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Grown-Up Tricks For Treats

Like many kids growing up in New England, I checked the forecast every day of the week leading up to Halloween. Rain or freezing temperatures could ruin trick-or-treating — a major disappointment in the life of an 8-year-old. With clear skies confirmed, I would put on my costume shortly after arriving home from school, then count down the hours until darkness descended and I could relieve the neighbors of their candy.

Though it's been 25 years since I have gone trick-or-treating, I still anticipate Halloween every October. That's why I created desserts featuring my favorite Halloween candy — good alternatives to the creepy-crawly eyeball cupcakes and bloody-finger pies that never really appealed to me.

Halloween is the perfect holiday: For a few precious hours, you can be the character you always wanted to be. More importantly, for a few precious days afterward, you can eat as many Twix bars as you can stand, and your mother lets you.

I remember one windy, frigid Halloween night when I was to become my favorite hero: Wonder Woman. I was devastated when my mother announced that I would be wearing my winter coat over my costume. Outwitting her, I wore my costume over my puffy pink coat. As I scampered from door to door, my costume began tearing, and by the end of the night was badly tattered.

I was able to distract myself by going over to Pinewood Drive, the street with the big houses known for giving out full-size candy bars. Bam. A king-size Snickers hit the bottom of my orange plastic pumpkin. I had to stop and center it, or my pumpkin would've lilted for the rest of the night. After that, it didn't matter how many Dum Dums or Milk Duds I got, or that my favorite costume was shredding — I had scored.

The tradition of giving treats to costumed children has roots in pre-Christian times, when the Celts had a festival called Samhain (pronounced Sah-ween) on Oct. 31, the eve of their new year.

Samhain celebrated the harvest in preparation for the harsh winter. It's when the Celts believed the spirits of those who had died the previous year could return to the living world. To honor the dead, animals were sacrificed, communal bonfires were lit, and gifts of food and drink were offered.

To prevent evil spirits from entering their homes, people carved scary faces into turnips and placed them in their windows or outside their doors.

To protect themselves from wandering evil spirits, people wore disguises and performed from door to door — a practice known as mumming — in exchange for food and drink.

As Christianity spread, the pagan Celtic tradition became All Saints Day, a day to commemorate all Christian saints. It was also called All Hallows Day, since "hallowed" meant holy. Over time, All Hallows Eve became Hallow Evening, or Hallow E'en, and finally Halloween.

With the 19th century influx of European immigrants, Halloween was introduced to America. Like the Celtic Samhain festival, Halloween was originally celebrated as a harvest festival. Over time, however, it became a night of ordained mischief and revelry.

Bonfire celebrations turned into parties with games such as bobbing for apples. Carved turnips became jack-o-lanterns (made from the easier-to-carve, large pumpkins readily available in America); mummers became costumed trick-or-treaters; and gifts of fruits and nuts became candied apples, popcorn balls and eventually candy.

It wasn't until after World War II that trick-or-treating became a well-established practice across the country. With the end of sugar rations, families felt free to give costumed children candy corn, Hershey's Kisses and Tootsie Rolls. By 2005, according to the National Confectioners Association, more than 80 percent of American households gave out candy to costumed children on Halloween.

Chances are, you'll have some candy in your house this Halloween to try these desserts. I designed them with hectic adult schedules in mind. They're easy to make; some can be made in advance, and none requires any special baking skills. The only necessary ingredient is affection for Halloween candy.

Each recipe features a classic Halloween candy — Heath bars, Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, Snickers and Mounds bars. Whether you go out and buy the key ingredients or simply ransack your child's Halloween bag (come on, you know you do), these desserts will make you feel like a kid again.

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Susan Russo