ArchiveOctober 29, 2016


Wow, we’re really got the bit between our teeth about Halloween at last. We’re every bit as commercial as the US, I couldn’t believe the number of spooky festivals in Ireland this season. Some like the Spirits of Meath (where according to legend Halloween began) (Really…..) started on October 14th and continues until November 6th with a huge program of family oriented events. There’s a Halloween festival in Galway, a Halloween House in Kenmare, haunted woods around Birr Castle, Bram Stoker Festival in Dublin when Macnas will stage a twilight procession on October 26th but voted ‘best of all’ earlier this year is the evocatively named Pooka Spooka at Causey’s Farm and Farmaphobia in Co Meath. Check out and and there’s tons more.

Well in this column, we’ll remember the original spirit of Samhain, Halloween and indeed Día de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead in Mexico, where every family celebrates and honours their deceased members with joy and revelry and lots of special foods.

Each household creates an ofrenda in their home, a colourful alter or shrine decorated with photographs, objects and treasured possessions of the deceased. Bright orange Mexican marigolds (tagetes) and the favourite foods and drinks. Relatives, family and friends go together to tidy and decorate graves. This is a convivial rather than sombre affair. Later, they return in a candlelit procession, laden with baskets of foods to picnic around the tombs of their dearly beloved.

Food plays a very important part in the festivities. Special breads, Pan de Muerto are baked, vibrant sugar skulls are decorated with shiny foil, sequins and beads even feathers. Candied pumpkins and a variety of beverages, Such as atole, a drink made from fermented corn. Here in Ireland the barmbrack is our most traditional Halloween food – the yeasted fruit bread is further embellished over the holiday season. Bakers all around the country add charms to the rich bread, a ring to signify that marriage is imminent, a dried pea indicates poverty, a stick predicts that your partner will beat you, a bit of ‘a rag’ isn’t good news either. That means that the unlucky person who finds that in their slice of barmbrack is likely to fall on hard times, though I wonder whether the bakers would even be allowed to put in a piece of rag nowadays for Health and Safety reasons….

Colcannon made with curly kale was also linked with Halloween both here in Ireland and in Scotland and a ‘wee’ bowl was put out on a window sill to ward off evil spirits.

Halloween nowadays has come a long way from apple bobbing, ghost stories and the banshee keening on the gate pier combing her long grey hair.

Food too, has changed and become super creative. Magazine editors dream up all kinds of witches brews, spiderweb cupcakes, ghostly meringues, dragons eggs, zombie broths, shortbread tombstones, Dracula’s brains, dragon’s blood soup, spooky pucas, vampire tacos, spicy bones, squiggly fish with vampire butter, not to mention amazing cakes iced in horrid shades of green, orange, black and purple. Here are a few spooky treats to add to your repertoire.


Slow Food Dinner

Paula McIntyre of Slow Food Northern Ireland is hosting a Slow Food Dinner in the South West Regional College, Dungannon Campus on 16th November. Pre-dinner drink at 6.30pm, followed by a 5 course dinner at 7. Tickets are £12.50. Contact:

St George’s Market in Belfast
Congrats to St George’s Market for winning the OFM Awards, best Market in the UK.

Date for the Diary
East Cork Slow Food Event
A Tutored Chocolate Tasting with Nancy Gilchrist on Thursday November 24th 2016 at the Ballymaloe Cookery School.
Tel: 021 4646785 or email

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). This little gem of a recipe is much easier to make at home than the Halloween Barmbrack.

Even though it is 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/1 1/4 cups) hot tea
1 organic egg, whisked
175g (6oz/3/4 cup) soft brown sugar
225g (8oz/2 cups) self-raising flour
1 level teaspoon mixed spice
50g (2oz) homemade candied peel (see recipe on Examiner website)

450g (1lb) loaf tin – 12.5 x 20cm (5 x 8in) OR 3 small loaf tins 15 x 7.5cm (6 x 3in)

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. Put the mixture into the lined loaf tin.
Cook in for about 1 1/2hours or until a skewer comes out clean.
Leave to cool on a wire rack. Slice and butter to serve.
Keeps very well in an airtight tin.

