JEFFREY AND Jane Camp have been planning their Halloween party since June.
The Camps live in Tappahannock, Va. It is a charming little town, it's even been designated a National Historic Landmark, but it doesn't rank as one of the nation's hotspots. About two hours from Washington, east of Fredericksburg, it's definitely in the countryside. So when you live so far away, you develop ways to entice your friends to visit. You have a Halloween party. You invite 200 people from as far away as Atlanta and New York. And you not only tell them that you are going to cook, you tell them exactly what you'll be serving.
When the hosts are the co-owners of The Charity Cookbook Collector, the food becomes a major drawing card. The Camps' company is a mail-order operation that sells some of America's best regional cookbooks and they enjoy experimenting with the recipes from the books.
This year's theme is wild food. "We wanted to see what we could come up with that wasn't from a grocery store," Jeff explained. They have wild turkeys shot by country neighbors, wild persimmons from a friend's tree, homegrown chestnuts, venison biscuits, and oysters from a private oyster bed on the Potomac.
Jane's been combing the various recipe collections for appropriate Halloween fare, and they've compiled a menu that makes most Thanksgiving dinners look like fast-food meals. In addition to the roast wild turkeys and various preparations of oysters, the Camps will serve winter vegetable puree, carrot pudding, persimmon bread, squash pie, cranberry coffee cake, persimmon cookies, pumpkin pie, even homemade marshmallows and homemade ginger beer plus the traditional Halloween fare of sticky donuts and bobbing for apples.
Behind all the fun, hoopla and marathon cooking, are two people who are both very interested in food and American folk life and customs. Jane, who is British, is the cook. "Jeff is very good at preparing the vegetables and doing all those wonderful jobs," Jane says. Jeff laughs. "I'm the scullery maid," he explains.
Jane comes from a food family -- her grandparents began a food canning business in Manchester in the early 1900s. Jeff, on the other hand, grew up in "a subdivision between Silver Spring and Wheaton." His interest in food centers around the usual holiday celebrations -- Christmas, Easter, Halloween, Thanksgiving -- and their traditions. "I think our culture is sadly lacking in ritual," he explained, "so to do something like this takes a lot of effort, but it's very exciting." PERSIMMON BREAD 2 eggs, beaten 1/2 cup sugar 2 cups pureed persimmon (see note) 3 teaspoons baking powder 4 tablespoons butter, melted 1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom 1 pound flour 1/2 teaspoon salt 1/4 teaspoon mace
Beat eggs, sugar and butter. Mix well with persimmon puree. Sift dry ingredients together and add spices. Add persimmon mixture and blend well. Pour into a greased 9-by-5-by-3-inch loaf tin and bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.
Note: Gather only the wild persimmons that are soft. These are then put through a food mill or sieve. The puree can be frozen at this stage and used at a later date. CARROT PUDDING 3 eggs, separated 4 tablespoons sugar 1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch 1 cup milk 3 cups, or 2 pounds, mashed carrots 1 cup fine breadcrumbs 3 tablespoons butter 1 teaspoon salt 1 cup light cream 1/4 cup cream sherry 3/4 teaspoon fresh grated nutmeg
Beat egg yolks and sugar until light. Mix cornstarch with small amount of milk until dissolved. Heat remaining milk, add cornstarch and stir until smooth and slightly thickened. Blend small amount of hot thickened mixture into egg yolks and sugar. Mix well and return to remaining hot milk and cornstarch mixture, cooking over medium heat and stirring until smooth and thick. Add carrots, bread crumbs, butter, and salt and blend evenly. Stir in cream, sherry and nutmeg. Mix well. Beat egg whites until firmly peaked and fold into carrot mixture. Pour into greased 2 quart pudding pan. Place pudding pan in hot water and bake at 300 degrees for 30 minutes. Then increase to 350 degrees and bake an additional 50 minutes. From Fanny Pierson Crane, 1796 CRANBERRY COFFEE CAKE 1/4 pound butter or margarine 1 cup sugar 2 eggs 2 cups flour 1teaspoon soda 1 teaspoon baking powder 1/2 teaspoon salt 1 cup sour cream mixed with 1 teaspoon almond extract 1 can (17 ounces) cranberry sauce 1/2 cup nuts, chopped 2 teaspoons sugar 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
Cream butter, gradually add 1 cup sugar and cream well. Add eggs and mix well. Sift dry ingredients together and add alternately with sour cream/almond mixture. Pour into greased tube pan, first a layer of batter, then a layer of cranberry sauce, with batter on top layer. Sprinkle with mixture of nuts, sugar and cinnamon. Bake in 350 degree oven for 55 minutes. Cool in inverted pan. From The Fine Arts Cookbook