The History of Samhain
Samhain marks the beginning of Winter and the end of Summer in the British calendar. It is the time of the Pagan New Year celebration as the bountiful growing season ends and Winter begins. The days are getting shorter and colder as the earth moves further from the sun. Cattle and sheep are brought in from pasture to spend the winter in the barns.
Across the land long ago, farmers would be making decisions on how many of the herd or flock could survive the winter with what food had been stored for them. How many needed to be slaughtered to provide food. And how many would be needed to make sure the herd could be bred the following year. A wrong decision at any level could spell disaster for the farmer, his herd, and his family.
Families would carve faces into turnips or large swedes (no pumpkins in the British Isles back then) on Samhain night then they would carry these from place to place. Candles would be placed in windows. People would dress up in ghoulish costumes. Not to scare away the spirits of the dead, but to welcome and guide them. On Samhain night, the veil between the worlds was at its thinnest and those who had died could return to see family and loved ones. Places would be laid at tables to welcome them. When they returned once more to the land of the dead, the spirits of those who had died in the previous year would travel with them. These traditions are very similar to those practiced in Latin American countries today at Dia de los Muertos
(Day of the Dead).
Samhain traditions continue in mutated form today in the childhood festival of Halloween. Original traditions, which started in the British Isles, were carried over to America where they transformed over time into the customs we know today. The focus and the reasons for lighting candles, carving Jack-o-lanterns, and wearing costumes have changed over the centuries. These days, the spirits are seen as entities to be feared and avoided rather than welcomed. They are seen as demons and creatures of evil rather than welcomed as ancestors.
Each year, the God experiences three deaths during the harvest season. The first occurs at Lammas, the second at Mabon, the final at Samhain. The God, born to the Mother Goddess at Yule, dies a final death at Samhain and is taken to the Underworld to rest before he is born once again at Yule. Thus the circle of life continues. This same cycle of birth, death, and rebirth can be seen in many cultures both ancient and modern around the world.
Whether you call it Samhain or Halloween, if you're planning a celebration for this night, you'll need to decide what foods to serve. These seasonal treats will be just the thing for adults and children on Halloween night.
When looking for appropriate foods to serve for the Pagan Sabbats, a good place to start is with what is in season for your own local area. Ideas for what might be in season locally can be found at Eat the Seasons - US/Canada
or Eat the Seasons - UK/Ireland
Snacks and starters
To roast 2kg /2 1/4 pound chestnuts
Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas 6
Using a small, sharp knife cut a cross into the skin of each nut. Put in a roasting tin and bake in the oven until the skin opens and the nut inside is tender. This takes about 30 minutes.
To eat, peel away the tough outer skin and the white inner layer. I have found that it is much easier to peel away this outer skin if you do it while the chestnuts are still quite warm.
- If you try to roast the chestnut without cutting the skin, it will try to burst open anyway. But the chestnut is likely to burst open quite explosively. Save the mess in the oven and the risk of injuring yourself and make sure the skin has been cut on each nut.
Swede, or rutabaga as it is called in America, can be mashed, roasted, or fried. We like turning it into chips.
Peel the swede and cut it into wedges about 1/2 inch thick and 3 inches long. Sprinkle it with olive oil and a bit of paprika. Place it in on a baking tray and stick it in the oven 400F/200C/Gas 6 for about 35 minutes.
Root Vegetable Crisps
Peel and thinly slice a selection of root vegetables. Toss them in a bowl with olive oil and place in a single layer on a baking tray.
Bake in the oven at 180°C/350°F/Gas 4 for about 10 minutes. Check and turn them every few minutes.
When they are lightly browned, take them from the oven and season with sea salt. They'll crisp up as they cool.
Serve warm, or let them cool and store in an airtight container.
Red and green seedless grapes. All ready to be squeezed into your mouth.
Harvest Vegetable Soup
Prep: 15 minutes
Cook: 30 minutes
1 oz butter
1 leek, trimmed and sliced into 1/2 rings
1 onion, finely chopped
1 courgette (zucchini), chopped
8 oz swede or turnip, diced
1 large carrot, diced
1 medium potato, diced
1.5 pints vegetable stock
3 Tbsp cornflour (cornstarch)
1 pint milk
3 oz sweetcorn, thawed if frozen
chopped fresh parsley, to garnish
1. Melt the butter in a large saucepan and sauté the leek, onion, and courgette over a medium heat until softened (about 3 - 4 minutes). Add the swede or turnip, carrot and potato. Continue to cook, stirring frequently, for another 2 - 3 minutes.
2. Pour in the stock and cook gently, covered, for about 15 - 20 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender.
3. Blend the cornflour to a smooth paste with 3 - 4 Tbsp of the milk. Add the remaining milk to the saucepan with the sweetcorn, and then stircin the blended cornflour. Heat gently, stirring constantly until the soup thickens and just begins to boil. Cook for another 1 - 2 minutes over a very low heat.
