Childhood fears are funny things. I am not sure we ever get over them, not completely. I’m a reasonably grown man, closing in on half a century of wanderings and I have faced and overcome many fears in my time. That’s part of growing up. The more we learn, the more we realize that the truly scary things in the world rarely go bump in the night and as a buddy likes to remind me when we are hiking in moonlit woods, “If anything out here really means you harm, you’ll probably never hear it coming.” Still, when those cold winds begin to blow rattling the dry leaves in the trees and the fire dances in the jack o’lanterns eyes, it’s funny how those old haunts can rise from their graves. So won’t you join me now as we listen to the distant clatter of hooves in the distance and we stand and make the Headless Horseman.
This one comes to us from Ryan Lilioa at Brooklyn’s Leyenda Cocteria, a wonderful pan-latin inspired bar and restaurant from the same folks who brought you the legendary Clover Club, which happens to be right across the street. You can find it currently on their Mahaloween tiki inspired menu combining Brazilian Cachaca and other tropical flavors with the pumpkin spice seasonal standard we have all come to know and love or loath, depending on your particular point of view.
This is a blender drink so grab your pitcher and pop in 2 ounces of Cachaca, I chose Pirassununga Cachaça 51; 1/2 an ounce of Allspice Dram, I went with St. Elizabeth; 1 1/2 ounces pureed pumpkin, the canned stuff is fine; 3/4 of an ounce of coconut cream, 1/2 an ounce of cinnamon simple syrup, 1/2 an ounce of fresh lime juice and 1/2 an ounce of fresh orange juice. Add 1 cup of ice and give that a god blend to the beat of “Ain’t No Rest For The Wicked” by Cage the Elephant, till smooth. We could not find the perfect vessel for this one, so it was arts and crafts time for us. We grabbed a pumpkin mug and drew a jack o’lantern face on it, before sitting it atop an inverted cocktail cup cleverly clothed in an old sock. Sure, our horseman ended up looking more like that guy in the poorly fitting turtleneck who hung out by the theatre door smoking clove cigarettes while talking about revolution than any creature from my nightmares, but what can I say we tried. Pour the drink into your awaiting pumkpinhead, pop in a paper straw, garnish with a lime shell filled with a crouton soaked in lemon extract and set on fire. Sprinkle a little cinnamon over the top for some pleasingly aromatic fireworks and serve.
This one is every bit as tasty as I had imagined it would be. The pumpkin, cinnamon, coconut and allspice dram really come together to give this one a lovely autumn in the tropics feel. It is really, really nice. It is sweet, but not cloying. I think the cachaca and lime really help to balance this one out. I followed up and made this one again with pumpkin infused cachaca as a shaken tiki drink over pebble ice and that worked too. All the flavor with none of the brain freeze. Just combine your cachaca and pumpkin puree overnight and strain or it might be bit too grainy. I did 5 ounces of cachaca to 3 ounces of pumpkin to account for loss in the straining process. It’s a great drink either way and definitely a wonderful addition to your Halloween menu.
I do not know what it is about the Headless Horseman, but that’s the one that always got me. Sure, I was afraid of vampires and werewolves, monster sharks and deranged killers of the silver screen all haunted my dreams, but the true big bad from my childhood was that specter from Sleepy Hollow. I don’t know why really. Like many childhood fears I guess we can blame Walt Disney, because he surely had a hand in it with his wonderfully frightful 1949 adaptation of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. They understood what really made that story resonate, so they cut a bit of the exposition about the town and extended the chase sequence from the Washington Irving original. Their version of the Horseman, silhouetted against the moon, his jack o’lantern skull held high, is still the one that haunts my dreams, though mine wears his cape Inverness style, like the Scooby Doo version of this phantom. This is literally the only good thing about the Scooby version. I am not sure what they were smoking in the writers room, but in an episode full of ridiculousness, whoever came up with having him fly a “Red Baron” style biplane, gets the highest award. Though the creators of the television version starring Jeff Goldblum as Ichcabod and Dick Bitkus as Brom Bones, may run a close second.
Months ago, my wife and I were walking after midnight through the sleepy village of Helen, Georgia when we came across a closed haunted attraction. As we passed we triggered an automatic light that unveiled a previously cloaked in shadows, larger than life sized horse animatronic with his headless rider. I made a sound. I don’t recall exactly how high-pitched it was, so it was likely a heroic yawlp as I grabbed my wife’s hand, to make sure she was safe, allegedly. She may remember things differently, you will have to ask her. There I was a grown man, full versed in the legends and reasonably knowledgable about what one should and should not be frightened of, visibly shaken by this lifeless reminder of my childhood fears. Oddly enough, this legend has some basis in reality. Not the nightly spectral visits from a horseman searching for his lost head, naturally, but Washington Irving based his story on an actual Hessian soldier whose headless body was found in Tarrytown after the Battle of White Plains in 1776 and buried in the churchyard there. Locals quickly added him to their lexicon of local ghosts, adapting the long-standing European tales of the headless horsemen of The Wild Hunt or the Irish dullahan or “dark man” who is sometimes mistaken for the headless driver of the CÃ³iste Bodhar or Death Coach. This story is retold time and time again, with small changes. Even my own hometown has the Chapel Hill Ghost Light, that reimagines this legend as the tale of a signalman who was decapitated by a train and now wanders the railway searching for his missing head by lantern light.
There is something otherworldly about a headless creature that has struck fear into us for centuries, an unnaturalness that cannot be escaped. As a rational person in the light of day, I could go on and on about why there is no reason to fear this mythical creature. However, when walking in the woods at night, when I hear the distant clip clop of horses hooves on the stones, the hair stands up on the back of my neck. In the night, we loose our rational selves as our inner children remember the wonder and terror of what might be. While there may not be any horseman risen from the grave or spectral figures carrying lanterns on the railroad, there are still monsters out there. That is the one other thing that old Scooby Doo episode got right. There are things out there that would do us harm, things that do indeed go bump in the night, but when you finally confront them and pull off that mask you will find that the true monster underneath looks just like any of us, and that might be the scariest thing of all. Happy Halloween and remember to stay safe, stay hydrated and don’t lose your heads, my friends.