Halloween is here — and secretly, I think it's the most amazing time for food-lovers and their kids. Why? You get to play with your food!
Our collective digital feeds are filled at present with cute spider sandwiches and bat-wing cookies, but this is not a modern phenomenon. For nearly a century, there has been pressure on parents to rise to the occasion of Halloween. Women's magazines shaped modern Halloween treats long before Pinterest and Instagram, helping parents make Halloween treats that satisfied children's desires to be grossed-out, tickled-silly, and, most of all, delighted with this darkly magical holiday.
We took a look back at nearly 100 years of iconic Halloween treats and chose the top 10. If you're ready to finally try to make one (or all!) yourself, you can't go wrong with any of these picks. They're all classic, they're all easy, and they're our favorite Halloween treats of all time. Get ready.
A Hundred Years of Halloween Treats
The modern Halloween looks different now from a hundred years ago, but themes, ingredients, and ideas appear time and time again. Popcorn, apples, chocolate treats, and even candied eyes date as far back as the 1880s. Children of the 1980s and '90s, who are now becoming parents and are nostalgic for the treats of their own youth (particularly crescent-wrapped mummy hot dogs and graveyard dirt cake pudding cups), might not realize that those same treats were popularized by the women's magazines their grandmothers looked to for inspiration.
Nancy Hopkins, who has been shaping the food and entertaining of Better Homes and Gardens for the last 21 years, told me that Halloween is the second-most successful holiday for the magazine, after Christmas. BHG is one of the magazines that has almost always included cute and easy Halloween treats, beginning in the 1940s and continuing today.
"When I first started we did huge Halloween sets, building whole rooms, elaborate tablescapes, and the like," Nancy tells me.
The concepts are not so elaborate in our time-strapped present. "The meaning of ease changes from time to time, but Halloween is one day that is purely fun and it doesn't take itself too serious," says Nancy. "Simplicity is key — not everything has to be from scratch."
Nancy's favorite Halloween treat from issues past? "I am surprisingly not a sweets person, but I adore sweet and savory. Serving snack mixes for parties that are a combination of salty pretzels and crackers and sweets like chocolate and raisins is a brilliant way to please everyone, including me!"
Like BHG, Good Housekeeping, a women's magazine that dates back to 1885, also encouraged our grandmothers and mothers to spend time creating spooky fun at home for children and for entertaining alike. We asked Susan Westmoreland, the food director at GH, for memories of her favorite Halloween treats from years past. "We did a Halloween bark that was really colorful and really fun. Especially because kids can break off pieces. It's really graphic and colorful — and anyone can make it," she says.
It was Susan who also called out the grand mistress of the modern Halloween: Martha Stewart. It was Martha Stewart and her 1990 launch of Martha Stewart Living who brought Halloween food back from the inner craft sections of women's magazines to the covers, and set the stage for the cutesy treats we see today.
"The revival of Halloween came from Martha," says Susan. "She gave people license to have fun with Halloween — even adults. She did so much to change the landscape of food crafts."
And now that Pinterest has enabled us all to dress up like a Martha Stewart editor, we were curious about the most popular Halloween treats right now. We talked to Amanda Switzer at Pinterest, who confirmed our hunch that the classics still reign.
From costumes to crafts, while Halloween recipes themselves have moved from short stories in the center of magazines (most evident during the 1950s to the 1960s) to ones that riff off of freshly popular consumer packaged foods (think: Chex party mixes and Pillsbury crescent dogs from the 1970s and '80s) and later to the cover of magazines and now to Pinterest and Instagram, the motivations behind them have almost never changed: to inspire home cooks to have holiday fun in the kitchen when the stakes are low and the rewards are high.
After all, the memories made of transformation, play, and delight when creating witches' hats or brooms or spooky mummy dogs will only encourage children to think of the kitchen as a place they want to be — even after all the candy is gone.
The Top 10 Halloween Treats of All Time
If you're curious why we chose these particular 10 treats: Almost every recipe here has appeared in one women's magazine or another from the 1950s on and still thrives today on Pinterest and Instagram. Not just because they are spooky, goofy, and fun activities that parents can do with their kids, but also more importantly because they taste great and are adorable enough to be included on our own holiday tables.
So, are you ready to have some fun with your food? Click on any of these to go to the full recipe and instructions. Happy Halloween!