Saturday, October 22, 2011

Costumes & Candy...

Halloween, my favorite holiday of the year, is just around the corner.  There is an energy about the day that is  palpable.  Magical, mystical, mysterious, and mischievous.  So many nuances and levels to it.  The layers of All Hallows have shifted and increased in number as I have gotten older, but when thinking of the day and it's approach, my immediate sense memory 'go-to' is the Halloween of my youth.

(From right to left:  my brother, Mike; me; friends Susan and David Barbe.  This is a Polaroid shot.  I don't know the exact year the photo was taken, but I look to be around 5(?) which would put it around 1969.  No idea who the heck I was supposed to be dressed as...)

(Me post Trick or Treating
during the candy sorting
(Yeah, that's me on the right, along with the
lovely and talented Ms. Peggy Judy...
a.k.a. Molly Brandenburg.  This was at
a Halloween fundraiser for a theater
company Molly and I were members of in
Silverlake, California.  Photo is from the
I believe that I can safely say that the days of my Trick or Treating fun existed in another time with much different experiences than children today witness.  During the late-1960's and the 1970's, Trick or Treating wasn't plagued with the safety threats of today.  Yes, we were given the usual warnings of strangers and such, but my friends and I would journey out into the night without a worry.  At a certain point, my friends and I could walk through suburbia sans adult, and all would remain right with the world.  I have memories of walking down house lined streets, other groups of costumed kids dotting the dark scene here and there.  The widening shaft from an opening front door sending light out to a cry of 'TRICK OR TREAT'! Bags would be presented, and treats would fall in making a crinkly thud as they joined the other edibles in the bags' bottom.  We would get the usual fare, many of the treats being comparable to ones given out today.  Fun-size candy bars, Dum-Dum suckers, Sweet Tarts, Pixie Stix, and I have even seen the mysterious black and orange wax paper wrapped mystery sweet that I was never bold enough to open (something didn't feel right about a candy with a blank wrapper).  One major difference is the fact that handmade items have become a memory in terms of Halloweens of today.  Nothing other than pre-wrapped and purchased candy from the shelves of your local WalMart or Kroger is acceptable.  No popcorn balls, candied apples, or cookies.  No fresh fruit either.  Granted I would usually feel kind of gypped if someone handed out apples and oranges, but what would be wrong with that today?  There are so many concerns about health and obesity with kids, you would think that something like a banana or apple would be welcomed.  Oh well, moving right along...

Early on, my usual costume was a Gypsy, but I do remember being a Hobo a time or two.  No, not very original, but easy and comfortable.  I did get a bit more adventurous with my costume choices as I got older. One of the last years I went out, I painted my face like Peter Criss, the drummer for the band KISS.  Did a rather good job of painting my own face, too.  I don't recall how old I was the last time I Trick or Treated. I knew some kids who participated in the tradition into their mid teens.  I don't think I was that old...too old.

There were usually at least three or four of us when my friends and I would head out, and when we had had our fill of walking the streets ringing doorbells, we would go back to one of our houses and begin the sorting of the candy. Usually into two piles.  One for what we liked, and the other guessed it, the stuff we didn't like.  Once we finished that, the bartering would begin.  It worked out well, generally, as my friends didn't like what I liked and vice versa. Then there were the times my brother was present during the sorting phase. Being an older brother, he would mess with his little sisters head.  I seem to remember a story about there being rat hairs in '5th Avenue' candy bars. Repulsed by the news, I threw my bars to the side...which my brother would then eat because he liked them.  Ah, siblings...

(This 'shot' is of my mother in my brothers sombrero, and fake nose and can see the full 'get-up' in the photo near the top of the post.  Relax...the gun is a toy/fake gun...amazing how realistic it looks.  As I remember, we referred to this costume as the "Frito Bandito" costume.  If you are too young to know who the "Frito Bandito" is...)

(From about 1967 to 1971 or so, the "Frito Bandito" was the 'Frito's Corn Chips' mascot.  If the Bandito's voice sounds familiar, Mel Blanc voiced him...Blanc also voiced Speedy Gonzales.)

As an adult, my go to costume has become (on the whole) a Vampire.  I have a dress left over from my days in the SCA.  Cobwebs, fangs, and fake blood are easily attainable each year.  The dead leaves I have sometimes used are easy to get by just walking outside.  I think one of the last times I did dress up was for a Halloween fundraiser...a picture is above.  Good times.  

I haven't dressed up for Halloween in quite a few years now.  I do get a kick out of seeing kids in their costumes though.  It transports me back to my youth. Too bad we don't have Trick or Treaters here in Savannah....I miss it.  

The Origins of Trick or Treating

What about the history of Trick or Treating?  How did this yearly tradition get started?  It dates back quite a ways to the Middle Ages, only then it was known as "souling". The poor would go door to door on 'Hallowmas' (November 1st ~ All Saints Day) to receive food in return for prayers for the dead on the following day (November 2nd ~ All souls Day).  This tradition is said to have started in Britain and Ireland.

The first records of a tradition resembling Trick or Treating goes back to 1895, and the Irish and Scottish Halloween custom of "guising".  Individuals would 'disguise' themselves, and carrying lanterns fashioned from hollowed out turnips, would visit homes to get rewards of fruit, cakes, and even money.  There was also said to be an element of the tradition where the costumed children would tell a story, sing, or perform tricks to earn their treats. 
The first North American records of "guising" date back to 1911, when a newspaper article in Kingston, Ontario reported about children going "guising". 

"The Book of Hallowe'en", the first book length history of the holiday was written by Ruth Edna Kelly, in 1919.

The Halloween postcards produced between the turn of the 20th century and the 1920's did feature children, but none of them Trick or Treating.  It doesn't appear that the custom was a widespread practice until the 1930's, with the first appearances in the US in 1934.

Soul Cakes

These cakes are a Hallowmas, and Samhain, tradition.  Traditionally the cakes were given to "soulers".  Each cake that is eaten represents a soul being released from Purgatory.  They are usually filled with raisins or currants, and a variety of sweet spices that include allspice, cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger. Before baking, each cake is marked with the sign of the cross to signify them as alms.  (The ones pictured below are marked with a star, which would indicate that they were prepared for the celebration of Samhain, the star representing the pentacle.)

What follows is an extremely simplified variation of the Soul Cake.  There are plenty of recipes online that are more traditional if you want to give the practice a nod.

Refrigerated Roll-out Pie Crusts
2 Tablespoons Melted Butter
1 Cup Mixed Dried Fruit  (Raisins & Currants are in the traditional recipes)
2 Tablespoons Honey

Preheat oven to 375.  Roll out the pie crust, and cut into circles.  You can gauge the size of the circles based on the size of your muffin pan.  Use the crust circles to line each muffin cup.  Mix together butter, dried fruit, and honey. Scoop the fruit mixture into the pastry lined cups.  Bake for about 15 minutes. Cool 10 minutes before eating.

Ending off this post with "A Soalin", a song written by, and performed in this great video by, Peter, Paul, and Mary.


  1. what an awesome post and I completely had forgotten about Frito Bandido.

  2. It's funny but I had forgotten about the Bandito, too. When I found those pictures for the post, it just popped into my head. :)