Modern Halloween celebrations costumed kids, spook alleys and store-bought treats evolved over hundreds of years. It started as a Druidic festival in Ireland, with bonfires to thank the sun god for the harvest, said Ashley Gorrell, a Thanksgiving Point cooking-class specialist who last week taught "All Hallows Eve: Old Traditions, Recipe and Lore." Gorrell also studies folklore and how food fits in to stories and legends that have been passed down.
She said the people believed that Oct. 31 was the one night in the year where ghosts and witches were most likely to walk abroad. Another belief was that Saman, the lord of death, summoned together the evil souls that had been condemned to inhabit the bodies of animals.
"Everything that wasn't harvested by November first would be cursed by the fairies, and you couldn't eat it," Gorrell said. "So there was a big rush to get in the harvest. People would also give thanks to their ancestors by cooking food and leaving it at their grave sites to feed all the souls roaming about. They still celebrate this in Mexico as the Day of the Dead."
In the eighth century, the Catholic Church changed the date to All Saints Day, or All Hallows a commemoration for all those saints who didn't have a specific day of remembrance.
"The church wanted to get rid of all these festivals which they thought were evil, so all these holidays were changed," Gorrell said.
The night before became known as All Hallows Eve and shortened to "Halloween."
Poor Irish people would beg for food (known as "going a-souling") and receive pastries called "soul cakes." In return, they would pray for the dead. The church encouraged the practice of distributing soul cakes instead of leaving food and wine for dead spirits. Over time, "going a-soulin" eventually became "trick-or-treating."
Gorrell doesn't have a soul cake recipe but instead shared a recipe for Raisin-Filled Cookies that her grandmother makes every year for Halloween.
Many of the traditional Halloween games first revolved around foretelling the future, especially who will marry whom. Apples are often involved in many of these games, probably because they were in season.
In "bobbing for apples," girls used to name each apple for a different suitor. The girl would kneel over the tub, shut her eyes, put her hands behind her and try to catch an apple with her teeth. The one she could bite would be her future husband. A variation was to hang apples from a doorway (also done today with doughnuts). The first one to finish eating the apple gets married next.
In another tradition, at midnight on Halloween, a girl would stand in front of a mirror and brush her hair three times while eating an apple. The image of her future husband was supposed to appear in the mirror over her shoulder. Once she saw his face, she was supposed to peel an apple in a single strip. She would the toss the peel over her left shoulder using her right hand. The peel would form the first initial of his name.
The story of the jack-o'-lantern's origin has many versions, but it revolves around a rogue Irishman who tricked the devil and thus was denied entrance into hell when he died. Since he was too sinful for heaven, he was doomed to wander in darkness. He begged for something to light the way, and the devil threw him a live coal from the fires of hell, which Jack put in a turnip he was eating.
"It's a tale about being good and what will happen if you're not," Gorrell said.
To keep Jack and other ghosts and fairies from visiting them, people would carve out turnips, rutabagas, gourds, beets and potatoes and place lights in them. The tradition changed in the 1800s when waves of immigrants came to America and discovered pumpkins were larger and easier to carve, said Gorrell.
When the term jack-o'-lantern first appeared in print in 1750, it referred to a night watchman, or a man carrying a lantern, according to the Web site, jackolantern.com.
"When I was growing up, my mom always made dinner-in-a-pumpkin," said Gorrell, referring to a casserole baked in a pumpkin shell. "I'm sure that today I'd like it, but back then we weren't happy that we had to eat it before we could go out trick-or-treating. My mom always said we had to get our nutrition 'before you get all of your sugar.' "
Instead, Gorrell suggests serving colcannon, a mashed potato concoction that's the main dish of an All Hallows Eve supper. Traditionally, a carefully wrapped gold ring, sixpence, thimble or button were put into the mixture. To those who found them while eating, the ring denoted romance; the sixpence, wealth; the thimble, a spinster; and the button, a bachelor.
"If you put these in, warn people because we don't want to break any teeth," warned Gorrell.
2 cups brown sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
1/2 cup butter
1 can sweetened condensed milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup chopped nuts, optional (or toasted coconut, candies, or other garnishes as desired)
2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons soda
Pinch of salt
4 teaspoons cream of tartar
1 cup shortening
1 cup butter
2 eggs, well-beaten
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 cups raisins
1 cup sugar
2 cups water
4 tablespoons flour
1 tablespoon vanilla
Mix first six dough ingredients together well, then add eggs, milk, vanilla and flour. Stir well.
Grind raisins in food processor with 1 cup of the water. Then add remaining filling ingredients to a saucepan and cook 10 minutes, or until thickened.
4 Braeburn apples, cut in half
1/2 cup shredded coconut
1/2 cup pecans, chopped
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup brown sugar
Cinnamon to taste
1 pound cabbage, cored and quartered
2 pounds potatoes, peeled and cut into 2-inch pieces
2 small leeks or green onion, sliced
1 cup milk or cream
Salt and pepper, to taste
1/2 teaspoon ground mace
In separate saucepans, cook cabbage and potatoes in boiling salted water until tender, 12 to 15 minutes. Drain the cabbage and chop. Slice the leeks or onion and simmer in a large pot with milk or cream until tender, 8-10 minutes. Drain potatoes and beat well. Add potatoes, salt, pepper and mace to the leek/milk mixture. Stir over low heat until well-blended.
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