Halloween creates almost as much excitement as Christmas nowadays, for weeks shop windows have been packed with witches, broomsticks, pumpkins and scary masks to tantalise the kids. Our grandchildren and their friends can’t wait to dress up in witches attire and ghoulish rig outs to frighten the life out of their neighbours and extract a ‘trick or treat’.
Even though it’s all becoming very commercial, kids still love the old fashioned games as well as apple bobbing and pumpkin carving.
When I was child Halloween was a very spooky time. We heard all about the banshee, a ghostly old woman who sat on a gate pier, keening and combing her long grey hair. People told scary ghost stories and we ate colcannon and barmbrack. It was all about fortune telling and divination. A favourite game was to arrange five saucers on the table, put some clay in one, water in another, a wedding ring in another, a rag in the fourth and a coin in the fifth. One after another we were blindfolded, and the plates were switched about before we reached out tentatively, to inevitable giggles – the water meant that you were going “on a journey”, the coin meant untold riches were coming your way, the rag signified hard times ahead, the soil was also bad news, it meant you’d be six feet under before long but the ring meant that wedding bells would soon ring, even if you were only six!
The contents of the barmbrack also held similar clues to one’s fortunes good or otherwise. All good innocent fun and apart from the barmbrack pretty uncommercial. Almost every culture marks Halloween, the Day of the Dead or All Souls Day. In Mexico many visit graveyards and bring the favourite food of their loved ones to picnic and reminisce on the graves. Increasingly Halloween is about witches and pumpkins in the American tradition. Shops and Farmers Market stalls are piled high with pumpkins. Kids have pumpkin carving parties and I’ve even seen a spectacular totem pole made from a variety of pumpkins and squash at an organic farm in the UK.
You can always lure the little witches and goblins into the kitchen to cook. They love to make spooky sounding soup like ‘Dragons blood’ (aka beetroot soup) or spicy bones (spare ribs) can keep them interested and nibbling. Spooky Meringue Pucás are also a great favourite.
Buy a couple of pumpkins and you’ll have several hours of peace, but keep an eye out while they carve and make sure to save the pulp to make a pumpkin soup.
This soup is a scary colour but brave children love the sweetness of the beets. The cream can be drizzled on top in a spider web or dragon.
900g (2 lb) young beetroot
25g (1oz) butter
225g (1/2lb) onions
salt and freshly ground pepper
1.2L (2 pints) homemade chicken or vegetable stock approx.
125ml (4fl oz) creamy milk
125ml (4 fl oz) sour cream or crème fraiche
Finely chopped chives
Wash the beetroot carefully under a cold tap. Don’t scrub, simply rub off the clay with your fingers. You won’t want to damage the skin or cut off the top or tails because it will ‘bleed’ in the cooking. Put the beetroot into cold water, and simmer covered for anything from 20 minutes to 2 hours depending on the size and age.
Meanwhile chop the onions, sweat carefully and gently in the butter until they are cooked. The beetroot are cooked when the skins will rub off easily.
Chop the beetroot and add to the onions. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. * Put into a liquidiser with the hot chicken stock. Liquidise until quite smooth. Reheat, add some creamy milk, taste and adjust the seasoning, it may be necessary to add a little more stock or creamy milk. Serve garnished with little swirls of sour cream and a sprinkling of finely chopped chives. Watchpoint: careful not to damage the beetroot during preparation or they will bleed
1.8kg (4lbs) meaty preferably organic pork spare ribs
2 tablespoons sunflower
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
3 teaspoons of ginger, grated
175g (6ozs) finely chopped onion
125ml (4floz) pineapple juice
2 tablespoons fish sauce, Nam Pla
3 tablespoons tomato purée
4 tablespoons lime or lemon juice
2 tablespoons honey
6 tablespoons sweet chilli sauce
Ask the butcher to cut the ribs across horizontally into two strips. Divide each piece into individual short ribs.
Put the ribs into a deep saucepan and cover with cold water, add salt and bring to the boil. Skim and then simmer for 30-40 minutes or until tender. Drain, rinse under cold water and drain again, allow to cool.
Adapted from “Barbeque, Where There’s Smoke, There’s Flavour” by Eric Treuille & Birgit Erath”
Heat the sunflower oil in a saucepan and add the crushed garlic, grated ginger and chopped onion, cover and cook on a gentle heat until soft but not coloured. Add the pineapple juice, fish sauce, tomato purée, lime or lemon juice, honey and 2 tablespoons of sweet chilli sauce. Simmer for a couple of minutes until the mixture thickens, then put into a large bowl and allow to cool. Add in the ribs and toss until completely coated (hands are best for this).
Place under a hot grill for 10 – 15 minutes, basting and turning frequently until golden, transfer to a serving dish. Drizzle with a little more sweet chilli sauce and serve the sweet and sticky ribs. You’ll need lots of paper napkins!
