Halloween is lurking creepily around the corner. And whose fault is that? The Irish! The jolly green giant of a country that gave us leprechauns, U2 and whiskey. Not to mention Guinness, a plethora of uses for the potato, Michael Flatley … and his herds of dead-armed dancers.
One of the Emerald Isle’s less impressive exports, who I happily divorced some time ago, also gave me the shits… with alarming frequency. What I hadn’t realised, until recently, is that my ex-husband wasn’t the only scary thing the Irish sent this way! You see, they’re also responsible for Halloween.
Halloween actually had its roots in the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain, a celebration that marked the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter. The Celts believed that as the sun went down on October 31st, All Saints Eve, the door to the underworld opened allowing spirits, both naughty and nice, to pass.
And by spirits I’m not talking about gin, people. Though I wouldn’t mind one … if anyone’s offering. I’m talking about wee ghosties! That’s right, all the goblins and ghouls that were normally trapped in purgatory were thought to come a-knockin’ on this one supernatural night of the year. Now, given that the Ghostbusters weren’t about until the mid-1980’s, people had to resort to DIY spirit exterminating and would wear costumes and masks to confuse and frighten off the harmful spectres. Then, after all that exhausting scaring, the people would feast and get pissed (on the other type of spirit – they were Irish after all) in celebration of the good ones.
The pagan ceremony was later replaced with All Hallows – a mass for Christian Saints. Around the 8th century All Hallows Eve became a night for pranks and the custom of ‘souling’. Peasants would visit houses, much as kids do now, but instead of trawling for sweet treats they would sing, pray and collect soul cakes – small round biscuits with a hot cross bun aroma – that when eaten, represented a soul being freed from purgatory.
When Irish immigrants brought their version of Halloween to North America, most of these medieval customs were already long forgotten and, despite Halloween being firmly ensconced as an American institution by the end of the 18th century, the tradition of dressing in silly costumes and taking candy from strangers didn’t really begin to take off until around the 1930s.
In Australia, we’re late bloomers to Halloween’s creepy carousing. I have zero recollection of Halloween during my childhood; it just didn’t register in 70’s suburban Sydney. And, given his British heritage, Mr Eats World instead celebrated Guy Fawkes Day, which happened around the same time of year and has something to do with some 15th century pyro and appears to be more about burning effigies and setting off fireworks. But over the last decade or two there’s been a spooky shift and it’s become quite the big deal to little folk … and some big folk too. Including me.
Given my former cynicism to what I had written off as a commercial candy grab, becoming hooked on Halloween surprised me. But my inner Morticia was unable to resist and the Eats Worlds have been going large for Halloween since the kids could say boo!
Trick or treating in our neck of the woods is a little difficult, last year even the bloody prime minister had tightened the budget so much there was no change left over for Halloween candy. So instead we party at a spooked up Casa Eats World where we conjure up creations like jars of monkey brains (otherwise known as pork dumplings) and gobble down monster burgers.
We whip up bloody cupcakes, yummy mummies, and dig Oreo graveyards.
And my little ghouls are fiendishly content.
While these days the spirits seem to be just as happy with a couple of fun-size Mars Bars, this year for cultural and historical accuracy, we’ve decided to add traditional soul cakes to our Halloween table… only we’ve added edible souls!
- 350g sifted plain flour
- 175 g brown sugar
- 175g butter
- ½ tsp ground cinnamon
- ½ tsp ground nutmeg
- ½ tsp allspice
- 1 egg
- 2 tsp white vinegar
- 100g currants
- 200g white chocolate
- Large chocolate sprinkles
- 40ml vegetable oil
- Preheat oven to 200 degrees Celsius
- Mix all the dry ingredients together in a large bowl.
- Work the butter into the flour mix until evenly distributed.
- Add the egg, vinegar and currants and stir with a spoon until it comes together into a mass. Shape dough into a ball, cover and chill for 30 minutes.
- Lightly flour a clean, flat surface and roll the dough out to just over 5mm in thickness.
- Use a cookie cutter to make rounds and place on lined baking sheets.
- Use the back of a knife to press a cross into the dough.
- Bake for 12-15 minutes, or until golden.
- While the soul cakes cool, line another tray with baking paper.
- Heat white chocolate in a heatproof bowl over simmering water, stirring occasionally. Once melted add oil and mix in quickly until smooth.
- Using a spoon spread the chocolate over the baking paper to form ghost shapes.
- Cut a toothpick in half and place two pieces in the chocolate at the bottom of ghost (sharp end down)
- Drop in a two large chocolate sprinkles for eyes
- Pop into fridge to set.
- Stick finished ghosts into the cooled cookies using the toothpicks.