4. Season to taste and then ladle into warm bowls. Serve, garnished with chopped fresh parsley and crusty bread.
If desired, you could add cooked chicken or a tin of beans to this soup to make it a full meal.
Apple Pumpkin Soup
Prep 15 minutes
Cook 30 minutes
1 small pumpkin, about 18 ounces
1 Tbsp peanut oil
1 onion, peeled and chopped
1 small potato, peeled and chopped
5 cooking apples, 4 peeled, cored, and roughly chopped, 1 left whole
1/5 pints vegetable stock
1.5 oz single cream (light cream)
sage leaves, to garnish
1. Using a sharp knife top and tail the pumpkin, stand it on a flat surface and run a sharp knife down it to peel. Roughly chop.
2. Heat the oil in a large pan and add the onion; cook until softened. Add the pumpkin, potato, and chopped apples and stir. Pour in the stock, bring to the boil and simmer gently for 15 - 20 minutes until the vegetables have softened.
3. Carefully spoon into a blender and blitz thoroughly (you may have to do this in batches), or use an immersion hand held blender to purée it in the saucepan. Return to the pan and stir in most of the cream. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Keep warm.
4. Carefully grate the remaining apple. Spoon the soup into warmed serving bowls and top with the remaining cream, grated apple, and sage leaves.
A perfect dish for a cool autumn evening if you're having a sit down dinner. Or cook and slice it up in advance and serve it cold for a buffet table. I've detail here how to cook a delicious pork roast
(Salmon Fish Cakes)
juice and zest of 1/2 lemon
2 salmon fillets (350 gm), skinned
600gm cold cooked mashed potato
1 tablespoon fresh herbs (some good suggestions would be dill, chervil, or parsley)
5 tablespoons sesame seeds
5 tablespoons linseeds
3 tablespoons olive oil
1. Drizzle the lemon juice over the salmon fillets. Cook in the oven until tender and flakes easily. Oven temperature 325F for about 10 - 15 minutes.
2. Flake the salmon into a bowl, then add the potato, herbs, and lemon zest. Mix well together. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Line a baking sheet with baking paper (kitchen parchment paper) and sprinkle with 3 Tablespoons each sesame seeds and linseeds.
3. Top with the salmon mixture and use a palette knife to flatten it to 1 inch deep (2.5cm) with neat square edges. Cut into 12 chunky fish fingers, separating them out a little.
4. Sprinkle over the remaining seeds. Cover and pop into the freezer for 15 minutes to firm up. Or freeze completely to be cooked another day.
5.Preheat the oven to Gas mark 7 (425f) Drizzle the fish fingers with olive oil and cook for 15 minutes (or 20 - 25 minutes from frozen).
Serve with catsup for the kids to dip them in.
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, crushed and diced
1 dozen cherry tomatoes
1 400gm tin chopped tomatoes
1 Tbsp tomato puree (tomato paste)
500ml vegetable stock
1 tsp sugar
1 handful basil, finely chopped
1 pound macaroni pasta
salt and pepper to taste
1. Put a large saucepan over a medium heat. Add the oil, once it is hot hot add the onions and cook until soft and translucent. Add the garlic and cherry tomatoes and cook for 1 minute. Next add the tinned tomatoes and puree and continue cooking for a few minutes. Add the vegetable stock and sugar and bring up to a boil. Reduce the heat and allow it to simmer for 20 minutes. Add the chopped basil and stir it in at the last minute. Season to taste.
2. While the sauce is simmering, cook the pasta in a pan of salted boiling water. Drain and add to the pasta sauce. Serve hot.
: the sugar will help to cut the acidic taste of the tomato while pulling up the flavours.
1 Tbsp mayonnaise
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp mustard powder
1. Place the dozen eggs in a large pot of salted boiling water. Boil for 10 minutes.
2. Remove from the heat, drain and run cold water over the eggs.
3. Once cooled, peel the eggs. Rinse under cold water to remove any residual shell. Use a sharp knife to cut each egg in half length-wise. Scoop out the yolk into a bowl and place the cooked white onto a plate.
4. Add the mayonnaise, salt, pepper, and mustard powder to the yolk and fork it together until smooth. Taste for seasoning and adjust as necessary. Place a heaped teaspoon of the yolk filling into each egg half. If desired, add a sprinkling of paprika over each egg. Arrange on the plate and serve.
Desserts and treats
Beetroot Chocolate Brownies
|Beetroot chocolate brownies
250g dark chocolate, chopped
200g unsalted butter, cut into cubes
250g beetroot, cooked (see pages 21-23)
a drop of vanilla extract
200g caster sugar
50g cocoa powder,
50g rice flour (ground rice)
1 teaspoon baking powder
100g ground almonds
1. Put the chocolate and butter in a large bowl and place it over a pan of simmering water, making sure the water doesn't touch the base of the bowl. Leave to melt then remove from the heat.
