October only means one thing for most people. Halloween is upon us! Did you know that Halloween, or traditionally Samhain, is believed to have started in Ireland, and is a Pagan/Celtic tradition? Did you also know that there are traditional Irish Halloween recipes?
Food was an integral part of celebrating Samhain, as it was a time to take stock of the harvest and herds. Food was offered to the Aos Sí or ‘spirits’ to appease them and ensure their livestock and crops survived winter. The the act of ‘Mumming’ or ‘Guising’ were part of the celebration. This involved people going door-to-door in costume, often reciting verses in exchange for food (sound familiar?). Festivals also often involved nuts and fruits such as apples.
As you can see, we have kept or adapted a lot of the traditions that our ancestors used to practise when it comes to Halloween. The same goes for the food that we ate at that time. Here we have some of the traditional Irish Halloween recipes that you can see or would have seen served during Samhain.
Perhaps the most recognizable of the recipes is the Barmbrack. A fruit tea cake, it is a dark cake stuffed with dried fruit, and is probably one of the most traditional Irish Halloween recipes. What makes it so special is the ring that is baked into it. Tradition dictates that whoever finds the ring is bound for good fortune.
However, it wasn’t always just a ring that was baked into it. Traditionally, there were a multitude of objects baked into the cake, and whatever one you found was predicted to be your fortune that year. This fortune telling was a part of Samhain tradition, as it was believed that during Samhain, the veil between the living and the dead was at its thinnest, so Celtic druids would be able to predict the future.
Some of the items you could get in a Barmbrack consist of
- A pea – you will not marry this year
- A coin – you will have good fortune or be rich
- A rag – you will have bad luck or be poor
- A ring – you will be wed within the year
- A stick – you will have an unhappy marriage
Nowadays only a ring or coin are placed inside, mostly due to health and safety. However, you should always be careful and inspect your slice before eating!
Here is one of my favourite recipes for Barmbrack, by Donal Skeehan. Note that some of the ingredients must be soaked overnight so prepare in advance.
- 375 g (13oz) packet of mixed dried fruit
- 50 ml (2fl oz) whiskey
- 250 ml (9fl oz) cold tea
- butter, for greasing
- 225 g (8oz) plain flour
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 125 g (4½oz) soft light brown sugar
- 1/2 tsp mixed spice
- 1 large egg
- a ring, to place inside (optional)
- Large bowl
- 900 gram loaf tin
- Wooden spoon
- Place the mixed dried fruit in a bowl and pour over the whiskey and cold tea. Allow to soak up the liquid overnight.
- Preheat the oven to 170°C (325°F/Gas 3). Grease and line a 900g (2lb) loaf tin.
- Combine the flour, baking powder, sugar and mixed spice in a mixing bowl. Make a well and break in the egg, then use a wooden spoon to mix it with the dry ingredients. Add a little bit of the liquid from the fruit and mix it through. You may not need all the liquid, though you are looking for a wet dough.
- Stir in the mixed fruit until everything is thoroughly combined. Add the ring and stir through. Spoon the wet dough into the lined loaf tin, place on the middle shelf in the oven and bake for 1 hour.
- Remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly before removing from the loaf tin and placing on a wire rack. Cover in cling film and foil and allow to sit for 1–2 days before cutting into it.
This next traditional Irish Halloween recipe that you might recognise is colcannon. Not to be confused with champ, which is mashed potatoes and spring onions, colcannon is potatoes and cabbage/kale.
Like barmbrack, items were mixed into it and whoever received them, that was their fortune for the year. The items were largely the same, but they mostly consisted of the ring, coin or stick, all with the same meaning as above. Supposedly, the dish was first noted in Irish history in 1735 by William Bulkely in his diary on Halloween, who described it as ‘Coel Callen’, a dish consisting of boiled cabbage, potatoes and parsnip mixed together. Sicne then it has become a staple for traditional Irish Halloween recipes. Commonly eaten during St Patricks Day as well, it can make an excellent side dish or a comforting main.
