Strange how things change. I seem to remember from my childhood (obviously a VERY long time ago) that come the beginning of November almost every other garden featured children and fireworks. That we collected wood and tinder for our own bonfire, and that my dad showed us how to stuff old clothes and tights with scrunched up newspaper to create an almost lifesize ‘guy’, complete with mask – which we then gleefully burnt on top of aforementioned bonfire.
But I don’t remember that All Hallows Eve was acknowledged in any meaningful way. Trick or treating had yet to cross the Atlantic, and instead each 5th November we macabrely celebrated the death of Guy (Guido) Fawkes, who tried to blow up Parliament in the 17th century. And that everyone stayed firmly indoors on 31st October.
Now, sensibly, health and safety has heralded the end of do-it-yourself back garden fireworks and bonfires (in particular), and Halloween has become a ‘thing’, for good or evil, where dressing up, parties, pumpkin carving and door-knocking is de rigeur. And I have to say: I rather like it!
From holding spooky parties for the children and their friends when they were smaller, to buying costumes and face-painting teens for nights out, plus attending amazing organized firework displays with music, I think this time of year has become a rather fabulous indicator of the onset of winter and (say it quietly) Christmas. OK, we are fortunate enough to live in a quiet cul-de-sac, so we are not plagued by hordes of youngsters trick or treating, just a few local families who expect nothing more than a few sweets, which might help explain my enthusiasm. It still gives us (me) an excuse to fashion squashes and burn candles.
This weekend though, my Halloween/firework excitement reached sparkling new heights thanks to the coincidence of a dinner booked with friends at ours. This sharing supper turned into a fabulous feast of pumpkins, both cooked and carved, hot soup, bangers and jacket potatoes, fiery chilli, cheesecake and miniature toffee apples. All suitable for the coeliac, vegetarians and meat-eaters in our crowd.
The starter crew arrived with butternut squash and carrot soup which we served outside in mugs while the fireworks were lit. Mains (moi) consisted of a standard chilli recipe but made with Quorn, vegetable stock, plus mixed beans and kidney beans in chilli sauce. I also adapted a Jamie Oliver recipe which suggested roasting sweet potatoes and red peppers before chopping and adding to the chilli, plus throwing in a couple of teaspoons each of cumin, cayenne and cinnamon to spice it all up. I served it with G-F sausages, vegetarian sausages, jacket potatoes, guacamole, sour cream, grated cheese, and a recipe for red, orange and yellow baked peppers stuffed with rice, pine nuts, chopped cherry tomatoes, black olives and feta which I found on the BBC Good Food website. Almost everything got eaten, so either everyone was starving hungry and desperate for any kind of food, or they actually really enjoyed it…
Puddings when they arrived turned out to be a creamy cheesecake with walnuts and a spiced cake with toffee apple sauce and miniature toffee apples. All utterly, mouth-wateringly delicious.
I also indulged my inner child with the addition of some decorations in the form of a giant black paper spider (from Sainsburys, dead cheap and easy to put up with Blue Tac), some cobwebby stuff from Aldi, plus a few fun, hanging halloween motifs. And all the pumpkins, candles, flickering lights and sparklers I could muster. Of course. It was a great night.
So I actually appreciate Halloween and Fireworks Night all over again. I like the fact that all ages can dress up, be daft, look faintly ridiculous and have fun eating, drinking, laughing, and being generally childish oohing and aahing at sparklers and rockets. In these frightening times (Donald Trump, Syria, house prices) it’s perhaps good that we can take control of some scariness, adapt it, laugh at it, enjoy it. Just don’t knock on my door and ask for money. I’ll have spent it all on fizz and fireworks…