Happy Halloween From Chris Kimball -The Toast

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Previously: Someone will go missing this winter. They always do.

Each issue of Cook’s Illustrated begins with a folksy letter with news from down on the old Vermont farm by founder and editor-in-chief Chris Kimball. These charming, old-timey updates remind us all of a slower, simpler way of life, where neighbors stop to swap plowing tips out by the trading post and run when they see Old Henry coming. Who’s Old Henry? Why, what a question, stranger. Old Henry knows who you are. That much is certain. Old Henry knows who you are just fine. 

The Toast has received an advance copy of Mr. Kimball’s Halloween-themed essay, which we are proud to publish in full here. 

This morning there were seven ravens all in a row outside America’s Test Kitchen. I asked them who they were here for, but they wouldn’t answer me, so I left them a country ham. When I came back outside, one of the ravens had eaten the others. He stood nearly three feet high, and he had feathers dripping from his hard and lacquered mouth. He never touched the ham, so I brought it home with me. He followed me home. He’s outside right now, perched on the mailbox. Mailbox is leaning a bit, from the weight of him. I’ll make sure to tell him how much I enjoyed the ham.

You ever wonder what’s watching you from underneath the dirt while you’re plowing a field? Something is. Something surely is. Nothing blinks in the dirt.

It’s my understanding that trees are just the gnarled hands of witches that have been buried face-up in the earth. But it’s the ones that have been buried face-down that you have to look out for.

Jack the Barber’s come back to town. Jack the Barber always turns up with the leaves start falling. “Autumn is just Nature’s way of giving a haircut to the trees,” Jack the Barber always says, giggling helplessly. Jack the Barber can’t hold a pair of scissors, he’s laughing so hard. His eyes roll back in his head, white with fear, but he keeps on laughing. He laughs all the way back out of town. Never did get that haircut from Jack. What’ll the birds eat this winter, I wonder, without the hair I leave out on the porch every November.

Some nights, when I can’t sleep, I go to the old town square — the old one, before everyone put their houses on stilts and moved down the road a piece — and visit the burn victims. They’ve developed quite a society in that old town square. The Charred Mayor’s a real nice fellow, if a little hard to understand.

I couldn’t sleep last night.

Couldn’t help but notice that some of you have been passing off our Hearty Beef Stew (October 2007) as our Best Beef Stew (September 2012). Never mind how I noticed. I noticed. That’s tale-telling, is what that is. Cook’s Illustrated can’t abide a liar. No, sir, if there’s one thing that Cook’s Illustrated cannot abide, it is a cook who tells lies at the table. Next time you try one of our recipes, well — you won’t tell tales again.

Have you seen Old Henry yet today? Old Henry says hello. I saw old Henry out by the hitching post, and he was doing just fine. “Spry as a long-tailed polecat in a tree full of owls,” he said, clacking his heels together. I gave him a silver half-dollar, as is my custom, and then he burrowed deep into the earth, where his soft, rumbling laughter echoed for hours. The silver dollar’s still there, but it won’t budge from its place on the ground, no matter how hard you try to move it.

Churches disappear sometimes. Nothing to be done about it. Just sell the churchyard gates for scrap metal and salt whatever foundation posts are left.

Next time you find yourself out of baking soda after the stores close, try whispering Old Mae’s name in the ear of a nearby fox. As often as not, Old Mae will appear at your door with what you need. Old Mae’ll want something in return, though. Old Mae doesn’t work for free, and her drugstore’s not going to run itself.

A good jam covers a multitude of sins. Nothing you’ve done so bad that can’t be washed away with a good jam. You can sleep easy if you’ve got a basement brimming with jam jars. No one will speak against you, even if they wanted to.

Went down to the post office this morning. No one was there. Lot of rocking chairs in the post office, though. I counted at least five. Just sitting there. Later I looked in the window on my way home, and there were rocking chairs in a line out the door. Only one of them was rocking, so I figured that it must have been their leader.

You can grate anything with a box grater. If it moves, it grates, as my neighbor Bill used to say right before they changed him.

None of the dogs in town have woken up today. They’re not dead, mind you, but they won’t wake up. They’re all twitching and sleeping and breathing slowly in a line, and nobody can wake them up. Wonder what they’re up to. Wonder if they’ll be ready.

Soon enough it’ll be Halloween. I like to ask the children who come to my door to list six separate uses for cornstarch. The ones that can, well, they’ll wake up with a piece of hoarhound under their pillow the next morning, and they’ll never dream again. That’s my gift to them. The ones that can’t, well, they get the extra dreams. Good and bad, they get the extra dreams.

It’ll be Christmas soon. If we live through Christmas night, then we just might make it through spring. Always carry a bit of holly with you just to be on the safe side. It doesn’t really work, of course, but you already knew that. It can’t hurt, anyhow. Remember not to touch any ice, now. You know what happens around here if you happen to be walking alone and you touch the ice.

Well, folks, that’s all from Vermont. Til next time – happy cookin’.

Chris Kimball

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