, you don’t have to worry about school-night bedtimes taking away from the old-fashioned party fun.
Here’s how to pull it off.
“Crepe paper, crepe paper, crepe paper! It was huge,” Shanholtz says. “A party was not considered complete without crepe accents and crepe paper candy baskets holding nuts set out on the table as favors.”
Simple black silhouette cutouts of witches, cats and crows were hung in the windows. In the 1950s, orange and black rings of garland were popular. You’ll find a lot of these materials at Cost Plus World Market. Shanholtz also suggests hanging Indian corn and using hay bales as seats.
Adult twist: Keon Weems, president of Douglas Event Consultants in Naperville, Ill., likes the idea of an 18th-century vampire-themed party.
“I’d put candelabras all over the house and use them as centerpieces, draping them with velvet ribbon, strings of pearls or maybe even some crystals,” she says. “Focus your attention on the lighting. Keep everything dimmed, and consider red light bulbs to give it a haunted feel.”
Use items from around your home to achieve a historically accurate look.
“Costumes are over the top now, and parents are sick of spending $40 or $50 on a Spider-Man or Star Wars costume,” Shanholtz says. “So, as the pendulum has shifted, they’re seeing the allure of jeans, a flannel shirt and some straw for a scarecrow outfit.
“Ghosts, witches, mummies, Dracula, angels and cowboys and Indians — it was all made from fabric scraps.”
One costume option for girls is to take a forest green or deep brown unitard and layer it with an old fall-colored skirt shredded to the waist. Attach silk leaves to the clothes and dab a little glitter on the cheeks.
For boys, a unique costume is the Celtic god of the underworld, who played an important role in that culture’s harvest celebration. Don a white robe, crown, black rouge and tattered scarf.
Adult twist: Men can pull off a vampire character with a lace cravat and ruffled sleeves, fitted riding trousers, top hat, boots and a cape or long trench coat. Women can go with a corset sporting a severely cut neckline and lots of ringlets in their hair.
Hot apple cider and heavy cake doughnuts are the historical staples.
But nothing comes close to the popularity of old-fashioned popcorn balls.
Other food items from yesteryear’s Halloween include pigs in a blanket and tea sandwiches. For snacks, it was carrot sticks and black olives. For dessert, caramel apples were a must, in addition to orange sherbet and chocolate cupcakes with orange icing, but leave off the crazy sprinkles or plastic pumpkin adornments.
Check out www.groovycandies.com for vintage treats like spiced jelly drops, butterscotch squares, caramel creams, and chocolate malt balls.
For a modern food variation, Tira Collins of Comfort ’N Spice, a personal chef service, recommends serving a butternut squash bisque. Its orangey color will be right in theme.
Adult twist: Try spiking the cider or making mulled wine, a warm drink prepared with cinnamon sticks, cloves and sugar.
Bobbing for apples is a must. The game dates to the reign of England’s King Henry VIII in the 16th century. A variation on the theme was played by the Irish, who hung apples by strings from tree branches, ceilings or door frames. Partygoers were blindfolded with their hands bound and challenged to get a good bite.
A fortune-telling station is a great addition, says Diane Ladley, a Halloween aficionado.
Don’t forget the ghost stories. You can lend some historical credibility to the activity by opting for an excerpt from Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” or Washington Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” Ladley recommends gathering the group around a small fire for a literary reading.
Adult twist: Don’t overlook the appeal of charades. “Back in the day, that was the highlight of the party. Adults were allowed to be silly,” Shanholtz says. “It guaranteed that a good time would be had by all in attendance.”
HALLOWEEN PARTY RECIPES
3 bags natural microwave popcorn (3.5-ounce bags)
1/2 cup light corn syrup
2 cups hulled pumpkin seeds
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons unsalted butter cut into pieces
1/4 teaspoon fine salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Make popcorn according to package instructions. While hot, open package and dump into large bowl. Toast pumpkin seeds in skillet over medium-high heat until browned and popping, about 4 minutes. Add to popcorn. To make caramel, warm cream over low heat. Keep warm while cooking sugar. Put sugar and corn syrup in deep, heavy-bottomed saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until sugar dissolves. Stop stirring, raise heat to medium-high. Simmer for about 7 minutes until sugar reaches hard crack stage, or 305 degrees on candy thermometer. Whisk butter and salt into sugar mixture. Gradually pour in cream and vanilla. Reduce heat to medium. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes until sugar reaches softball stage at 240 degrees on thermometer. Immediately remove from heat and stir in cinnamon and cayenne. Cool for about 1 minute. Pour caramel over popcorn and stir to evenly coat. When popcorn is cool enough to handle, coat hands with butter and shape into 4-inch balls. Wrap in waxed paper and tie with a string. Serve or store covered at room temperature for a week. Yield: 20 balls.
Spiced hard cider punch
1 cup hot water
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh ginger
7 whole cloves
1 cup sugar
1 stick cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1 quart hard cider
1/2 cup applejack
1/2 cup brandy
8 slices apple
Place hot water in small stainless steel saucepan. Add sugar, ginger, cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg. Bring to boil. Place lid over saucepan. Reduce to simmer. Continue to simmer for about 20 minutes. Remove from heat. Strain through fine-mesh sieve into non-reactive bowl. Allow to cool. Once cool, add cider, applejack and brandy to bowl. Stir to mix well. Refrigerate at least 2 hours and up to 5 days. Serve in small punch bowl with ice, if desired. Garnish each glass with apple slice. Yield: 8 servings.
— Recipe sources: Tira Collins of Comfort ’N Spice, using an Emeril Lagasse favorite