Cultures from all over the world and throughout the ages have used food to honor and say farewell to the dead. The ancient Aztecs celebrated Micialhuitontli which translates roughly to the feast of the little dead while in Rome they had the feast of Feralia in which roman citizens where encouraged to bring offerings of wreaths, a sprinkling of grain and a bit of salt, bread soaked in wine and violets.
Even today you can see links between the dead and food with the Mexican Dia De Los Muertos or day of the dead where sugar skulls are available and the favorite foods of the deceased are eaten by close relatives. The common name for the feast of the dead that is best known though is Halloween.
For pagans, the world over Halloween is celebrated under its pagan name of Samhain. Samhain used to be marked in Celtic lands by a huge feast that lasted three days and this tradition is still practiced today when pagans get together at this time. A Samhain feast is a joyous affair celebrating the life of the deceased rather than the death they suffered and there are many different foods that can be easily prepared for this feast.
Apple Muffins for Samhain
One recipe that is good for Halloween is apple muffins. Apples were traditionally used at this time for divination purposes. It was said that if an apple was peeled completely without the peel breaking and the peel was thrown over the left shoulder it would land in the first initial of the person’s wife or husband to be. It was also said that if an apple was eaten at midnight while looking into a mirror the person’s partner to be would appear in the mirror on the stroke of midnight. To make apple muffins you will need
2 cups self-rising flour
½ cup of sugar
¼ cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
1 cup chopped apple
1 cup milk
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and then grease 12 muffin tins. Combine all the dry ingredients in a large bowl and add the egg and milk. Stir the ingredients until they are just blended if you want to be a traditionalist only use a wooden spoon to stir. Spoon the batter into greased muffin pans, filling until they are ¾ full. Bake for 15-18 minutes or until golden brown.
Pumpkin bread for Samhain
Another great Samhain recipe is pumpkin bread and it is easy to make as well. Cooking with pumpkins is traditional in America during this time but it is slowly gaining ground in other countries. Traditionally carving pumpkin lanterns were thought to help guide lost souls into houses where feasts to commemorate them where happening. Another tradition has it that the light from a pumpkin lantern keeps away the devil’s henchmen. No matter what started it pumpkin lanterns have become well known. To make pumpkin bread from the leftover pumpkin you will need
3 cups flour
3 cups sugar
1 Teaspoon Cinnamon
1 Teaspoon Nutmeg
Pinch powdered Cloves
1½ Teaspoons Salt
2 Teaspoons baking powder
1 cup of Vegetable oil
15 oz fresh pumpkin boiled and then left to cool.
1 cup of chopped walnuts or Pecans
Preheat the oven to 350 and beat the eggs, chopped nuts and pumpkin together and then add the oil and water. In another bowl mix the flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, and spices together. Then make a well in the middle of the dry mixture and gradually add wet ingredients. When everything is mixed well pour into greased loaf pans and then bake in the oven for 1 hour. This will take between 2 and 3 loaves.
In ancient Ireland, it was traditional to eat colcannon and even today this tradition persists. A mixture of mashed potato, leeks or spring onions and kale or cabbage, colcannon could be said to be made up of typical harvest festival fare. One tradition says that a portion should be left outside for the dead at Samhain while another tradition allows for the putting of charms into the pot for lucky people to find. This is a simple and tasty dish that is easy to make. All you need to make it is
1 lb. of cabbage or kale which has been cooked
1 lb. potatoes, cubed and cooked until tender
2 leeks which have been cleaned well and chopped
1 cup of whole milk or light cream
½ Cup of melted butter
Chop the cooked kale or cabbage into nice bite-sized pieces. Bring milk or cream to a simmer in a medium saucepan being careful not to over boil and add the leeks and cook until soft. Take the potatoes, add salt and pepper to taste and then mash until fluffy. Return the mashed potato to the cooker on a low heat and while the potato is reheating add the milk and leek combination. Mash in the cooked kale or cabbage until green and fluffy and when warm remove from the heat and serve. Make a well in the middle of each portion and divide the melted butter evenly among servings, filling each well. Dip each bite of colcannon in butter before eating.
Three simple foods that are easy to cook and have lots of tradition behind them and they would all look nice gracing any feast table. Not only that but they do not need any overly special ingredients to boot! Just remember to leave a portion out for the recently deceased as a way of saying thank you and have a happy Samhain.