This weekend marked the 8th not-exactly-annual BYOP (bring your own pumpkin) in 12 years and, after each event, it’s a good idea to look back and figure out what worked and what (if anything) didn’t.
For those who’ve attended my parties in the past, it’s no surprise when I say I’ve been known to over-prepare. Just a smidgen. I’ve been known to put out so many appetizers that 3 hours later when dinner is ready no one’s hungry! Now, I don’t mind having party leftovers because it means I don’t have to cook for a few days, but there’s a big difference between a few leftovers and an entire meal uneaten (not that that’s ever really happened–people always eat more, eventually).
So this time around I tried to keep this in mind and put out a simpler spread at the beginning of the party, 2.5 hours before dinner was scheduled to start.
We had the usual veggie platter with blue cheese dip, bacon-wrapped artichoke hearts*, stacked spuds* with sour cream, black bean dip* with chips and spinach puffs* with whole-grain mustard. There were about 64 artichoke hearts and a full pan (between 45 and 50 pieces) of potato slices and all but a bare few were gone by the end of the night, we definitely hit that one right. About half of the spinach puffs (about 6 dozen) were gone and more than 2/3 or the bean dip. The veggie tray wasn’t completely ignored, either, even if I mainly put it out to balance out the other starchy, bacon-laden options.
Using a smaller table for the food meant that when it was time for supper, the appetizers got moved back into the kitchen to make way for the main event. I think this worked pretty well, too, since it shifted the focus between courses.
Dinner was a combination of grilled (chicken breasts and hot dogs), crocked (Sloppy Jacks–sloppy joes with pumpkin and spices) and cold salads (pineapple-poppyseed coleslaw* and redskin potato salad*). Toppings and condiments abounded so the simple options could be combined however our guests wanted: various barbecue sauces, cheeses, vegetables and the usual mayo, mustard, et al.
By the end of the evening the hot dogs were gone, all but 6 of the chicken breasts (we started with 14), and most of the Sloppy Jacks. All after feeding 21 adults and 1 kid. Half of each of the slaw and salad were leftover and we’ll be munching on those this week.
After supper, the pumpkin judging and a group picture, it was time to bring out dessert. Again, I kept it relatively simple: chocolate chip cookies, pumpkin dip served with apple slices and gingersnaps, and cream puffs. Originally, the cream puffs were supposed to be a croquembouche: a French-style tower of cream puffs stuck together with caramel. Hindsight says I should have stuck with the caramel but I wanted a witches-hat looking dessert, so used chocolate caramel sauce to try and stick the puffs (chocolate profiteroles filled with pumpkin custard) together in their conical form. But when it was time to unmold it the chocolate didn’t having the sticking power of pure caramel.
Didn’t really matter though: we mounded the puffs onto a platter and they tasted amazing. No worries in the end.
This was the first year that the weather has been anything other than hot and humid for the pumpkin party (fall in Florida isn’t always predictable). Taking advantage of the situation I added mulled cider at the last minute to the drink menu (in addition to Paladin Punch* and sodas) and it was a huge hit. We went through almost 2 full gallons of it by the end of the evening.
And while the cider may have been the best edible idea, I have to pat myself on the back for the party favors. Usually I go with an edible favor but this year I decided to do aprons for everyone (using this basic procedure) that they received at the beginning of the party. After all, pumpkin carving is messy; I’m ashamed I didn’t think of this sooner.