Delicious Traditions

One neighborhood in Mound is celebrating its 35th Halloween together.
Patrick Jarvis’ autumnal chili is a perfect pair with the late Fred Merrill’s beloved dip.

Four families. 35 years. One tradition.

It started in 1981 with three neighboring families on Warner Lane in Mound: the Winters, the McCarvilles and the Barlows. (The fourth family, the Stackes, moved to the neighborhood in 2010.) All with young children, the families thought it made sense to pool their resources on what is perhaps a parent’s busiest night of the year: Halloween. The dads would take the kids trick-or-treating, while the moms gathered at one house to hand out candy, warm the food, and drink wine. A tradition was born.

“They were like family. I grew up with them,” says Tiffany Winter, a local marketing consultant, food writer and author. She was the youngest member of the Warner Lane group. “The other kids were like big brothers and sisters to me.”

Now, 35 years later, the tradition still stands. Five or six crockpots full of chili sit in the kitchen, anticipating the taste-test to see which one will garner this year’s prize. A tableful of appetizers and a plate of killer brownies with hot fudge sauce await the group.

Fred and Margaret Merrill, an older couple with grown children who also lived nearby, used to pop in every year to the celebration, bringing with them Fred’s famous dip. “We jokingly called it the ‘crack dip,’ because you couldn’t stop eating it,” Winter says with a laugh. “He took great pride in making it.” But Fred passed away last year, making this Halloween a bit harder.

Today, most of the Warner Lane “kids” have children of their own. But they return to the neighborhood every October 31 to carry on a tradition years in the making. Winter says, “It’s an amazing neighborhood—the best atmosphere you could have asked for.”

Recipes from Warner Lane

Patrick’s Chili

Patrick Jarvis is married to Heather McCarville, daughter of one of the founding families.

  • 1 8.5 oz. jar of sundried tomatoes, julienne cut
  • 1 cup red wine
  • 1 24 oz. jar of tomato basil pasta sauce
  • 1 12 oz. can of tomato paste
  • 1 28 oz. can of stewed tomatoes in Italian sauce
  • 1 14 oz. can of diced tomatoes
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 lb. sweet sausage
  • 1 lb. mild sausage
  • 1 bunch of fresh basil, coarse chopped
  • 1 bunch of fresh cilantro, coarse chopped
  • 1 bunch of fresh oregano, coarse chopped
  • 1 bunch of fresh green scallions, chopped
  • 1 4.5 oz. jar of roasted garlic

Combine all tomatoes, wine, pasta sauce and tomato paste in a stew pot and let simmer on low. Slowly add meat, garlic, chopped herbs, and salt and pepper to taste.

Fred Merrill’s Dip

  • 1 16 oz. bottle ranch dressing with bacon
  • 1 8 oz. jar salsa con queso dip
  • 1/3 cup soy sauce
  • 4 oz. package of salmon flavored cream cheese
  • ½ cup finely chopped onion
  • Corn chips (like Fritos)

Mix all ingredients together and refrigerate. Serve with corn chips.

Tiffany Winter’s party-planning tips:

1. Do as much as you can beforehand. “I hate being stuck in the kitchen. I want to be sitting and talking with these people I love,” Winter says.

2. Have a theme. “I love themes. Halloween is so fun because there are great recipes, games and decorations.” She visits and shops like Pier One Imports to find the perfect details and decorations.

3. Get everyone involved. “Assign specific jobs to each person. For example, someone can fill the chip bowl while another person is in charge of mixing drinks.” And when people ask if they can help, always say yes. “Friends want to help, especially in our neighborhood. We’re so casual—no one’s really a guest.”

Kathy Barlow’s Hot Fudge Sauce

  • 1/2 cup margarine
  • 4 oz. chocolate chips or 4 Tbsp. cocoa powder
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 tall can evaporated milk

Melt margarine and chocolate; add sugar and salt and mix until moist. Gradually add evaporated milk. Bring to a boil. Store in the refrigerator; heat to thin when ready to use.