Gather ’round the campfire and pull your loved ones in close. It’s time for a ghost story more haunting than the Winchester Mystery House, more frightful than Frankenstein, and more bewitching than the lovely ladies of Salem. I’m talking about the tale of Stingy Jack.
Naysayers may call it a myth, but legend has it that Stingy Jack was a classic con artist, scraping by on someone else’s dollar while swindling his way into another man’s coin purse. He was already a man on the fringes of society, making more enemies than friends, so it should come as no surprise that eventually, the only creature willing to share a drink was the Devil himself. When last call came, predictably, Jack didn’t have the means to pay for his drink, so he made a dangerous bet with the devil instead.
Calling out his demonic power or lack thereof, he suggested that there was no way the devil could turn himself into the necessary coinage. With enough taunting and cajoling, already somewhat tipsy himself, Satan proved his prowess, transforming into a gleaming golden coin without any difficulty. Snapping up the opportunity along with the cash, Jack decided to ditch the bill and keep the money instead. Securing it in his pocket next to a silver cross, the Devil was prevented from transforming back into his original form.
Only when Jack died was demon freed, and quite peeved, to put it lightly. Hell was too good for this malicious man, so he set him off into the night, with only a piece of burning coal to light his way. Jack put the coal into a carved-out turnip and has been roaming the Earth with ever since. Somewhere along the line, repeated reiteration of the story turned the turnip into a pumpkin, and that’s how we ended up with Jack-o’-lanterns.
Mea culpa; perhaps that was more of history lesson than a horror story. I can’t help but find myself enchanted by the origins of our strange holiday traditions. If you made it this far through my rambling tale, though, you definitely deserve a drink. How about a shot of applejack, on the rocks?
Better yet, let’s put it in the pumpkin.
That, my friends is the TRUE history of how the Applejack-O’-Lantern Pie came to be.
Cradled in a flaky pastry crust lies a layer of spiked and spiced apple filling, topped by a creamy pumpkin custard. Tender fruit mingles with brown sugar-infused pumpkin puree; each bite is highly spirited, in all meanings of the word. It’s a sinfully good treat to commemorate villainous old Stingy Jack… Just don’t make any deals with the Devil to secure a second slice.
Night slowly descended and glowing orange lights flickered on as the witching hour drew nearer. We donned capes and pointed hats, impractically sloped heels and brittle broom sticks, preparing to take the town by storm. It was Halloween night, better than Christmas Eve in my young mind’s eye, and it was almost time for the show to begin. Untold treasures awaited at every turn, the thrill of the hunt pushing caravans of candy-crazed children deeper into the bowels of the city, seeking a sugar high that comes but once a year. Oversized empty bags at hand, we were ready to cause mayhem.
But then the doorbell rang. It wasn’t an early batch of trick-or-treaters beating us to the chase, but the pizza man. One can’t plunder on an empty stomach, after all.
Equally important to the ritual and tradition, my family always ordered pizza before embarking on the annual Halloween candy crawl. Turns out I wasn’t alone; the busiest night of the year for pizza delivery and takeout is Halloween, beating out even Super Bowl Sunday.
Like ordering Chinese takeout on Christmas Day, I thought it was something quirky and unique to my family, but it turns out everyone else was hip to the trend all along. Of course, these old school pies were nothing special; just your average cheese and/or pepperoni options. Maybe it would have been more remarkable if there was a more thematic meal to suit the moonlit masquerade ahead.
Something with a mysterious, mischievous black crust, dark as night, perfumed with a hint of smoke enhanced by a lightly charred surface. Thin, crisp, yet structurally sound, it has no trouble bearing the weight of abundant autumnal toppings. Classic red sauce can take the night off when pumpkin steps up to the plate. Spread richly over the surface, that creamy, garlicky sauce combines the natural sweetness of everyone’s favorite orange squash with the savory flavors of nutritional yeast. Tender sweet potato slices seal the deal, contrasted with sharp red onion slivers and a touch of hot red pepper flakes for a devilish finish.
Before you send your little ghouls and goblins off to collect their sugary plunder, don’t forget to fill them up with something a bit more satiating. The witching hour will come to pass in the blink of an eye, but the memories of the time leading up to it will last a lifetime.
After the garish plastic skeletons of Halloween are cleared away, something far more haunting, yet entirely joyous remains in their wake. Sugar skulls, glittering sweet crystals dried into the shape of a human head, shine in the dark of night to honor the dearly departed on Día de los Muertos.
When the gates of heaven are opened at midnight on October 31st, deceased loved ones can return and spend the day with their families, drawn to the calavera made in their likeness. Decorated with colored icing, the most basic are technically ghoulish sugar cubes, super-sized for a couple gallons of coffee, but not exactly something you’d want to consume. Most artists incorporate inedible media like feathers, glitter, sequins, foil, and fabric, treating them more like sculpture than food, since there’s no such thing as too colorful nor too flamboyant to match the most vivacious personalities.
Traditionally, the “glue” that binds these sweet offerings together is either egg white or meringue powder, but for a simple veganization, this is another job for aquafaba. Just because you don’t eat it, doesn’t mean you can’t make it cruelty-free, too.
Contrary to the name itself, Día de Muertos is a truly celebration of life. Why not make it a sweet occasion with these sugary monuments, recalling the spirits of those no longer with us?
I don’t want to scare you, but those voices in your head, the haunting whispers, are all true: Halloween is right around the corner. It’s downright terrifying to consider how quickly the year is flying by, but it would be far more nightmarish to miss out on Spooky Season, and all the devilish treats it brings.
Commercial candies can be pretty frightening though, between artificial colors, unpronounceable preservatives, and the hidden horrors in labor and production. The instant gratification of trick-or-treat freebies does still tempt, but I happen to have a few tricks up my sleeve, too.
Years ago, I released Wicked Treats, a mini ebook with a half-dozen of my favorite homemade candies, sure to delight the most discerning guys and ghouls. Long off the market, this monstrous collection had been locked away, mummified in my digital vault. The photo quality is perhaps suitably unsettling but the sweet spells are still capable of culinary magic.
Unchaining this Frankenstein once again, you can now download Wicked Treats completely free of charge. In addition to being vegan, these recipes are completely gluten-free, with options to make your candies soy-free, too.
What are you waiting for? The witching hour is almost upon us. Get a kettle on the fire and start brewing up something sweet!