It takes a lot of energy to get kids carrying sleds and twice their body weight in clothing back up a sledding hill. Last weekend our 4-H club had a sledding party. And while the kids flew down and trudged up the country-park hill, we adults manned the campfire and the food. My party contribution was cranberry pumpkin bars. Although I was surrounded in the whites, blues, and grays of winter, I still hadn’t given up on fall. Those harvest colors of orange and crimson soothe this soul who reminisces of a warmer time, – a time when I didn’t have to hop to feel my toes. Fall comfort foods should never be far from a Wisconsin winter table, especially if that table is an old picnic table half buried in snow in the woods.

An added benefit to eating pumpkin bars on the sledding hill is that they don’t challenge the jaw muscles and teeth like frozen chocolate. The kids were trying to make s’mores. The roasting of the marshmallows went as expected, some turned out half-golden, others were charred black. And the graham crackers remained perennially graham crackerish. But at 15 degrees, Hershey’s chocolate bars are rock hard. The warm marshmallows, which in summer’s heat would have slightly melted the chocolate over the graham cracker, didn’t leave any impression at all on that frozen chocolate. The kids obviously struggled as they attempted to maneuver the chocolate on to their back molars for maximum impact. My 7-year-old gave up on his s’more. (So I had to use extreme effort and consume his chocolate.) Good thing we had those pumpkin bars and cookies.

But challenging food, numb fingers, and smiles spread beneath frost-bit noses are part of the fun at an outdoor winter party. We all got fresh air; the kids got lots of exercise, and we adults got to chat as we rotated ourselves like marshmallows around the fire. Wisconsin has lots of great sledding hills. And if you’re blessed with lots of snow and hills too, get out there and wake up to winter. And to keep the cranks away from your angels, just bring along fun food too. Read on for the cranberry pumpkin bar recipe.

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