Feeling needled about her cooking, Helda needed a novel solution
The 'Sisterhood of Cooks' had met and the challenge thrown down. Who could cook up the most creative meal on All Hallow's Eve? Well disguised judges as roving guests would visit each home. Bonus points would be given for atmosphere. "You going to prepare the same old thing that came in second place last year?" Neighbor Alice Thorn snickered at Helda.
Helda's family got into the act. By consensus, they decided on a scarecrow theme in a haunted garden.
Roy Senior dressed as a spooky scarecrow. Five-year-old Roy Junior and his eight-year-old sister, Henrietta, dressed up as big toothed garden gophers. The master chef was just glad to have her 'helpers' out of her hair.
A Halloween Witch would fly down on a line from the big Cottonwood tree by the backyard fence at the press of a switch. A pop-up grave with a ghost's moaning appearance appeared likewise.
Event time approached. The smell of spicy hot soup, freshly made bread, and succulent desserts brought sniffing noses wiggling up to her open window. Inquisitive grunts from smacking lips just below were met with, "Wait. No samples. Watch for the guests."
Helda's secret weapon was Nettle Soup. The family recipe hidden in an old diary was handed down to her from Aunt Matilda on her mother's side. It was traditionally prepared during spring with fresh stinging nettle leaves.
The new recipe was to soak dried thistle in stinging nettle brine for use as a surprise meal during fall. Simmered and brought to taste with special herbs and spices the result tasted like the traditional green soup.
Helda's lips nibbled at a spoon. "Delicious." Her eyes filled with pleasure. She prepared the soup in dried gourds shaped as bowls from her garden.
"They are here right on time." Announced Scarecrow Roy, ushering in a group of costumed grownups mixed with neighborhood children. The kids got fist full's of candy corn and bobbed for apples in the backyard. Grown-ups hiding behind masked faces were escorted to the wooden picnic table.
Helda and Roy discreetly left them to sample Helda's success. They heard not a word as every tasty morsel was devoured while kids came and left with the usual "Trick or Treat" request for goodies and to bob for apples.
As silently as they came the judges left. Helda and Roy had been so busy making the evening work they didn't meet up until then. "Did you recognize anyone when they took their masks off?" Helda wanted to know.
"I thought you were the nosey one and would be doing that." Roy kissed the tip of Helda's painted farmer's wife freckled cheek and laughed.
"We're here." Announced a familiar voice from the swinging open front door. "Sorry, we're a little late."
Helda shot Roy Senior with a dagger look. "You didn't check to make sure that last group were judges?" The shocked look she got in return was answer enough. "I've got to feed them something. Keep them busy out back."
Screams of laughter met Helda through the kitchen window as she nervously checked out her options. Soup? Gone. Hot apple cider? Gone. Bread and pastries? Not a crumb left. "What am I going to do?"
Roy Junior and Henrietta came in to watch Helda scare up something of good taste. "Here. Take this out, and this. Wait." Leftovers from the fridge were mixed in colorful disarray on a scattering of chipped old plates. Silverware was stabbed into a mountain of the resulting display and the kids were launched out to place them before the real judges.
Once again Roy and Helda held back from view. Both were stricken by the turn of events. Laughter erupted as the kids activated the witch and ghost. "Oops. Oh my." A costumed witch was so startled the plate in her hand flew up in the air to land on the head of a bald gremlin.
The kids ducked under the picnic table as food flew everywhere. "Got you." was echoed by "Take that." It was a major food fight among all participants. Brought into the sound of mayhem, Roy and Helda watched their success turn into doomed failure before their eyes.
"Well. I never." A witch with cheezy macaroni hanging from a long fake nose thrust out her pointy hat, turned it upside down, where cabbage salad spilled to her sharp-toed shoes. She was the last in a line of departing mummies, monsters, and messed up mayhem.
"They gone, mom?" Henrietta slipped on a pile of spaghetti that looked like bloody worms crawling under her feet, danced in mid-air, and landed on her feet.
"Wow. I've never seen grown-ups have a free-for-all. Super." Roy Junior handed Henrietta back her cell phone. "She got photos and everything."
Helda didn't bother showing up at the sisters next meeting when the winner was announced. There was no reason and she couldn't stand the shame. Roy Senior dangled the phone in his hand. "Someone wants to talk to you."
"You handle it. This was all your fault. You should have checked for who were judges." Helda waved off the phone. She might have just canceled her membership if it hadn't been canceled for her. It all depended on how much of the leftovers had been consumed and how much thrown in peoples faces. She groaned and sank onto her sofa.
"We're not sure what we ate. It seemed to be everything but the kitchen sink." Questioning sounds amid gales of laughter came as Roy put the phone on loudspeaker.
"These photos are priceless, dear. Thank you, Roy, for sending them along. We'll post them on our bulletin board along with Helda's first place ribbon until she comes to pick it up. Was that fired linguini I tasted?"
Roy looked at Helda with an arched eyebrow over one eye. "It was a secret recipe I don't think she's ready to share." Roy's face was a mixture of glee and surprise as he turned to Helda. "What do you know?"