I woke up this morning to find the ghost and ghouls had moved onto the scene a few days ahead of schedule: whipping cold winds blowing everything off the porch and leaves taking on an eerie life-like stance as they dance above the ground. By golly, I do believe it’s almost Halloween!
I have fond, albeit somewhat unusual, memories of Halloween. My mother, the quintessential crafty homemaker, was an amazing costume designer/maker. Every year, without fail, she spun me and my brother costumes that won the top prize at the elementary school Halloween “parade”. Then we’d take the show on the road on Halloween night, driving around our rural farmland and knocking on doors. The name of the game? Not to get lots of candy, per say, but rather to stump our neighbors as to our true identities. With Mom’s outstanding shark, penguin, and Little Bo’ Peep costumes – to name just a few – we usually left folks scratching their heads.
Then on the weekend, our little country church would do the strangest thing: hold the biggest party of the year for what amounts to a rather pagan holiday. But it was a blast with homemade haunted rooms, bobbing for apples out of big old fashioned metal tubs, elaborate costume contests/ categories, off-the-wall games, sound effect tapes on the speaker system, and massive amounts of fake spider webs. And of course there was food – if the costumes were competitive, the food surely was too even if there weren’t any prizes for it. Everyone brought a dish, and everyone went home on a sugar high to end all sugar highs.
Now where’s that leave us today? At a great recipe for Dulce de Leche & Oat Apple Bars. These decadent bars, made with lucious homemade dulce de leche, are not from memories past. Rather, they are exactly what I would bring to just such a party today. A grown-up rendition of caramel apples in a more kid-friendly (i.e., no sticky faces and fingers) form, you can surely find a use for these tasty little bars as the hallow eve approaches. I’d love to give them out to trick o’ treaters that come knocking on my door, but alas think homemade treats from strangers are a thing of the past. If it’s not vacuum sealed, it’s not “safe”. It’s a shame, don’t you think?
Oh, and before I forget to mention it, these apples were picked from a great local orchard by D and me one lovely fall day a few weeks back. I’d really encourage you to seek out local orchards to buy apples since the varieties are much more numerous and the fruit lasts much longer than what you’ll get in the grocery store. I like to pick extras to store in the basement and usually have them keep until late December (and they might keep longer if I didn’t use them all up by then). My favorite varieties are Fuji, Jonagold, Jonamac, and Honeycrisp.
So, now, tell me what your favorite childhood memory of Halloween is and/or what your favorite treat was? Any elaborate (but easy) costumes? Do tell! I need ideas for a party I’m going to this Friday…
Dulce de Leche & Oat Apple Bars
Adapted from Allrecipes.com
1 C. packed brown sugar
3/4 C. butter, softened
2 C. all-purpose flour
1 1/2 C. quick cooking oats
1 C. dulce de leche or caramel ice cream topping
1 t. salt
1/2 t. baking soda
4 1/2 C. apple – peeled, cored and chopped
1 T. lemon juice
3 T. all-purpose flour
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C).
In a large bowl, cream together the brown sugar and butter until smooth. Combine 1 3/4 cups flour, oats, baking soda and salt; stir into the creamed mixture until well blended. Set aside 2 cups of this mixture. Press the remaining mixture into the bottom of an ungreased 9×13 inch baking pan.
In a medium bowl, toss apples with lemon juice, then toss them with the 3 tablespoons of flour. Spread the apple mixture evenly over the prepared crust. Warm caramel for 30 seconds in the microwave or in a hot bowl of water. Drizzle evenly over apples. Sprinkle the reserved oat mixture over the top of the apple layer. Press down lightly.
Bake for 25 to 30 minutes in the preheated oven, until the top is golden brown and the apples are tender. Cut while slightly warm and refrigerate any leftover bars.
(makes 36 squares)