Okay, Witches – It’s almost Samhain and I’m so giddy I could shout from the rooftops in Parseltongue. For those of you not familiar with Samhain (pronounced SAH-win in English, the m is silent), it marks the end of the Celtic calendar; a time when the veil between this world and the Otherworld is thinnest. Celebrated starting at sundown on October 31 through November 1, it’s a high holiday for Pagans, witches, Druids, and Wiccans who commune with the dead, scry, and plan for the upcoming year. And like all noteworthy holidays, food and drink play a symbolic role, a means of worship. Read on as we discuss the magic of food at Samhain.
An homage to the harvest
The first month of the Celtic year is Samonios or “Seed Fall”, which is between the fall equinox and winter solstice. when nature transitions to darkness in preparation for the long winter. To the ancient Celts of Ireland, time was circular, not linear. Their days, as well as their festivals, commenced not at dawn, but at dusk, similar to the Jewish Sabbath. It was a time when work was halted, and the fruits of labor enjoyed in a communal setting. The Celts celebrated Samhain with seasonal foods that would soon become scarce – potatoes, pumpkins, squash, oats – and usually incorporated into various ceremonies and rituals.
The rise of the Great Pumpkin
During the Middle Ages, Samhain was celebrated with fire festivals. Bonfires or Samghnagans, were lit near farms to protect families from fairies and witches. Carved turnips known as jack-o-lanterns were embedded with coal and placed at the door to ward off evil. Later Irish tradition switched to pumpkins which are used in modern-day Halloween festivities all over the world.
Modern-day Samhain feasts
Samhain is usually a communal event enjoyed around a bonfire. A plate is often placed at the table to honor those loved ones who are missing. Although there aren’t many traditional Samhain recipes in use today, there are still enough to get into the holiday spirit. Foods for Samhain focuses on fall produce such as apples, turnips, squash, corn to name a few. Spices include thyme, sage, allspice, rosemary, and cinnamon. And although many modern-day witches are vegetarians (meat inhibits spiritual advancement), there are dishes to feast on featuring pork, poultry, and beef.
So, what exactly do witchy people eat during Samhain? Here are some traditional dishes to get you into the spirit of the season:
Perhaps the most popular Samhain dish, the origins of soul cakes is rather hazy. It’s widely believed they were originally created to appease the spirits, while other schools of thought claimed they were used to pay beggars. Whatever their history, soul cakes are nothing short of delicious. They come in all shapes, sizes, and textures – from biscuits to cake-like consistency. And they can be infused with dried fruit like raisins or currants. Yum!
Now were talking. Mulled wine has been around for centuries. Consumed during ancient celebrations, this tasty beverage is infused with spices such as cinnamon and clove. It’ll warm the insides on a cold, autumn night.
This is a dish with Celtic roots consisting of a sweet yeast bread studded with dried fruits like raisins. Similar to “King Cake”, Barmbrack was baked with trinkets inside like rings, pieces of cloth, and more. It acted as a form of prognostication as the lucky recipient received a glimpse into their future.
No Samhain celebration would be complete without a recipe made with potatoes. Colcannon was enjoyed when potatoes were in season. It consists of a base of creamy mashed potatoes with cooked greens such as cabbage or kale. Considered traditional Irish comfort food, it’s the perfect dish to an evening around the bonfire.
So, this Halloween, before you tear open that highly coveted bag of Tootsie Rolls, consider feasting on some foods that were once enjoyed by the Druids of ancient Gaul. Who knows, you just may get a visit from beyond the grave.
Happy Haunting, Y’all!
And now here’s something I think you’ll really like →
Samhain Pumpkin Bread
1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour
1 ½ cups granulated sugar
¾ tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1 ½ tsp cinnamon
½ tsp nutmeg
½ tsp allspice
½ tsp cloves
1 (15 oz) can canned pumpkin
1/3 cup water
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
¼ vegetable oil
- Preheat oven to 350° F.
- Grease two loaf pans.
- In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar, salt, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, and cloves. In a separate bowl, mix canned pumpkin, water, eggs, vanilla, and oil.
- In small increments, add the wet mixture to the dry, whisking continuously until mixed well. Divide the batter between the two loaf pans.
- Bake for 50 to 60 minutes or until the top is golden brown. Insert a toothpick into the center. If it comes out clean, it’s ready.