Irish Tea Barmbrack
This is a more modern version of barmbrack, now commonly called a ‘tea brack’ because the dried fruit is soaked in tea overnight to plump it up (rather than boiled as in the recipes above). Everyone in Ireland loves a barmbrack, perhaps because it brings back lots of memories of excitement and games at Halloween. When the barmbrack was cut, everyone waited in anticipation to see what they’d find in their slice – a stick, a pea, a ring – and what it meant for their future. Now they’re available in every Irish bakery, but here’s a great recipe you can use to make one at home. It keeps in a tin for up to a week. Even though it is a very rich bread, in Ireland it is traditionally served sliced and buttered.
Yields about 12 slices (eat the crusts, too!)
110g (4oz) sultanas
110g (4oz) raisins
110g (4oz) currants
50g (2oz) natural glace cherries, halved or quartered
300ml (10fl oz) hot tea
1 organic egg, whisked
200g (7oz) soft brown sugar
225g (8oz) self-raising flour
1 level teaspoon mixed spice
50g (2oz) homemade candied peel
450g (1lb) loaf tin – 12.5 x 20cm (5 x 8in) OR 3 small loaf tins 15 x 7.5cm (6 x 3in)
ring, stick, pea, and a piece of cloth, all wrapped in greaseproof paper
Put the dried fruit and cherries into a bowl. Cover with hot tea and leave to plump up overnight.
Next day, line the loaf tin with silicone paper.
Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/gas mark 4.
Add the whisked egg, soft brown sugar, flour and mixed spice to the fruit and tea mixture. Stir well. Add the ring, stick, pea and piece of cloth, tucking them in well and ensuring they are hidden by the dough. Cook in preheated oven for about 1 1/2hours or until a skewer comes out clean.
Leave to cool on a wire rack. Keeps very well in an airtight tin.
Spooky Shepherd’s Pie with Vampire Butter
Vampires are scared of garlic!
1 oz (25g) butter
4 ozs (110g) chopped onion
1 oz (30g) flour
3/4 pint (450ml) stock and left over gravy
1 teaspoon tomato puree
1 dessertspoons Worcestershire Sauce
1 dessertspoon chopped parsley
1 teaspoon thyme leaves
salt and freshly ground pepper
1 lb (450g) minced cooked lamb
1 lb (450g) cooked mashed potatoes
2 ozs (50g) butter
4 teaspoons parsley, finely chopped
2-3 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
2-3 cloves garlic, crushed
Cream the butter, stir in the parsley and a few drops of lemon juice at a time. Add the crushed garlic. Roll into butter pats or form into a roll and wrap in greaseproof paper or tinfoil, screwing each end so that it looks like a cracker. Refrigerate to harden.
Melt the butter, add the onion, and cover with a round of greased paper and cook over a slow heat for 5 minutes. Add the flour and cook until brown. Add the stock, bring to the boil, skim. Add the tomato puree, Worcestershire Sauce, chopped parsley, thyme leaves, salt and pepper and simmer for 5 minutes.
Add the meat to the sauce and bring to the boil. Put in a pie dish. Cover with the mashed potatoes and score with a fork and form into a spooky shape using a couple of peas for eyes and chives for a screaming open mouth. Reheat in a moderate oven 180ºC/350ºF/regulo 4 for about 30 minutes. Garnish with parsley and serve with Garlic butter.
Spooky Meringue Pucás
2 egg whites
4 ozs (110g) castor sugar
éclair pipe no. 9 and piping bag
Beat whites until stiff but not yet dry. Fold in half the sugar. Beat again until the mixture will stand in a firm dry peak. Fold remaining sugar in carefully. Fill into a piping bag. Cover a couple of baking sheets with parchment paper; pipe a small blob onto the paper, pulling the piping bag upwards quickly to create a point. Bake in a very low oven, 100ºC/200ºF/regulo 1/4 for 4 hours approx. Meanwhile melt some chocolate put into a paper piping bag and decorate by piping little dots for eyes and little oval for a scary mouth. Serve with a bowl of softly whipped cream.
Savour Kilkenny Festival of Food – 24th – 28th October, 2013. Lots of excellent cookery demonstrations including Sunil Ghai, Arun Kapil, Rory O’Connell, Fiona Uyema, Alan Foley, Cormac Crowe, Kevin Dundon…Pop up dinner by Yannick and Louise, Town of Food Long Table Dinner, Kiddies-Cook-Along, Food Markets, Cheese Making, French wine masterclass…and much more see www.savourkilkenny.com
How to Cure a Pig in a Day and Use Every Morsel with Philip Dennhardt– Saturday 9th November 9:30am to 5:00pm at Ballymaloe Cookery School.
Philip will start by showing you how to butcher a side of pork like a professional. He will then show you how it can be transformed into a full range of yummy hams, succulent sausages and perfect charcuterie.
Full instructions will be given for the making of air dried ham, brine cured hams, brawn, bacon, sausages, chorizos, salamis as well as some recipes for country pâtes and terrines to ensure everything is put to good use. 021 4646785 – www.cookingisfun.ie
If you are a lover of whiskey then you might consider booking your staff Christmas lunch at the Jameson Distillery in the Malt House restaurant in Midleton – 0214613594