Throw a Halloween Party

Looking out my window today I watch as the elements enjoy a high octane party. Leaves are bobbing around on the wind, swept into swirling dancing groups, moving at a terrific pace into mini tornado shapes and then disappearing quickly past my first floor window. The sky is ominously dark and I have no doubt that before I finish writing we will experience a shower; perhaps even a violent one by the look of that sky. Autumn is in full swing in Clonmel and as we hurtle towards the Halloween season, the end of the year is just over the hump of the hill. It’s a cliché but this kind of weather always turns my thoughts to large warming bowls of thick soup, long slow cooked rich stews, casseroles and luscious savoury pies oozing pools of gravy and calling to me with their buttery crusts and the promise of mouthfuls of meaty flavour underneath.

The trouble with these kinds of dishes is that it is hard to cook them for one or two people. They tend to be large and abundant by their very nature and while you can freeze any leftovers or cook with freezing extra portions in mind, it strikes me that we should have lots of people around to share them with. The trouble with most of us is that when we invite people to our homes we try to impress with our food and ultimately overly complicate everything.  Some people wouldn’t dream of serving guests a simple stew and therefore inviting people to our homes tends to put us under pressure, which in turn makes us reluctant to do it more often. The Scandinavians are very good at inviting each other for hearty, home cooked meals without any pretension to the more fussy traditional ‘dinner party’ or the formality of having people over. It’s simply about good food and good company.

_7007010Perhaps this will be one positive upside of the recession that we will loose our desire for blatant one-up-man-ship or keeping up with the Jones’ (or the McGraths or the Powers). Perhaps we will once again be able to go around to each others’ homes in our casual clothes, sit at kitchen tables, breaking bread together enjoying some good grub and great chat. Personally I think the food we choose to cook for friends can influence the evening no end. Place a large pot of steaming goulash in the middle of the table with warm crusty bread and a dish of creamy mashed potatoes and watch as the company instantly relaxes.

Halloween is a great excuse for such a gathering. It needn’t be expensive. Instead of time consuming canapés and cold buffet spreads, make a large pie or a one pot; it is certainly economical and always big on taste. I have to purposefully do Halloween as my children are not in an area or of an age where they can ramble trick or treating to neighbours’ houses. Our circumstance demands that we create our own fun at home. I sometimes think it would be so much easier to do the former, but the memories created by the latter will be around for years.

We try to find a balance between the junk food and the nutritious. I do my best to create an experience with real food. For example if it is a meat pie then the pastry decoration can work the theme. Spiders, bat shapes and even an evil pumpkin face are easy to replicate on the pastry crust. For fun I like to make Ritz cracker spiders by sandwiching two crackers together and using cheese strings to create the spiders’ legs. Food colouring can be added to icing for orange topped cupcakes and, if I’m honest, ordinary food served in shop bought ‘Halloween-y’ shaped or coloured bowls and plates can look very effective. Guacamole is always witches sludge at Halloween and of course, ketchup is good for a little gory blood. You’d be surprised what you can do with a simple burger to make it look like the common feast for any self respecting ghoul.

We can become cynical and tired by these ancient festivals and rituals. As adults we’ve been through a life time of them, but for our children it is, of course, all still quite new. While I have no wish to terrify my children, entering into the spirit of the festival and keeping it fun is part of a healthy childhood. And so Halloween, to me, is the perfect time to invite people around; adults and children. While a recession suggests that there is a dearth of money, it doesn’t necessarily follow that there should be a dearth of fun and laughter.

I’ve be yanked suddenly out of my Halloween reverie by the deafening crash of the rain against the window. My prediction of a heavy wintry shower was bang on. It’s become relatively dark outside and rods of rain have quickly quenched any dancing leaves. As the rain pours down the glass I really feel a steaming bowl of oxtail soup and some homemade bread would be a perfect fit right now.   Have a great Halloween.

We hope you enjoyed reading this post by Pat Whelan of James Whelan Butchers. Pat is a 5th generation butcher, cook book author and the director of  James Whelan Butchers with shops in Clonmel, the Avoca Food Market Monkstown and Avoca Rathcoole. Sign up to our newsletter for more updates from James Whelan Butchers.

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