When the other editors and I sat down at the beginning of the year to plan out our new series, Gatherings From The Kitchn, there was one event I knew had to happen: a fall pumpkin-carving dinner party. It's a tradition that my friends and I started a few years ago — we gather together on a cozy evening in October to carve pumpkins, sip cider and eat a meal full of comforting autumn flavors. We call it "The Fall Fête" and it has come to be one of my favorite nights of the year.
If that's exactly the kind of party you've been craving as the nights get chillier and Halloween draws near, stay tuned this week as I share how my friend Lydia and I transformed her backyard into pumpkin-carving central, with a romantic outdoor dining area for dinner at dusk.
The Party Idea: Pumpkin-Carving With a Dash of Fall Romance
I suppose it might be fun to carve a pumpkin alone in my apartment, but it is exponentially more fun to carve one with friends while sipping a bourbon cocktail and nibbling on homemade snacks. Lydia and I wanted to capture all the best things about autumn — the nostalgia of carving pumpkins, warm fall spices, apple cider, plaid — and add the romance of eating dinner outdoors before the rain and chill of winter keep us indoors for the season.
Actually, we started off planning to carve pumpkins outside and move indoors for dinner, but her dining table only seats eight and we realized we could invite a few more people if we rented a longer table and ate outdoors instead. This ended up being the best decision we made, as we were able to have 11 guests and set up an intimate buffet and dining area in a corner of the yard, which resulted in a much more magical meal. A good reminder: eating outdoors is always better.
Lydia and her husband Drew recently moved into a new apartment, so this gathering was also a housewarming party of sorts for them. As with the movie party I hosted this summer with my friend Beth, I split the duties leading up to the big day with my friend: I took care of all the food and Lydia handled all the styling and other party supplies. Sharing the burden of hosting like this makes having a larger dinner party a lot more doable.
Dining & buffet area before the party — I'll reveal the transformation on Wednesday
The Party Menu: A Healthy Indian-Themed Buffet
As Lydia and talked through the menu in the weeks before the party, we realized that many of the cozy spices and flavors of fall appear in Indian cooking, so we started talking about soups, curries and other comforting recipes with Indian spices. We decided to start the party by bringing out mugs of soup, bowls of spicy pecans and glasses of refreshing cider-bourbon punch to fortify our guests while they carved pumpkins.
But our best idea was the centerpiece of the dinner — a baked sweet potato bar, a fresher, lighter twist on the usual baked potato bar. I planned on making a lamb curry with lean, boneless lamb leg, a hearty vegetarian topping with beans, quick-cooked collard greens with coconut, and a cool and crunchy fennel salad.
For dessert I decided on warm baked apples stuffed with brown sugar and oats, and homemade chai tea. Throughout dinner and dessert, we also sipped on affordable wines paired with the meal by our own Master of Wine, Mary Gorman-McAdams. (I'll share her picks later this week — they are all from Trader Joe's!)
The Party Look: Outdoor Casual With a Bit of Indian Glam
The loose Indian theme of the menu echoed itself in the decor of the party. Lydia and I scoured our apartments for anything brass, Indian-printed or elephant-themed and used the items we found to decorate the buffet and dining tables. There were plenty of candles to add a bit of romance and warm light to our outdoor dining room and a few plaid blankets draped on chairs to protect against the evening chill.
Lydia took on a couple craft projects before the party, including glittering feather placecards at the table and a butcher paper table runner customized with neon orange washi tape. (On Wednesday I'll show you how she did this easy DIY project.)
In the coming days, I'll be sharing some practical tips for throwing your own pumpkin-carving party, as well as tons of ideas for hosting your own sweet potato buffet bar. Don't miss the full party reveal on Wednesday, which will include my timeline for making almost the entire meal ahead of time. Grab a blanket, mull some cider and get cozy — it's fall fête time!