All Over But the Clean-Up


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.

Appetizers for the 8th BYOP party

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 selections for BYOP 8

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.

Desserts at the 8th BYOP party

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.

How often do you evaluate your parties?

*These recipes will all be found in What to Feed Your Raiding Party, expected out in the near future!

Random Appetites: BYOP Basics


In September, 1999, I had just ended my brief career as a pastry chef to return to the more lucrative bookkeeping job I’d left and had recently been dumped by my boyfriend of more than a year. It was the first time in two years I found myself with loads of free time.

Not only did I start watching a lot of television around this time, I also got back into crafting. And while flipping through “Crafts” magazine, full of all sorts of Halloween projects, I saw a small inset about throwing a BYOP (Bring Your Own Pumpkin) party. That Fall was my first of a string of very successful Pumpkin Parties whose invitations are, actually, quite coveted.

This year is, unfortunately, a non-BYOP year for me as I have a couple of schedule conflicts but, hopefully, next year will see BYOP-6 (I mean, I already have a theme in mind!). But if you want to throw your own, here’s the basics:

  • Have it up to a week before Halloween itself. This prevents schedule conflicts with the actual holiday and gives people more time to show off their creation. Depending on your October weather, a week may be pushing it.
  • Start in the early afternoon and leave a few hours for people to to work on their pumpkins. Asking your guests to clean out the gourds ahead of time will lessen the clean-up for you, but have a bag or two available for guts and discards.
  • Have lots of patterns and tools available. I like to provide everything BUT the pumpkins for my guests, including carving tools, patterns, paints and brushes and sundry other items (toothpicks, candles, etc.)
  • Serve refreshments. My first couple of BYOPs were pot-luck because I was on a serious budget and this party started big! (both friends and family came as well as a church “youth” group) The last several I’ve supplied everything from appetizers to desserts and plenty in between as my budget allows.

Other things I like to do are to award prizes for Most Original, Scariest, Funniest and Best in Show and have goodie bags for when people leave, after supper and general hanging out. Anyone who doesn’t carve a pumpkin gets to acct as the judging committee or we do silent ballots–so far there’s always been a couple who haven’t carved but come for the rest of the fun.

And I’ve had all sorts of pumpkins show up! Huge ones big enough to fit a small child inside (I have picture proof…somewhere) and little baby pattypie pumpkins that were painted instead of carved. We’ve also had a spaghetti squash that was painted (so it could be washed and roasted later and therefore not wasted) and last year featured a very scary looking parsnip!!! Just roll with it!