Pioneer Potluck: About Halloween

Ann “Grannie Annie” Berg

Ann “Grannie Annie” Berg

In Colorado in the 50s and 60s

In Alaska in the late 60s and 70s

Halloween was cold in Colorado just like it is in Alaska. But sometimes in Alaska it was bitter cold with no snow on the ground, wind blowing and dark-dark. So my kids never knew about dressing in Halloween costumes without putting on their heavy coats and “leggins,” (snow pants), winter boots, gloves and a snug hat. Then we put the costumes on. Sometimes I just painted their faces and shoved them out the door into the car with a bunch of other little kids dressed in the same style.

In Colorado, the first place we always went was to Grandma and Grandpa’s house. I would make a big deal of turning out the headlight. Then drive into the driveway, tell the kids to be real quiet and sneak up to the door, WAIT for the littlest ones to get there, AND THEN ring the door bell.

Poor kids! Grandpa was hiding just inside the door with his own scary-looking face — teeth out and usually a rag-mop over his head. He would open the door, crawl out on his hands and knees and make the worst-in-the-world, horrible noise. That sent kids flying in every direction, screaming and bumping into each other. The littlest ones, Susan and cousin Regina, crying, and the biggest ones, Gail and David, slapping at Grandpa — telling him “Grandpa You Scared ME!”

The laughter afterwards will always and forever ring in my ears.

Grandma filled the bags with all kinds of homemade goodies, popcorn balls, Rice Krispies Treats, cookies, candy and usually a quarter from Grandpa.

I looked forward to the trick-or-treaters at our house too. In Colorado, I always made popcorn balls with candy corn in them and the syrup, colored orange. I make my sister-in-law Sandy’s caramel corn now.

Mom’s popcorn balls were made bigger because she had the help of Dad with his big hands to form the balls. They always turned out huge!

The corn was provided by Dad from his corn fields. Shucked and cleaned by our own hands. Put in a gunny sack and parked inside the back door for neighbors to come and “buy” a coffee can full. Dad usually gave the corn away — but Mom charged a quarter!

The corn was popped on the stove in a cast iron skillet and dumped in a big dish pan. More was popped until the pan was full. Then butter — lots of it — was melted in the same skillet. It was “homemade” too, with our own hands, rolling the cream on the counter in a big gallon jar. The rewards for doing that chore were we got to drink the buttermilk that was formed in with the butter. OH! My! That was so good — with bits of butter swimming around in it and a sprinkle of black pepper on top in your glass.

Mom made the popcorn syrup —“stickem” in Dads words — out of sugar, corn syrup and water that were stirred and stirred until the mixture was at the “cracking stage,” when a spoonful was tested in a big cup of cold water. Mom would pour the hot mixture over the popped corn, while dad would stir with a wooden spoon, until all kernels were coated. He would dip his big hand in cold water, grab a bunch of hot, coated popped corn and squeeze into a ball. He would have them all done and ready for the next batch of popped corn that Mom was working on in the skillet.

The whole thing was repeated over and over. We had to count them. When we got to 50 balls, they would stop. We had popcorn balls for weeks and loved every one of them. So I try to keep up the tradition.

At Christmastime Mom and Dad made green and red popcorn balls for Santa to give out at the little grade school with the big name — Cactus Hill Observatory District #101 — Christmas party. We had to count 100 of them! Then they were wrapped in waxed paper and tied with red and green Christmas ribbon.

When my kids were little older in the late 60s we were living in Alaska. We did not have costumes to rely on, so I either made them out of old clothes or torn sheets, or just painted the faces AND I called them hobos. Although they had no idea what a hobo was, they seemed to happy! Most of the time I stuck them in their snowsuits, jammed a hat on the head, pushed gloves on the hands, and then put costumes of some sort over the coats.

I found paper grocery sacks I had saved for the occasion, or pillow cases, (no plastic sacks back then!) and piled them in a Ford four-wheel-drive pickup. Usually I had six snowsuited trick-or-treaters, piled in the front seat, with me the driver, scrunched up against the driver’s door. Try that and use the gear shift too!

Before I remarried and moved to Daniels Lake, I had a great big black and turquoise Dodge station wagon. It was huge, and I packed all the kids that lived in the same small trailer court in the car. It was located behind M&M Market and the Hunger Hut. I was always afraid I would leave someone that lingered behind. So I came up with a buddy system. The older child looked after a smaller one.

Off we went to the neighbors and then to the trailer court. Those poor trailer people were hit hard! It was the only place with doors in a row to knock on and reap the goodies of Halloween.