Nowadays, we don’t normally add in any fortune telling items, but for a while, a ring, thimble and coins were added as mini prizes.
- 4 or 5 Floury Potatoes, peeled and quartered
- Half a Head of small cabbage or a quarter of a bag of Kale, shredded
- Milk/Butter/Salt to taste
- Chopped scallions/green onion to serve
- Pot for boiling
- Large mixing bowl
- Potato masher or ricer
- Boil the potatoes for around 20 minutes or until tender and can cut with a fork. Drain any liquid. Mash together, and add milk, butter and salt to taste until you have received desired texture.
- While the potatoes are boiling, steam, fry or lightly boil the kale or cabbage until tender. Remove any excess moisture. Season with salt.
- Combine the two together, mixing gently to combine.
- Place into a serving dish or bowl and top with diced scallions
There are multiple things that can be served with the colcannon, such as shredded boiled ham. Leeks or finely diced onions can also be added. You can change the quantities of the cabbage or kale as well if you prefer more or less.
If you are vegan, replace the cow’s milk and butter with a vegan alternative such as soy milk, or leave it out all together.
Another traditional Irish Halloween recipe that was commonly eaten during Samhain was boxty or boxty pancakes. Believed to have originated during the famine, it is a fried or griddled potato cake made with potatoes, flour, and milk. It is traditionally eaten during Shrove (Pancake) Tuesday, Halloween and All Saints Day. Great for using up leftover mash potato, it can be served for breakfast or dinner (or as a snack, you do you). If using leftover mash, aim for using the exact same amount of raw potato.
- 4-6 large potatoes peeled.
- 1 tsp Baking soda or powder
- 200 ml buttermilk or milk with a tbsp lemon/vinegar (may need more or less)
- 1 egg
- 200gr flour
- Salt & pepper to taste
- Large bowl
- Pot for boiling
- Mixing jug
- Frying pan or griddle
- Potato masher or ricer
- Quarter half of the potatoes and put them on to boil. Boil until tender. Leave to cool.
- With the other half of the potatoes, grate them into a tea towel. When finished, wrap up the potato and squeeze over a sink. This is to remove any of the excess moisture in the potato. You can do this in small batches to make it easier.
- Mix the milk and egg together.
- Add the grated potato, mash potato, flour and baking soda together. Add in the wet ingredients little by little until you have reached a firm batter. Add more flour and milk as needed.
- Melt some butter into a medium pan until melted.
- Take a little of the dough at a time using a spoon or ice cream scoop, flatten it out and place into the hot pan or griddle. Flip when golden brown, usually 2-4 minutes on each side.
- Serve hot as a side with dinner, lunch or breakfast.
The last traditional Irish Halloween recipe I have for you is another sweet treat.
One of the most traditional Irish dishes made for Samhain are soul or soulmass cakes. Although nobody knows when they started, they became a staple in Halloween culture in Ireland and England. It has spread to other countries as well. It was traditionally given to the children or ‘soulers’ who went door to door saying prayers for the dead. Some people even got them blessed by the priest. It is believed that ‘souling’ is the origin for the modern day trick or treating. Check out this recipe from FussFreeFlavours.
- 100 g butter
- 100 g golden caster sugar
- 2 egg yolks
- 250 g plain flour
- 1 pinch saffron (or turmeric for the colour)
- 1 tsp allspice
- ½ tsp mixed spice
- 2 tbsp milk
- 50 g raisins
- Ring cutter
- Baking Tray
- Electric whisk
- Large bowl
- Cut up the butter into small chunks to allow it to soften. Turn the oven on at 180°C / 360°F / GM 4.
- Using an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar together in a medium-sized mixing bowl until light and fluffy.
- Whisk in the egg yolks.
- Add the flour and spices, adding enough milk to form a dough that holds together.
- Stir in the raisins.
- Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and roll out to about 1cm thick .
- Bake at 180°C / 360°F / GM 4 for about 25 mins until golden and firm.
I hope that you will give some of these traditional Irish Halloween recipes a go! If you do let me know how they turned out in the comments below!