Traditional Samhain Feast

Gourmet Girl - October 27, 2011

"Here's a menu for a Halloween Feast that reflects the Samhain traditions of the ancient Celts as well as the modern-day Irish people"

Celebrations of Halloween have long focused on food, whether it be the Roman Feast of Pomona, the goddess of fruits and seeds, or the Celtic festival of Samhain, which means "Summer's End" in Old Irish.

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. 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 America 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 placed into it before baking. 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 trick-or-treaters, traditional Halloween, or Samhain, foods are still served in parts of Europe on Hallow's Eve, most notably Ireland.

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

Pumpkin and Black Bean Chile (Serves 10) Adapted from



1 medium onion, chopped
1 yellow bell pepper, diced
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 garlic cloves, minced
3 cups chicken broth
2 cans (15 ounces each) black beans, rinsed and drained
1 can (15 ounces) solid pack pumpkin
1 can (14.5 ounces) diced tomatoes, with juice
2 teaspoons dried parsley
2 teaspoons chile powder
1 ½ teaspoons oregano
1 ½ teaspoons ground cumin
½ teaspoon salt
1 hollowed out pumpkin

Saute onion and yellow pepper in oil until soft. Transfer to a five-quart slow cooker and stir in the remaining ingredients. Cover and cook on low heat for 4 to 5 hours. Serve in a hollowed out pumpkin.

Pumpkin Soup (Serves 6) Adapted from



1 medium onion, chopped
2 tablespoons butter
2 cans (14-1/2 ounces each) chicken broth
2 cups sliced peeled potatoes
1 can (15 ounces) solid-pack pumpkin
2 to 2-1/2 cups milk
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 cup (8 ounces) sour cream
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
3 bacon strips, cooked and crumble

In a large saucepan, saute onion in butter until tender. Add broth, potatoes and pumpkin and cook about 15 minutes, until potatoes turn tender. Let cool. Puree half of the mixture at a time in a blender or food processor until smooth. Return to pan and add milk, nutmeg, salt and pepper and heat. Mix sour cream with parsley. Serve soup topped with a spoonful of sour cream sprinkled with bacon.

Potato Turnip Gratin (Serves 10) From Entertaining 101, by Linda West Eckhardt and Katherine West DeFoyd



3 cups half and half
2 teaspoons chopped garlic
½ teaspoon nutmeg
1 ½ teaspoons salt
6 medium turnips
6 large Russet potatoes
1 large yellow onion
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
½ cup seasoned bread crumbs
Parsley leaves

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Combine half and half with garlic, nutmeg, salt and pepper in saucepan and boil for 10 minutes. Grease a four quart gratin or baking dish. Peel and slice potatoes, turnips and onions and overlap them in the gratin, alternating potatoes with turnips. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Pour the hot cream sauce over the vegetables and sprinkle with bread crumbs. Cover the dish with foil and bake for 30 minutes. Remove foil and bake for another 25 to 40 minutes, until vegetables are tender. Garnish with parsley leaves.

Colcannon (Serves 6) From



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.

Soul Cakes Adapted from The Food Network's "The Secret Life of Hallowe'en"



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 Barmbrack From



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 cup whole milk or light
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 for 5-10 minutes. Dough
should be smooth, and a little sticky.

Place 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 for 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 tapping on the sides produces a hollow sound. Cool on a
rack before serving. Sprinkle with powdered sugar or serve with butter and jam.