We would drive to the nearest homesteader or neighbor. The kids would run, sometimes trip and fall, to get to the door first, for the Halloween treats. The neighbor treats were very special. Homemade cookies, candies, oranges, apples — one time a neighbor taken by surprise put potatoes in the sack. Or one of our dear neighbors would dig in his pockets and put change and dollar bills in the sack.

At one time or other during the night one of the little Halloweeners would trip and fall and spill the goodies on the hard frozen ground. It would get scooped up by older Halloweeners and off they would go to the next door.

Probably the most memorable Alaskan Halloween was when it started snowing the day before. On Halloween night there were about 5 inches on the ground and it was still snowing. We all ended up full of snow, which turned into water in the car. My goodness, the wet snowsuits, the wet boots and gloves, and the WET paper sacks did not fair so well. Luckily, three kids had pillow slips and the candy was put in them, and when we got home all was divided evenly. Sorta bent some of the older kids noses, but it was fair!

The best time of all was getting home, tired and cold, taking off the snowsuits, hats and gloves, and pouring the sack of goodies on the floor and looking through all the wonderful surprises. The candies the kids did not like were traded, and once in a while Mom and Dad would beg for a nice-looking morsel. If we were lucky we got what we wanted.

I never found all the matching pairs of gloves after Halloween, and most of the time one or two hats came up missing.

Later, when I met friends and neighbors at the grocery store or post office or the meeting place for jobs — the Hunger Hut — the conversation was how happy they were to have small children knock on their doors at Halloween. The invasion of all the oil field workers in 1966-69 era came with LOTS of small kids. I am certain this is how the Kiddy Days idea was formed. BUT that is a different story. People still talk about Kiddy Days today.

I am making caramel popcorn again this year. In past 30 years we have had four or five trick-or-treaters at our little home at the end of the road. This year we will have two great-grands that we are so looking forward to seeing. Our little-kid population has shrunk, and it is nice to know there are little ones in the neighborhood again. And yes, they are our own! Grandson Arleigh’s two kids are 3 and 4 years old!

POPCORN BALLS

(This is not Mom’s recipe but close to it. She tested the syrup in a glass of cold water to see if it was “just right” at the hard ball stage).

2 quarts of popped corn, keep warm in oven

In a large sauce pan:

1 cup sugar

1/3 cup light corn syrup

1/3 cup water

Pinch of salt

Combine in sauce pan and cook until candy thermometer reaches 250 degrees. Stir all the time.

Remove from heat and stir in 1/2 cup room temperature butter. Stir in 1 teaspoon vanilla (optional). Take the corn out of oven, quickly pour the hot syrup on popped corn. Usually I have someone help me stir in the hot mixture. It gets mixed evenly.

Wet hand in cold water and form balls. Make about 8 medium balls.

This is the one that I have used for the last 30 years.

SANDY’S CARAMEL CORN

Sandy McClure is my sister-in-law and a very good cooker. Thanks Sandy!

Pop 6 quarts of corn and keep warm. I use white kernel popcorn; there are not a lot of hulls in this type of corn. Smaller kernels, but so tasty!

Pick out the “old maids.” (The unpopped kernels.)

In a saucepan:

2 cups brown sugar

1/2 cup light corn syrup, such as Karo

1/2 teaspoon salt

Bring to boil and immediately remove from heat.

Add:

1 teaspoon baking soda and 1 teaspoon vanilla. (It will foam up but keep stirring).

Pour over the warm popped corn and stir until well coated. Put on a buttered cookie sheet and bake at 250 degrees for 1 hour. Stir with spatula every 15 minutes. Cool. Put into small Ziploc and tie with orange curly ribbons and pass out to the Halloweeners.

THIS IS THE VERY BEST TWINKIE CAKE

My other sister-in-law Kathy McClure’s recipe. Thanks Kathy!

1 box of yellow cake mix

Mix as directed and bake and then cool.

To prepare the frosting, boil:

5 tablespoons flour in

1 cup of milk until thick. Stir constantly. Completely cool.

Combine in mixer bowl:

1 cup sugar

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup vegetable shortening

1/2 cup butter

1 tablespoon vanilla

Beat until fluffy. Add the milk mixture and beat until fluffy again. Frost the cake and store in refrigerator until it’s time to eat and enjoy!

COMPANY COMING CHICKEN CASSEROLE

This was popular in the 50s and is a good “company coming dish.”

1 cut-up fryer

1 package of onion soup mix

1 cup Minute Rice

1 can of cream of chicken or mushroom soup

1 1/2 cups water

Mix everything in a casserole dish except the chicken.

Press chicken pieces down into the rice. Cover and bake 350 degrees for 2 hours.

A big green salad is all you need with this yummy dish.

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