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Open Season

Martha Stewart Living, October 2007

When you're a child, the first hint of crisp fall air is a little like the bell that rings at the end of recess: a reminder that time spent playing outdoors (at least without wearing your body weight in winter gear) is fleeting. As an adult, it can be the impetus for a party. Filled with so many things to savor -- leaves flushed red and gold; wonderfully strange, amorphous fruits back in season; the sweet smell of wood smoke in the breeze -- an open-air get-together can offer as much to grown-ups as it does to kids.

That's what Marcie McGoldrick, crafts editor at Martha Stewart Living, had in mind when she invited 15 of her young cousins and their parents to gather for games and food (sometimes combined) on an October afternoon. Inspired by an annual party her mom used to host when McGoldrick was growing up, she organized apple bobbing and a contest known as Doughnuts on a String, both popular attractions at the childhood event, and threw in a few activities of her own. When entertaining lots of kids, "it's important to keep in mind the range of ages," McGoldrick says. She came up with Pin the Face on the Pumpkin in part because children as young as 2 or 3 can play. She found that other games also could be modified to suit everybody in the group. She mixed average-size apples with tiny Lady ones, which are easier to pick up, in the bobbing tub. For Squash Bowling, in which pumpkins are rolled down a grassy lane toward butternut squash pins, she got creative with the rules, letting kids, depending on their pumpkin-hurling ability, stand closer to the pins or farther away.

With help from the Living test kitchen, McGoldrick was able to offer a lunch that was child-friendly without being child-centric. The harvest-theme buffet -- buttery pumpkin soup, aromatic apple-and-onion tarts, spicy-smoky pork tamales, assorted fruits and nuts, and multiple desserts -- included enough choices and fresh, rich flavors to appeal to a variety of palates.

Partygoers played games and nibbled on food until the sun began to slip behind the trees, casting fingerlike shadows across the lawn. The day, like the season, would soon move on. But not just yet.

The Menu
Spiced Apple Cider
Apple-Onion Tart
Winter Squash Dip
Harvest Pumpkin Soup
Pork Tamales With Roasted Tomatillo-Chile Salsa
Molasses-Spice Cake
Butterscotch Custards with Apple-Cider Caramel
Old-Fashioned Raised Doughnuts
Kettle Korn
Sugared Seckel Pear
Classic Caramel Apples

The Games
Doughnuts on a String
Bobbing for Apples
Squash Bowling
Pin the Face on the Pumpkin

Crafts
Soda Bottle Stand How-To