Treats & tricks

Depending on my mood, I’ve often thought the best choice for Halloween treaters was that of my high school civics teacher, a true crank who many years later joined me in a marathon boozing session at the Anchor Bar. He’d always wanted to go to the notorious watering hole for reporters, politicians, feds and other suspect types. By the time we were done, it was pretty clear he wouldn’t remember his first and only visit.

When the creepy little masked kids showed up on his doorstep on the night of each Oct. 31, he cheerily invited them to open their sacks, then dropped in an ice cream scoopful of mashed potatoes, followed by a ladle of gravy. Or so he said. He displayed no scars from parental encounters.

For many years, Halloween was my favorite “holiday.” Not all of them were the times when I was a legit candy hustler, favoring for my get-up such literary characters as Quasimodo (“I’m not Real Modo, I’m Quasi-Modo! Nyuk. Nyuk. Nyuk.”) or Jane Eyre — nyuk, nyuk — over the distinctly less chilling Bedsheet Ghost, Teeny Clown or Weeping Scarecrow.

I enjoyed hiking the streets with my two sons just as much as my own childhood forays on All Hallows Eve, but nevertheless exacted payment by selectively snatching peanut butter cups and midget Snickers bars from their piles of loot.

And for a while, it was nearly as much fun to hand out candy from my front stoop, cracking wise to the chirren and chatting with their chaperones. Things changed.

Now many streets are lined with motor caravans, some from miles away, each car spewing deep-voiced teenagers who bang on your door, take their cigarettes out of their mouths long enough to say, “Trick or treat,” and hold open a jumbo trash bag. Sometimes two: “This one’s for my little sister.” Puts one in mind of the old mashed potatoes-and-gravy bit. I fork over some rock-hard nutty caramels wrapped in orange or black waxed paper selected just for them. No point in wasting good gravy.

But you may be among those lucky neighborhoods that still celebrate Halloween as child’s play. After a little history lesson, I have a few candy tips for you.

The word “candy” comes from the Arabic word “qandi,” which made a short trip from the word “qand,” meaning a lump of sugar. Although some regard chewing honeycomb by the ancients as the origin of candy, others reject it because honey, unless it’s used as the sweet base for other ingredients, is just honey. (Note: It’s not true that I’ll take any opening to write about my honeybees.)

Many cultures around the world were mixing honey with nuts and fruit, or coating flower petals with the stuff at about the same time, so it’s anybody’s guess who gets props for the first piece of candy. All that matters is it went through countless permutations in the time since and produced the candies of your childhood and of today.

If you’re looking for a gross rationalization for your candy intake, go ahead and grasp at this big fat one: Because its most common ingredients are on the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s “Food Pyramid,” candy is food. In parsing that would do honor to a Republican trying to explain the Bush Doctrine, it’s argued that it is nutritious (to some degree) and can provide needed calories to fuel our Inner Battery.

Enough of that. If you want to know more, and read an engaging, funny and surprisingly informative book, pick up Steve Almond’s Candy Freak: A Journey Through the Chocolate Underbelly of America (Algonquin Books, $21.95). You’ll learn, among much else, that for a painfully brief time, Kit Kat came in dark chocolate.

There’s still time, if you want to pay the freight, to put together the kind of Halloween candy bowl that some of us remember: Beemans and Black Jack and Teaberry gums, Mallow Cups, Nik-L-Nips, Boston Baked Beans, Pop Rocks, Jujyfruits, Candy Buttons and lots of that kind of stuff. Find all of them — and a small selection of “adult” candies, including a candy garter belt and After Dinner Willies – at Another site worth poking around on is

But if you’re a true crank, and want to have a different kind of Halloween fun, there’s always this:


Halloween Mashed Potatoes & Gravy

100 servings, more or less

3 quarts water
18 tablespoons margarine
4 1/2 cups milk
12 cups instant mashed potato flakes

1. Go to Costco or Sam’s Club and buy a gallon of the gravy of your choice. Anything with mushrooms adds texture to the treat. Warm it or not, as you prefer.

2. In as big a pot as you can find, bring water and margarine to a full boil. Take pot off heat; stir in milk and instant potato flakes. If they’re too runny, add more flakes; too soft, more milk or water. Duh.

3. In the serving, another option: Though dinner-table tradition would call for you to drop a scoop of potatoes into the treat sack, then ladle in the gravy, it’s your Halloween — feel free to reverse the order.

Ric Bohy is editor of Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected]
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