Driving along Martindale Road on Oct 29, 2011, I suddenly realized that Halloween was 2 days away and I didn’t have any treats for the trick-or-treaters yet. I steered my van into the Superstore parking lot and walked through the automatic sliding doors, reminiscing about how the times have changed from when I was a kid — when molasses candies wrapped in orange and black paper were the norm. Our house on Collier Road was known for the giant popcorn balls that my mom and my sister used to make, filling our big green tupperware bowl to overflowing. Was there a wrapper on those gooey gross balls? I’m thinking not… and yes, I am also cringing at the recollection. We used to get sticky candy apples from the lady around the corner as well as little wax paper packages of homemade cookies from our Italian neighbours. It was a time when it was okay to give and receive treats that were original and handmade. The variety was appreciated … most of the time.
We practically knew everybody around us since my sister and I were the local newspaper delivery girls. And those we didn’t know by name, we knew by sight. We actually trusted our neighbours.
Or, we certainly knew everybody well enough to know which ones we couldn’t trust.
This predates the pillow-case candy bag, back when we all wore home-made costumes made out of cardboard boxes, coloured construction paper, toilet paper rolls and popsicle sticks. Our little hands carried orange pails, which when full, signalled that the trick-or-treating was over. Grateful and excited, we would head home to sort through what we had collected.
On that day in October of 2011, I walked over to the grocery store display of halloween chocolates, feeling like a dough-headed sheep, allowing myself to mindlessly follow the herd. Here I was, in our so-called free society, a full-out democracy, and I felt as though I had no choice in the matter. That I just needed to keep my opinions to myself and conform. To buy the same box of “Fav’rites” chocolate that every other household in Niagara had purchased in preparation for halloween festivities.
I don’t even like factory candy bars. The honest truth is that I am a bit of a chocolate snob, preferring a nice Callebeaut chocolate on the occasion that I indulge. I am also a die-hard natural ingredients baker, strictly using only basics. No processed “food” is allowed in my kitchen. I believe in wholesome and natural ingredients, even if it takes longer to make and costs more money. A mortar and pestle is used in my kitchen to grind down whole spices like nutmeg and cloves. This is my style.
So, the idea of buying factory-made chocolates with all of their fake and processed ingredients not only grossed me out, but also ran completely opposite to my philosophies on cooking and baking.
Standing there, shoulders slumped, I looked at those boxes of so-called chocolates, my eyes brimming with resentment. As though it was their own fault that they were made from yucky palm oil and refined sugar. That the candy bars themselves were to blame for being filled with artificial flavour and questionable preservatives. Against all of my instincts, feeling angry and defeated, I picked up two of the boxes and slowly started toward the cash register.
To conform or not to conform …
Waiting in the line, I weighed out my options. Buy the candy bars and be normal or don’t buy the candy bars and turn the porch light off like a freaky halloween protester. Neither scenario suited me.
And then … the light bulb moment! I could practically hear the choir in the distance, a soundtrack to my genius idea. Purpose in my step, a smirk on my face, I briskly walked back to the candy bar display, dropped the boxes and went straight to my favourite place: the baking aisle. I needed brown sugar, “good” chocolate chips, unrefined flour, butter and 100 little clear baggies.
Feeling confident, inspired and generally quite amazing, I outlined my plan to Mark. I needed to bake at least 100 perfect cookies, wrap them in clear baggies with an added note of explanation on seasonally-appropriate orange paper! Fully aware that my cookies would likely be rejected from fear of embedded razorblades or poison, I forged ahead with my plan. It was the only one that fit.
And so, on Halloween evening, I packed all of my little homemade packages into an oversized bowl and waited for the doorbell. I have to admit to you that when I dropped those first cookies into the kids pillowcase bags, I started to freak out. What if my house got egged from angry trick-or-treaters? Worse yet … what if I became known as the Jordan Station Kitchen Witch?!?!
In the end, my little white house didn’t have any eggs thrown at it and I have continued my little tradition for two years now. This year will be the third. A few neighbours have caught the vision and have also started to make their own treats too. This year, I decided to up the ante and write a snappy little poem which I plan to attach to my homemade cookies. If you feel so inclined, please copy it down and use it. I would be thrilled to know I inspired a new tradition in your home and neighbourhood.
Here’s to non-conformity and good quality chocolate!
Jennifer (the Jordan Station Kitchen Witch)
Ding-dong, knock-knock, “Hello, we’re here!”
“Trick or treat, smell my feet!“ The children cheer!
It’s a night full of goblins, ghosts and fright.
Porch lights and carved pumpkins alight on this halloween night.
Would you like a tasty trick or a wholesome treat?
A factory chocolate, or a homemade sweet?
Candy bars wrapped in colours so bright,
or chocolate chip cookies baked in an oven, just right.
This simple cookie has been combined
with brown sugar, butter and flour, unrefined.
Chocolate chips, and real vanilla are in its design,
made by human hands, a heart, a soul and a mind.
Unlike the factory which values profit, by far
whose heart is molded in the shape of a gold bar.
With a pulse that beats to the sound of “Clang! Cling! “
Counting money, cutting costs as the register rings.
Real chocolate has been replaced with date sugar and palm oil.
Preservatives and artificial flavour are now wrapped in its foil.
Which baker do you favour on this spirited night?
In whose principles and practices do you find delight?
The factory whose heart has officially been lost,
or the lady from down the road who spared no cost?
In the aisles of the store, her options were weighed
to label these cookies “authentic hand-made”.
No effort restrained, no care held back
in making these cookies into a healthy snack.
Tonight, don’t be scared by the things that you know
such as flour and butter formed into round balls of dough.
Corporations and factories are what you should fear
as they make artificial candy for people you hold dear.
Processed ingredients that you cannot pronounce
mixed with profit and shares and bulging bank accounts.
But, here is a chocolate chip cookie made with love
by a neighbour that you know, as well as the stuff that its made out of.
So, I hope you are brave and willing to take a bite.
And not be afraid on this Halloween night.
“Tricky Treats” written by Jennifer Elliotson of Jordan Station