I grew up in a neighborhood where the houses were pretty far apart. There were no cul-de-sacs, no sidewalks, and only one streetlight. It was bordered on one side by the nighttime dark and foreboding wilderness that was Bidwell Park. Almost every house had kids and stay-at-home moms who sewed costumes and were highly competitive when it came to Halloween treats. As trick-or-treaters you had to strategize where to go first, because the moms made just enough treats for the neighborhood and were known to run out of their specialty.
One neighbor made softball-size popcorn balls, another hand-wrapped squares of chocolate fudge in wax paper with twisted ends. One house was famous for wax-paper sandwich bags with two homemade chocolate chip cookies and the bachelor around the corner handed out whole pomegranates, but our favorite was the lady who made caramel apples on a stick.
Of course, this was long before the razors-in-the-candy-bar scare and other evils of trick-or-treating out of your immediate neighborhood where you knew every house and mom. Interspersed between the homemade goodies was the usual assortment of store-bought candy corn and Halloween-size candy bars which were smaller than normal, but not as small as today.
Our one streetlight cast a pool of light on an otherwise very dark street, so tromping around in the dark was scary-thrilling. It was great to have brothers to link arms with. Every once in a while, a car full of “older boys” would troll us — threatening to pelt us with raw eggs as we ran and shrieked with terror clutching our paper treat bags and tripping over our capes and wings.
We were home by 9 p.m., homemade costumes bedraggled from trooping through mud puddles, pirate beard make-up smeared, but ready to settle down to the serious business of dumping our sacks of candy out on the rug and bartering for our favorites. The process was accompanied by cold cider and homemade donuts. We didn’t have donuts any other time of year, so it was a big treat, and fun to watch my mom and dad rolling them out and gently frying them.
Some of the neighbor kids and their parents would stop by and we’d recount the scary adventures out on the treat route while sipping cider and eating donuts. A pretty sublime Halloween. Maybe with COVID we’ll return to a smaller neighborhood-scaled Halloween and homemade treats will return? While we’re waiting for that to happen, this donut recipe is super easy and quick if you want to start an after trick-or-treat tradition. Our first-try donuts were homely but good when warm although they’ll never compete with the magic of pro donut-makers. There’s also a recipe for a little apple cider cocktail to reward those hard-working treat-moms.
Super Easy donuts
Really quick and easy donuts made from ingredients you probably already have. There’s hardly any waiting time. Use any topping you want. Our favorite is powdered sugar.
Recipe by STEPHY800. Prep time is 14 minutes; cook time is 2 minutes, and the recipe makes donuts.
2 tablespoons white vinegar
⅜ cup milk (this is 6 tablespoons of milk)
2 tablespoons shortening
½ cup white sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
1-quart oil for deep frying
½ cup confectioners’ sugar for dusting, or make a mix of cinnamon and granulated sugar to toss the hot donuts in.
Directions: Stir the vinegar into the milk and let stand for a few minutes until thick.
In a medium bowl, cream together the shortening and sugar until smooth. Beat in the egg and vanilla until well blended. Sift together the flour, baking soda, and salt; stir into the sugar mixture alternating with the vinegar and milk. Roll dough out on a floured surface to 1/3-inch thickness. Cut into donuts using a donut cutter or a tumbler and something smaller for the hole. Let stand for about 10 minutes.
Heat the oil in a large deep skillet to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Fry donuts in the hot oil until golden, turning over once. Drain on paper towels. Dust with confectioners’ sugar or shake in a paper bag with sugar and cinnamon while they are still warm and serve immediately.
Bourbon Apple Cider Cocktail
Ingredients for each cocktail:
- 3 ounces apple cider (like apple juice but unfiltered — tangier flavor)
- 2 ounces bourbon
- ½ teaspoon lemon juice
- 2 ounces ginger beer
- Apple slice, cinnamon stick and thyme sprig for garnish
Directions: Fill a cocktail shaker with ice. Add cider, bourbon and lemon juice. Shake for 30 seconds and strain into an ice-filled rocks glass. Top off with ginger beer. Garnish with apple slice, cinnamon stick and thyme sprig.
Baked Apples with Balsamic
While we’re on the topic of apples, I’d like to recommend baked apples as fall dessert. They’re homey, and delicious served with billowy whipped cream or a scoop of vanilla ice cream. My mom would make a less elegant version of these with brown sugar, raisins and butter for breakfast. She’d stick them in the oven while she was doing the dishes and serve them slightly warm in the morning.
Recipe by Angela Clutton, featured in The Vinegar Cupboard published by Bloomsbury.
Think of the best baked apples you’ve ever had. All that lovely, slightly spicy, dried fruit packed inside an apple that is roasted so that its flesh is almost bursting out of its seams. Then add another flavor dimension that takes that baked apple up a notch or dozen. The extra dimension is balsamic vinegar. Its mellow acidity brings out the best in the sweet fruit. These are gorgeous with ice cream, cream or yogurt. Angela Clutton.
Ingredients for six servings:
¼ cup walnut halves
1 cup raisins
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
grated zest of 1 lemon
6 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
6 medium apples – choose an apple that’s firm and tart, like Granny Smith
1 small knob of butter
Directions: Crush the walnuts in your hands, then combine them in a bowl with the raisins, cinnamon, lemon zest and balsamic. Set aside for 30 minutes, or as long as it takes to prepare the apples.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Use an apple corer to take the core out of the middle of the whole apples. Keep the apples whole and cut a line around the equator of each to pierce the skin. Grease a shallow baking dish with most of the butter and sit the apples in it. Drain the dried fruit mix, being sure to retain all the liquid that comes away. Fill each apple cavity with the dried fruit mix and dot a little butter over the top of each filled apple. Bake for 30 minutes, until the apples are tender.
Allow the apples to cool a little, then lift them onto a serving plate (or into individual bowls).
Add any juices that have seeped into the baking dish to the reserved vinegar marinade and pour all of that into a small saucepan. Simmer over a medium heat to reduce to a syrup consistency, then drizzle over the apples before serving.
Have a spooky treat-filled Halloween — so grateful for rain!