A Samhain Halloween Feast

- October 31, 2012

"...the barmbrack fortells the future of the one who finds the ring while eating it, for they will be lucky in love during the coming year..."

When you consider all of the symbolism associated with Halloween—from black cats and witch's spells to treats instead of tricks and the carved Jack-o-lantern itself—it's no surprise that food figures strongly in the celebration of this holiday.

In the ancient Celtic era, villagers offered to pray for the souls of the dead in exchange for a sweet, which became known as soulcakes, and the tradition eventually gave rise to trick or treating. Turnips were once carved into lanterns as a way of remembering the souls in purgatory, and are still used in Ireland and Scotland during Halloween. But immigrants to American began carving pumpkins instead because they were plentiful, larger and easier to carve.

In Ireland, it's traditional to eat Colcannon on Halloween night, as it's a warming food. It's also traditional to place a plate of buttered colcannon on the front porch for the fairies and ghosts that visit on All Hallow's Eve. Irish Barmbrack is a light fruitcake served on Halloween with a ring baked and hidden inside it. Like the King Cake served at Epiphany, the barmbrack fortells the future of the one who finds the ring while eating it, for they will be lucky in love during the coming year.

While in America, Halloween is most associated with candy corn, caramel apples, and chocolate bars handed out to children who are trick-or-treating, traditional Halloween, or Samhain, foods are still served in parts of Europe on Hallow's Eve, most notably Ireland.

For centuries, feasts have figured in celebrations of Halloween, whether it be the Celtic festival of Samhain, or "Summers End" in Old Irish, or the Roman Feast of Pomona, the goddess of fruits and seed. During the ancient Celtic festival Samhain, people lit bonfires and dressed in costumes to ward off any wandering ghosts. They also feasted on the traditional foods of fall -- pumpkins, squash, potatoes and turnips. The Celts believed that during Samhain, the souls of those who died moved beyond the veil between this world and the next.

Here's a menu for a Halloween Feast that reflects Samhain traditions of the ancient Celts, as well as the modern-day Irish people. The main ingredients are pumpkin, turnips and potatoes – autumnal foods have been grown for centuries.

Ancient Celtic villagers offered to pray for the souls of the dead in exchange for a sweet, which became known as soulcakes. The tradition eventually gave rise to trick or treating.

2 cups flour
½ cup sugar
2 tablespoons butter
About 1 teaspoon cloves, mace, nutmeg and saffron
Splash of sherry
About a handful of dried apricots, currants and raisins

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Mix flour and sugar. In a separate bowl, mix butter and spices then add a splash of sherry to release the aroma of the spices. Add the butter mixture to the flour, then stir in dried fruits.

Form the dough into several balls and flatten with a rolling pin. Using cookie cutters, cut out shapes and bake for 15 to 20 minutes.

Irish Boxty
A filling and satisfying meal or side dish made of grated raw and mashed potatoes, cooked on a griddle, that is popular at Halloween.

1 pound of peeled potatoes
3/4 cup plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup buttermilk
2 tablespoons vegetable oil

Cut half the potatoes in small pieces, boil until soft and then mash to a smooth consistency. Transfer to a large bowl. Grate the rest of the (raw) potatoes onto a clean kitchen towel or cheesecloth and press most starch out into another bowl.

Blend the grated potatoes into the mashed potatoes, adding flour, baking powder and salt. Mix evenly, then add the starch and buttermilk, mix well.
Heat some oil in a pan and fry little pancakes made from the potato mass until evenly brown on each side (three to four minutes). Serve hot.

You can combine the boxty with fried mushrooms and onions for a full vegetarian meal - or with fried bacon or black pudding for a non-vegetarian option.

Irish Champ (Serves 4)
The Irish  have numerous recipes for  potatoes, including champ, which is easy to make from scratch.

1 pound potatoes, peeled and quartered
1 cup scallions/spring onion
2 ounces butter
2 ounces milk
Simmer the potatoes in lightly salted water until cooked - when pierced with a sharp knife the potato is soft in the middle.  Finely chop the white part of the scallion/spring onion and roughly chop the green part. Keep to one side. Drain the potatoes and add the butter and milk and mash the potatoe until smooth and creamy. Add the finely chopped white part of the onion and mix well.  Season well with salt and pepper. Serve with the green part of the onion sprinkled on the top.

Colcannon (Serves 6)
Colcannon traditionally was used to predict marriage on Halloween as charms were hidden in the dish and any unmarried girl who found one would put them on their front door handle. The first man to enter the house would be the man she would marry.

1 pound cabbage or kale, cooked
1 pound potatoes, cubed and boiled until tender
2 leeks, cleaned and chopped

1 cup whole milk or light cream

1/2  cup butter, melted
Salt and pepper, to taste
Pinch of ground mace (optional)
Bring cabbage or kale to boil in lightly salted water, cook until tender and chop. Simmer milk or cream in a medium saucepan. Add leeks and cook until soft. Drain potatoes, add salt and pepper to taste, and mace. Beat until fluffy.

Return potatoes to pot over low heat, and add milk and leeks. Beat in kale or cabbage until mixture turns green and fluffy. Remove from heat and serve. Make a well in the middle of each portion and divide butter evenly among servings, filling each well.

Irish Barmbrack
Barmbrac  takes its name from breac, which means speckled and refers to the fruit in the recipe. It's traditionally eaten at Halloween

2 cups strong, hot black tea
3 ½ cups mixed dried fruits (raisins, cranberries, dry dates, candied orange peel, etc.)
1 cup milk
2 teaspoons active dry yeast
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
3 cups bread flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup brown sugar, packed
1/3 cup butter
1 large. egg, beaten
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon allspice
Soak dried fruits in tea overnight, or a few hours. Heat milk until warm. Sprinkle yeast and teaspoon granulated sugar over top and stir. Let sit in a warm place about 15 minutes, until foamy.

Stir together the flour, salt, spices, and brown sugar in a large bowl. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture, and add egg, yeast mixture, and butter. Mix well with a wooden spoon.

Drain fruit well, then add to dough. This should produce a smooth dough. If it's too gooey, add more flour. Knead dough on a floured board about 5-10 minutes. Dough should be smooth, but just a little sticky.lace dough in greased cake or loaf pan, cover with a cloth, and let rise in a warm place for 45-60 minutes, until doubled.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Bake barmbrack 30 minutes.

Remove bread from the pan, flip it upside down, return it to the pan, and bake 20 minutes more. Bread is done cooking when it sounds hollow when tapped on the sides. Cool on a rack before serving. Sprinkle with powdered sugar or serve with butter and jam.