2. Purée the cooked beetroot in a food processor. Add the eggs one at a time, followed by the vanilla and sugar, and mix until smooth.
3. Sift the cocoa powder, rice flour and baking powder into a bowl and stir in the ground almonds. Stir the beetroot mixture into the melted chocolate and then fold in the dry ingredients.
4. Use baking parchment to line a rectangular tin, roughly 28 x 18cm. Pour in the mixture and place in an oven preheated to 180°C/Gas Mark 4. Bake for 30-35 minutes, until just firm to the touch. A skewer inserted in the centre should come out slightly sticky. Leave to cool in the tin and then cut into squares.
: Don't let the name or ingredients put you off. This makes an incredibly rich and moist cake. You cannot taste beetroot at all.
Makes 18 cookies
160 gm plain flour
2 Tbsp cocoa powder
4 oz butter, refrigerated
2 oz caster sugar (granulated sugar)
2 Tbsp milk
You will also need:
2.5 inch round cutter
2 baking trays, lined with parchment paper
white writing icing
a cocktail stick
1. Sift the flour and cocoa into a large bowl. Cut the butter into chunks and add to the bowl. Rub it in with your fingers.
2. When the mixture is like fine bread crumbs, stir in the sugar. Sprinkle the milk over the mixture and stir in with a fork.
3. Stir the mixture until everything starts to stick together. Then, squieeze it with your hands to make a ball of dough.
4. Wrap the dough in cling film and put it into the fridge to chill for 20 minutes. Heat the oven to 180c/350f/gas 4.
5. Sprinkle some flour on a clean work surface and a rolling pin. Roll out the dough, until it is about 1/4 inch thick.
6. Using the cutter, cut out lots of circles and lift them onto the baking trays. Collect the unused dough and roll it out again then cut more circles. Continue this until all the dough has been used.
7. Bake the cookies for 10 - 12 minutes.
8. Leave on the baking tray for about 5 minutes then transfer to a wire cooling rack to cool completely.
9. Using the white writing icing, draw a spiral on each cookie. Use a cocktail stick to drag lines from the middle outwards to make a web.
Spider Fairy Cakes
8oz self-raising flour
8oz butter, melted
1. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4. Line 2 x 12-hole fairy cake tins with paper cases.
2. Whisk the eggs and sugar together in a bowl until light and fluffy.
3. Carefully fold in the flour and butter.
4. Pour the mixture carefully into the paper cases.
5. Bake the cakes for 8-10 minutes, or until golden-brown on top and a skewer inserted into one of the cakes comes out clean. Set aside to cool for 10 minutes on a wire rack before removing from the tin.
6. Spread the top with icing and place a plastic spider on top of each fairy cake.
Green slime and worms
8 granny smith apples, peeled and cored
8 kiwi fruits, peeled
1 cantaloupe (or other round melon)
Put the apples, kiwis, and lemon into a juicer. Pour into a glass and stir. Add the jelly worms to the glass.
Note: If you don't have a juicer, blitz the fruit in a food processor and pass it through a sieve using a spatula.
Purple Prickle juice
2 parts Grape juice
1 part Soda water
Combine grape juice and soda water. Serve chilled.
2 litres of sweet apple cider
½ litre fresh orange juice
½ tsp nutmeg
½ tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp ginger
Cinnamon sticks and orange slices to float in the pot
In a large pan combine the apple cider, orange juice nutmeg, cinnamon and ginger. Simmer slowly on low heat for about 15 minutes. Take care that the cider does not boil. Add the cinnamon sticks and orange slices and serve warm.
You can refrigerate any leftover mulled cider, it's nice cold as well.
These traditional games are just the thing for keeping your guests entertained while waiting for their food to appear.
Bobbing for apples
This traditional Halloween game is a good one to play.
Fill a large basin or small tub with water. Dump in a dozen apples.
The object of the game
: get an apple out using only your mouth
Pin the wart on the witch
This game is very much like Pin the Tail on the Donkey.
Cut out a drawing of a witch's head.
Glue small tacks onto 6 large green buttons.
Blindfold the player, spin him round a few times and set him off in the right direction.
The object of the game
: the winner is the player who gets the wart closest to the witch's nose.
Wrap the mummy
You will need several rolls of white toilet paper.
Choose 1 child to be the mummy.
Give the other children each 1 roll of toilet paper.
The object of the game
: wrap the mummy up in the paper.
A bit of magic
Divining your true love
Take an apple and peel it trying to make one continual length of peel.
Toss this over your left shoulder.
Look at the peel to see what letter shape it makes.
This is the initial of your true love's name.
You’ll need a bottle of bubbles for blowing and a wand
Have the child make a wish and blow bubbles.
The wish will be inside the bubble where it can be carried up to the God/s.
NanLT is a home cook with over 2 decades experience cooking for her family. Over the years she has developed a wide range of recipes for family eating. At Cooking with NanLT
she provides recipes, hints, and tips for other home cooks.