Happy Halloween! I love researching the historical food lore associated with holidays. The following fun facts are excerpted from The Food Timeline. I love this website and use it often to research what my heroes and heroines would be eating in their eras. Much more can be found on Halloween traditions from many cultures at this site.
“Ritual connections between food and the dead are ancient and cross many cultures. These began as pagan rituals and were later incorporated into the Catholic religion [All Hallows Eve/All Souls Day/All Saints Day]. Recipes and rituals evolved according to local culture and cuisine. In Ancient Egypt, the dead were buried with honey cakes to eat in the afterlife. In the Netherlands, “Doed Koeks” were consumed by the mourners at funerals. Irish Samhain provided the basis for American Halloween. Sicilians welcome their dead with cartocci and tatu. In Mexico, Dia de los Muertos is celebrated with food-laden alters for departed dining.
“Celebrated among the Celtic peoples, Samhain was the principal feast day of a year that began on 1 November. Traditionally, bonfires were lit as part of the celebration. It was believed that the spirits of those who had died during the previous twelve months were granted access into the otherworld during Samhain. Scholars know little about the actual practices and beliefs associated with Samhain. Most accounts weren’t written down until centuries after the conversion of Ireland to Christianity and then by Christian monks recording ancient sagas. From the evidence, we know that Samhain was a focal point of the yearly cycle, and that traditions of leaving out offerings of food and drink to comfort the wandering spirits had joined the bonfire custom. Also, the tradition of mumming–dressing in disguise and performing from home to home in exchange for food or drink, as well as pranking, perhaps a customary activity of the wandering spirits, or simply as a customary activity found throughout Europe–had become part of the occasion. Halloween was brought to North America with Irish and British colonists, although it was not widely observed until the large influx of European immigrants in the nineteenth century.”
“The Christian Feast of All Saints is the night when charms and incantations were powerful, when people looked into the future, and when feasting and merriment were ordained. Up to recent times, this was a day of abstinence, when according to church ruling no flesh meat was allowed. Colcannon, apple cake and barm brack, as well as apples and nuts were part of the festive fare.
“Colcannon was cooked in a pot, which had a large round bottom, three little legs and two ear-like handles at the sides, and consisted of potatoes mashed and mixed with chopped kale or green cabbage and onions.
“Boxty pancakes were another Halloween favorite. Grated raw potatoes were squeezed in a cloth, sieved, and mixed with baking powder, salt, and a well-beaten egg. Sufficient sweet milk was added to make a pancake batter. These were served hot and well buttered and sprinkled with caster sugar. They could also be made into scones called farls and baked on a griddle.
“Another favorite was Champ, an Armagh name for a dish of mashed potatoes, sweet milk, and chopped chives or onions, eaten like colcannon by dipping each spoonful into the well of butter. It was also the custom that when the first of the new potatoes were dug they were made into champ.
“In the United States, Halloween may be the only American holiday that is not associated with a particular feast. Nineteenth-century Irish immigrants brought the October 31st celebration to the U.S. On that night, it was traditional to give visitors to their households Soul Cakes in return for promises to say prayers on behalf of dead relatives. They also put lanterns made from vegetables in the windows to welcome ghosts and wandering souls. Carved pumpkin jack-o’lanterns are an integral part of Halloween festivities, but they are seldom eaten. Smaller species of cheese pumpkin, pie pumpkin, or sweet pumpkin, which have sweeter, less watery flesh, are used for making pies. Some people save the seeds to dry, roast, and salt as a snack. American harvest festivals called play parties were a precursor to the modern Halloween. In the mid-nineteenth century, Snap Apple Night or Nut Crack Night parties were celebrated in some regions of the United States with games, such as dunking for apples. In the late nineteenth century, middle-class Americans looking toward their Celtic heritage rediscovered (and reinvented) Halloween customs and made them respectable. Beginning in the 1870s, articles on Halloween appeared in periodicals that encouraged a new, more uniformly celebrated Victorian fete. By the twentieth century, Halloween parties for both children and adults had become a common way to mark the day. Candies made in the shape of corn kernels and pumpkins commemorated the harvest season. The Wunderle Candy Company of Philadelphia was the first to commercially produce candy corn in the 1880s.
