Around the corner from our house lives a lady who gives out homemade treats every Halloween, seven-layer bars, each niftily wrapped in a crinkly plastic bag tied with a curl of ribbon attached to a card with her name and address. The confection within is the stuff of dreams — salty, chocolatey, gooey. How do I know this? Ummm... I’m sure I don’t remember taking one from my younger child’s bag when he was too little to notice.
Interviews with a group of moms clarified why so few people hand out homemade goodies. Though a mom of two, Tiffany Cadenhead’s neighbor “always makes little goodie bags with homemade chocolates for the kids on our street,” for most parents, it’s too much hassle. Jill Klosky, a physical therapist with two young sons, adds, “October is a busy time of year, so I personally would never take on making homemade treats.” Baking enough sticky cookie bars to feed an entire neighborhood is out of the question.
There’s also the question of safety. We all grew up with stories of razorblades in candy apples. These rumors persist. Elizabeth Kulesa, mom of two sons, confessed, “I suppose I drank the Kool-Aid about homemade treats as a kid.” She tosses them, “unless I know the neighbor.” Victoria Van Cleef doesn’t want her two boys to “take homemade unless I know the person, but even that’s a risk as the stuff can get so jumbled up in the bag.”
However, Katie Skeen lets her three kids take homemade treats “even without the contact info or list of ingredients.” Beth Manning doesn’t worry, either.
“I don’t think people really would tamper, and I remember hearing there are actually no documented cases of it.” In fact, a look at Snopes.com, the venerable online debunker, confirms Manning’s hunch. Those old poisoning stories came from hoaxes or mistakes. The rare cases of foreign objects in candy were the results of kids mimicking the stories they’d heard.
So I let my kids eat the neighbor’s cookie bars. I won’t be making them myself for the neighborhood, Martha Stewart-style. But like some other parents I interviewed, I hanker for a more personal and old-fashioned Halloween experience. A “healthy” approach might put us at risk of pranks, though. Portsmouth, New Hampshire, mom Misa Erder cautioned against pretzels and the like: “Kids think that is LAME.” Van Cleef reminded me there’s probably “no need to mess with something that happens once a year.” Instead, I can take a cue from my Maine friend, Janie Beecher, who worries “very little about the nutritional effects of Halloween.”
There are strategies for diminishing the impact, like Erder’s policy of buying candy back from her kids at 25 cents a piece, or donating excess loot. Many parents commented that their kids lose interest in the candy after a few days. As Kristen Taylor of Grand Rapids, Michigan, says, “the fun is in collecting it as much as it is in eating it.”
So I’ll follow Beecher’s advice, and “let it be fun!” I could try Southaven’s Mary Ann Boyle’s approach. She sent me photos of her son Nick’s artistic experiments with candy. But I think my guys and I will make caramel apples, for their consumption only. They’re right in the sweet spot between healthy and naughty, old-school and easy.
I adapted The Pioneer Woman’s gussied-up version of the wrapped caramel standby. If you’re like me, you don’t have huge tracts of land open in the fridge for a baking sheet full of skewered apples. My solution was to place each coated apple on its own square of waxed paper, then stick them wherever there was a bit of space.
8-10 small, tart apples 4 11-ounce packages caramels 2 tablespoons cream 1 teaspoon vanilla Salt Toppings: Mini M&Ms, Crushed Pretzels, Kosher Salt, Crushed Pecans Chopsticks or craft sticks
Cut 6” squares of waxed paper, as many as you have apples. Wash apples with hot water and dry well to remove wax. If you’re using toppings, put each on its own plate.
Have kids unwrap caramels into a double boiler or glass bowl, then set it over a pot of simmering water with cream, vanilla and salt. Stir with a silicone spatula until smooth.
Stick one chopstick in the bottom of each apple. Dip each apple in the caramel, coating it all the way to the base of the stick. Allow excess to drip back into the pan, then quickly but gently roll the apple in whatever topping you’d like.
Refrigerate each apple as soon as it’s coated. Once cool, wrap apples with cellophane or plastic wrap, and tie it up with a ribbon. No address necessary.