I've always loved Halloween. Which is interesting, because I've never been a huge fan of dressing up. If someone hands me a decent costume, most likely I'll wear it. But come up with something on my own? Not so much. I'm in awe of those cool people who show up at parties dressed as Uma Thurman from Pulp Fiction, over-sized syringe protruding gruesomely from the chest. (Did I just date myself? I know that movie came out in 1994; but still, that was a very memorable Halloween costume.)
But I do like bite-sized candies, and I love love love the fall, and my birthday is just a few days before Halloween. So there's not much not to like about October 31.
And in recent years I've discovered yet another reason to love the holiday: the homey, delicious meal that Sister serves on trick-or-treat night, after my nephews have filled their bags and exhausted their little ninja or pirate selves. It's a tradition that stretches back to when Sister and I were kids, when I was dressed up as Gizmo or a space girl or a vampire in a coffin (Dad, of course, constructed the coffin). Mom always prepared a stick-to-the-ribs meal for us, something hearty to counteract the pounds of sugar. I didn't pay much attention to those Halloween meals at the time; I had a pillowcase full of tiny Reese's Peanut Butter Cups to occupy my mind. But in retrospect, they make me very happy. They were warm, and loving, and comforting, and everything that is good about blissful, carefree childhood.
I suspect Sister cooks something special on Halloween night to provide her boys with the same memories that we have. Even though they totally don't know it now, maybe someday -- many years from now -- they'll remember fondly their mom's trick-or-treat meals. Sister always picks something robust, healthy and in season -- a soup flavored with autumn squash, turkey chili, stew. It perfumes the whole house, bubbling away, as the boys head out into the chilly air to collect their treats. By the time they return, the adults are full and happy. And looking to raid Nephews' haul for a sweet treat to end the meal.
This is where I step in, at least this year, with some pumpkin cookies. These rustic little treats feel right for fall, reliant as they are on their pumpkin flavor. They're also chock full of pleasing little nuggets like chocolate, toasted pecans and sweetened coconut. With all that, they're light, too: their texture is springy, almost spongy, which seems a contradiction with all those sweet bits suspended in the crumb. They're addictive. They're tailor-made for a Halloween night feast. And I know the adults will be grateful as they reach for a cookie (or three) to top off dinner.
Come to think of it, my nephews should thank me, too, for these cookies will save their trick-or-treat spoils from the paws of adults who (technically) should know better. Wait. Let me rephrase that. These cookies will save some of the boys' trick-or-treat spoils. I don't make any promises about the Reese's Peanut Butter Cups.
Pumpkin cookie base adapted very loosely from Betty Crocker's Cooky Book
1/2 c. shortening, at room temperature
1 c. light brown sugar, packed
1/2 c. dark brown sugar, packed
2 large eggs
1 3/4 c. canned pumpkin puree (I like the organic stuff, but I bet the authors of the Cooky Book did not!)
2 3/4 c. all-purpose flour
1 T. baking powder
1 t. cinnamon
1/2 t. freshly-grated nutmeg
1/4 t. ground ginger
1/2 t. kosher salt
3/4 c. pecans, toasted
1/2 c. sweetened coconut
1 c. semi-sweet chocolate chips
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Combine the shortening and both brown sugars in the bowl of an electric mixer. Cream together using the paddle attachment until the shortening and sugar is well-combined. Add the eggs and beat to combine thoroughly. Add the pumpkin puree and mix to combine thoroughly.
Sift the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and salt into a medium bowl. Add the dry ingredients to the pumpkin mixture in three additions, mixing well to incorporate each addition. Add the pecans, coconut and chocolate chips and mix briefly to combine.
Using a spring-loaded ice-cream scoop, drop the batter onto ungreased baking sheets. (The cookies don't spread very much, so you can fit lots on one sheet.) Bake for 12-14 minutes, rotating the sheet 180 degrees half-way through the baking time. Remove from the oven and cool on the baking sheet for 2-3 minutes, then transfer to a cooling rack.
Makes about 6 dozen cookies.