Happy Samhain-ween!

Halloween is upon us. It’s the time when All Souls’ Night gives way to All Saints’ Day (depending on whether you’re Pagan or Christian) and skeleton dolls commemorate the Day of the Dead. This is when summer ends and winter begins according to Celtic tradition and the separation between the living world and the spirit world is “thinly veiled”.

Food has many functions. Besides mere sustenance it can play a key role in many shared life experiences. To commemorate the dearly departed many cultures leave food at the altar of the deceased (e.g. Mexico, China, ancient Egypt). During Samhain, soul cakes, flat cakes with spices and currants roughly resembling round scones, were left out for any souls who returned on All Souls’s night (October 31st.)

Samhain is the Celtic festival that marks the transition from abundance (autumn harvest) to scarcity (the dearth of winter) and is credited with the origins of modern-day Halloween: ‘guising’ (concealing one’s identity); going door to door collecting food; bobbing for apples; the colour scheme of black and orange.

Here in North America people are familiar with candy during Halloween while sugared skulls are the order of the day in Mexico. For Dia de Los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, families in Mexico reportedly have picnics and parties at the grave of their loved ones. Rather than grieving, there is merriment peppered with food to remember fondly those who have passed. Traditional foods for Samhain include apples, turnips, gourds and nuts while popular dishes include colcannon, soul cakes and barm brack.

Barm brack is a yeasted enriched bread that contains dried fruit and spices. A few telling trinkets wrapped in parchment paper were baked inside and the recipient would find out if the coming year would see them single, married or rich. Divination and food is also found in other parts of the world (Asian-American fortune cookies and Chinese mooncakes and tea leaf reading).

Food ideas

A cauldron made of a hollowed out gourd filled with pumpkin, apple and sage soup.

Pumpkin sourdough Photo by Kimberley (c)2014
Pumpkin sourdough
Photo by Kimberley (c)2014

Pumpkin  sourdough bread with pecan butter

An autumn granola with fruit, nuts and oats.

Colcannon. This creamy cabbage and potato dish isn’t just for St. Patrick’s Day. Use purple cabbage and potato along with cashew cream for a twist to the original recipe. Many recipes include kale in the mix but you may add other greens (collard, Swiss chard) just because.




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