Waiting for the Great Pumpkin

If you are lucky to live long enough, it gets easier to separate the wheat from the chaff. Over a life, if you pay attention, you will find yourself in the idyllic condition of understanding what matters most. And what means something to you. And what make up your favorite things.

I have a long list of favorites, but from time to time, I think about the top five, and among the top five are two that run alongside each other in the night, hand in hand — the celebration of Halloween and the long-running TV special, “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.”

Both make me feel like a child (then, I think of another item on the top five list — snow — and that, too, takes me back to childhood), more full of wonder with them than any other holiday, including Christmas. Halloween is about imagination, the stirrings of the mind, the wonder of the night sky and the unknown in the dark. It is about surprises and possibilities, of making yourself something else and hitting the streets, running, skipping from house to house in the chill of autumn, crunching through fallen leaves, moon and stars striking beyond compare, a husky smell of decay and earth and golden light pouring from the carved smiles of orange pumpkins. Oh, boy! How can anyone not LOVE Halloween? It’s magic! I wish it was all year, and I’m sad when it’s over. But it’s brief appearance — unique and quirky — on the calendar, make it the most beloved holiday of many.

Halloween traditions keep the child in my heart alive, most especially with “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown,” which has been running on television each year since its inception in 1966.

Nothing takes me back to my 5- or 6-year-old self than this show, as it brings to life all the sacred, special magic of my favorite holiday. I planted myself in front of the TV every year, still do. And I am now the owner of a copy. I could watch it in April if I wanted to, and I’m tempted, but I resist. Halloween is but once a year.

What makes this special so great? Everything that Charles Schulz, Bill Melendez and Lee Mendelson created. The jazzy soundtrack by Vince Guaraldi, the kids in their simplistic costumes on their trick-or-treat travels (and Charlie Brown’s unfortunate haul of rocks), Lucy’s no-nonsense approach to pumpkin carving. Most magical: Snoopy as the World War I Flying Ace, off on his adventures through the nighttime fields of the “French” countryside; and Linus, determined and faithful among the vines of his “most sincere” pumpkin patch. And one of my favorite things about the show — the moody watercolor skies, perfectly swirled with fall hues, setting the background for every scene. I want to disappear in those “cartoon” skies.

Growing up when I did, the Peanuts Gang were a holiday ritual I would not miss. But I never knew there existed a cookbook with a Peanuts theme! One day last year, my friend Lorraine, a fellow baker of the heart, brought in some delicious lemon bars and I asked her for the recipe. She showed me “Lucy’s Lemon Squares” from a tiny little book. “Peanuts Cook Book” (1969) (out of print, you can find it through used book resources, such as Amazon or Alibris), features such delightful recipes as “Charlie Brown’s Brownies,” “Snoopy’s Steak Tartar” and “Peppermint Patty’s Prune Whip.”

The recipe that really caught my eye, though, was one for “Great Pumpkin Cookies.” I got my own copy of the cookbook and set about making a treat to honor my favorite holiday, my long-loved TV special and my friend, Lorraine. Something about baking from a little book from 1969 gave me great comfort and joy. The cookie recipe was of an old-school nature, the good old-fashioned drop cookie. With canned pumpkin, spices, raisins and pecans, it offered the full flavors of fall. I had not made a drop cookie in a long time, but they had been common in our kitchen when I was growing up.

As is common with most drop cookies, they grew vertically in the oven (rising like the Great Pumpkin!) versus spreading out on the sheet, puffy mounds of orange, spicy, but not too sweet, delightfully moist. And the crunch of pecans with the chewy raisins made them ever more nostalgic, in cookie jar terms.

It’s not even Halloween yet, and I’ve already watched “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” twice. I’ll watch it again when it runs “live” on Halloween night on ABC. Can’t get enough. Why?

It’s about all things Halloween…the mystery and possibility in the darkness, the magic of that one special night a year. It’s about believing.

As Linus composes his letter to the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown asks him: “When are you going to stop believing in something that isn’t true?” And Linus finishes his letter with a postscript: “If you really are a fake, don’t tell me. I don’t want to know.”

Some of us don’t want to know. We want to continue always believing in the magic and sit in the most sincere pumpkin patch, “…sincerity as far as the eye can see…”

Believe in that Great Pumpkin or any of those wondrous things of the imagination. Believe.

As that old question goes: is it better to love or be loved? One could also ask, is it better to believe or be believed?

I know my answer!

Happy Halloween!

Great Pumpkin Cookies
From “Peanuts Cook Book” (1969)
Makes 3 to 4 dozen cookies

1 1/2 cups brown sugar, packed
1 cup shortening
2 eggs
1 lb. can pumpkin
2 3/4 cups flour, sifted
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ginger
1 cup raisins
1 cup pecans, chopped

Preheat oven to 400. Mix sugar, shortening, eggs and pumping thoroughly. Sift dry ingredients and add to pumpkin mixture. Blend well. Add raisins and pecans. Drop batter by teaspoonful on ungreased baking sheets. Bake 12 to 15 minutes until lightly browned.

A delicious snack while you are waiting for the “Great Pumpkin.”

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