Halloween is a distinctly American holiday. Although it may have its roots in Great Britain, lots of wonderful traditions started right here in the U.S. In particular, Halloween parties became very popular in the 1920s, helped in part by the work of a crepe paper company called the Dennison Manufacturing Company.
Starting in the 1920s they published a series of "Bogie Books," which were part advertisement, part instruction manual on how to use their products to craft your own Halloween decorations, costumes, and party favors to throw the perfect party. Few Bogie books have been digitized, as they are insanely popular collector's items, as are the paper goods the Dennison company produced. However, via the Library of Congress, the Internet Archive has a digitized copy you can peruse! Chock full of fantastic images like this one:
There are other Halloween party-planning gems out there as well. Mary Blain's "Games for Hallow-e'en" from 1912 is lovely for party ideas, with lots of historic divination games perfect for this time of year.
Halloween is one of my favorite holidays. I love to decorate, dress up, and feed people. So it's no surprise that throwing a vintage-inspired Halloween part was right up my alley. When I said I wanted to dress up as a spiritualist medium, a friend suggested making the whole party 1920s and '30s themed! So I did. Costumes in the theme were required and some folks really outdid themselves.
Sadly (or perhaps, wonderfully), most of my guests are usually so busy chatting and eating and having a good time, that we never have the chance to do games or activities! I did take some inspiration from the Bogie Books, however, as paper decorations definitely played a leading role.
Halloween parties in the early 20th century might have had elaborate decorations and games, but the food usually hearkened back to simpler times. Very seasonal, the suggestions usually included nuts, apples, pumpkins, corn, and other autumnal foods. Gingerbread, popcorn, and apples - fresh, roasted, or as dumplings - evoked the Colonial era. Sweets, including candied apples, popcorn balls, cookies, fudge, and other candies were often homemade, although plenty of store-bought confections were certainly available. Halloween parties were usually the purview of the young, so food was teenager-friendly and included sandwiches, pickles, and many of the aforementioned treats. Simple was considered best.
With that in mind, and channeling an early 20th century home economist, I made sure all the food was color themed in orange, white, and black! And because I had a lot of events and late work nights leading up to the night of the party, I tried to simplify things to help-yourself snacks.
The smash hit of the evening was blue cheese dip with sweet potato chips. And everyone, even people who claimed not to like bread pudding, loved my bread pudding. Because I make the best. :D
It was a bit of a scramble, but I was able to get all the fruit and veggies chopped and all the dips made (with a few exceptions) in like, two hours. Three, if you include the time to make and bake the bread pudding.
Stay tuned for more recipes, but here are two: the easy-peasy blue cheese dip (seen here in the cute white pumpkin baking dish), and the roasted garlic white bean dip.
Hot Blue Cheese Dip
No messy combining mixing cold cream cheese with this one. Just heat, stir, and serve!
3 packages (16 oz.) neufchatel cream cheese
2 packages (8 oz.) Castelano or other very soft creamy blue cheese (or gorgonzola dolce)
about a handful shredded mozzarella cheese
Place blocks of cream cheese, blue cheese, and mozzarella in an oven proof dish. Bake at 350 F, uncovered, until cheese is soft and melty. Stir thoroughly to combine. Serve hot or room temp with plenty of sweet potato chips.
Roasted Garlic White Bean Dip
Full disclosure: I tried to "roast" garlic cloves overnight in the crock pot and it mostly did NOT work. Even on low. But no time called for desperate measures. Cloves got hard/almost burnt. Worked well enough for the dip, though. I just fished the crunchy ones out before sending through the food chopper. I would recommend making roasted garlic in the oven or using whole heads of garlic instead.
This also makes a LOT. So feel free to cut the recipe in half if you're not feeding a crowd.
2-4 heads of garlic, roasted and removed from skins
2 double cans cannellini beans, drained
Process the beans and roasted garlic in stages with the olive oil until smooth. Add to crockpot and keep warm. Serve warm or room temperature with blue corn chips or pita chips.
If you wanted to spice things up a bit, some dried thyme or fresh basil or parsley (or all three!) would not be remiss.
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Sarah Wassberg Johnson has an MA in Public History from the University at Albany and studies early 20th century food history.