“There are a host of stories to explain the origin of the Halloween Jack-o-lantern. The Irish claim it first, and tell the tale of Jack, a man so miserly that he once tricked the Devil into turning himself into a sixpence, then snapped the money into his pocket and made the Devil promise not to come for him for a whole year. Jack lived another stingy and spiteful year and when the Devil came back for him, Jack tricked him into climbing up a tree to pick a big, beautiful apple from a high branch. Jack quickly carved the sign of the cross in the trunk of the tree so the Devil couldn’t climb down, and made him promise not to come for Jack for 10 years. When Jack died soon after, he went up to Heaven, but Saint Peter denied him entrance because of his stingy nature. Jack tried Hell, but was surprised to find that the Devil wouldn’t let him in. The Devil had to keep his promise, and besides, he wasn’t very fond of Jack anyway. For punishment, the nasty old man was sentenced to walk the earth forever with only a lantern made from a carved turnip and one coal for Hell to guide him.
“When the Irish immigrants arrived in America, they delighted in the size and carving potential of the native pumpkin. The fat orange harvest vegetable was quickly substituted for the turnip, and the carved-out snaggle-toothed Halloween jack-o’lantern was born.
In old England, apples and nuts were seen as powerful prognosticators. Celtic folk used them in their Halloween divination games for centuries, and there were some Scottish, Irish, and British men and women – people from the northern parts of England – still celebrating All Hallows with apples and nuts throughout the heyday of Guy Fawkes. The night of October 31st was known in parts of the British Isles as “Snap Apple Night”–the name came from an old game played by tying the player’s hands behind his back and having him try to bite an apple suspended from a string. Like their English ancestors before them, Americans used apple dunking to find who will marry first. Whoever could snag an apple from a big bucket filled with water, hands tied behind the back, would be wed soonest.
“After World War II, the American practice of Trick-or-Treat began in earnest. Spawning suburban neighborhoods delighted in watching costumed boomer children “beg” from door to door. Traditional Halloween party foods (candied/toffee apples, popcorn balls, nuts) were proffered along with pre-wrapped commercial candies. Savvy candy companies capitalized on this lucrative opportunity by selling seasonal packages containing smaller sized products.
“The custom of begging for food from house to house on Halloween came for the old Catholic soul-sale custom. Once charitable in nature, “souling” took a popular turn as it evolved over the years. Irish Halloween begging always involved a masquerade… but who did the begging and what they were after varied from region to region. In Ireland’s County Cork, a mummers’ procession marked All Hallows…Prosperity was promised to those who gave food, drink or money to the revelers…This custom of taking a masquerade from house to house and asking for food or money was one practiced in America on Guy Fawkes Day, and for some years even on Thanksgiving. The Irish Halloween masquerade proved so popular it eventually evolved into 20th-century American trick-or-treating.”
In our family, my momma always made a wonderful batch of Spanish Hamburger (using my great-grandmother’s recipe) to feed her hungry kids and grandkids before we’d head down the hill to Grandma Betty and Grandpa Punk’s. All the brothers, sisters, and cousins gathered up their costumed children and met at the g-parents’ house since they lived in the middle of our hometown. And of course Grandma and Grandpa wanted to see how all their little ones were costumed. They always made up treat bags to pass out to the neighborhood kids and I think they put a little extra into the special bags they dropped into the trick or treat buckets of their grandchildren and great-grandchildren. 😊 We’d hit as many houses as we could before little feet grew too tired to walk up one more path to a door. We’d all return to grandma and grandpa’s where the kids would dump their buckets out on the floor to compare their hauls. Lots of good times and great memories we’ll cherish forever. ☺
Do you have any special traditions or recipes for your Halloween celebration?