Devilled Eggs

Makes 8

4 free range eggs
2-3 tablespoons homemade mayonnaise
1/2 teaspoon finely chopped chives
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

8 sprigs of parsley or chervil
Wild watercress leaves

Lower the eggs gently into boiling salted water, bring the water back to the boil and hard boil the eggs for 10 minutes in boiling water, drain and put immediately into a bowl of cold water. (Eggs with a black ring around the yolk have been overcooked). When cold, shell, slice in half lengthways. Sieve the yolks, mix the sieved egg yolk with mayonnaise, add chopped chives and salt and pepper to taste. Fill into a piping bag and pipe into the whites. Garnish with a sprig of parsley or chervil and serve on a bed of wild watercress leaves.

Dragons Eggs

Makes 8

Pickled Beetroot Juice (see recipe on Examiner website)

8 eggs, hard boiled

Watercress sprigs

First cook the eggs. Bring a deep saucepan of water to the boil, lower the eggs carefully into the boiling water, ten minutes from the time the water returns to the boil will be adequate. Drop into a bowl of cold water and run under tap with completely cold water. Peel, fill into sterilized Kilner or preserving jars and cover with beetroot pickle juice (see below). Allow to macerate for 2-3 days before using.

Serve on a bed of watercress or include in a salad with smoked mackerel or eel.

Note: the beetroot pickle dyes the egg white a scary purple colour

Wizard’s Soup in a Pumpkin Shell

Serves 6

50g (2oz/1/2 stick) butter
150g (5oz/1 cup) chopped potatoes, one-third inch dice
110g (4oz/1 cup) peeled diced onions, one-third inch dice
300 g (10 oz/2 cups) beetroot, chopped
150 g (5 oz/1 cup) parsnip, chopped
1.2L (2 pints/5 cups) homemade chicken or vegetable stock or 1L (1 3/4 pints) stock and 150ml (5fl oz/generous 1/2 cup) creamy milk
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Melt the butter in a heavy bottomed saucepan. When it foams, add potatoes and onions and turn them until well coated. Sprinkle with salt and freshly ground pepper. Cover and sweat on a gentle heat for 10 minutes. Add the vegetables and stock. Boil until soft, liquidise, sieve or put through a mouli. Do not overcook or the vegetables will lose their flavour. Adjust seasoning.

Serve in a pumpkin shell.

Spider Web Cake

Serves 8

175g (6oz/1 1/2 sticks) soft butter
150g (5oz/generous 1/2 cup) castor sugar
3 eggs, preferably free range
175g (6oz/1 1/2 cups) self-raising flour

Chocolate Icing

175g (6oz/1 1/3 cups) icing sugar
50g (2oz) cocoa
75g (3oz/3/4 stick) butter
75ml (3fl oz/scant 1/2 cup) water
75g (3oz/scant 1/2 cup) caster sugar

Lemon Glacé Icing

110g (4oz/scant 1 cup) icing sugar
1-2 tablespoons (1 1/4 – 2 1/2 American tablespoons) freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 x 20.5cm (8 inch) sandwich tin buttered and floured. Line the base of the tin with parchment paper.

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4.

Put the soft butter, castor sugar, eggs and self-raising flour into the bowl of a food processor. Whizz for a few seconds to amalgamate and turn into the prepared tin – make a dip in the centre so it rises evenly. Bake in the preheated oven for 25-30 minutes approx. or until golden brown and well risen.

Cool in the tin for a few minutes, remove and cool on a wire rack.
Next make the chocolate icing. Sieve the icing sugar and cocoa powder into a mixing bowl. Measure the butter, water and sugar into a saucepan. Set over a low heat and stir until the sugar has dissolved and the butter is melted. Bring just to the boil, then draw off the heat and pour at once into the sifted ingredients. Beat with a wooden spoon until the mixture is smooth and glossy. It will thicken as it cools.

For the lemon glace icing. Sieve the icing sugar into a bowl. Add enough lemon juice to make a softish icing.

Pour the chocolate icing over the cake and allow to drip down over the side. Meanwhile, fill a paper piping bag with a fluid glace icing, fold over the top, snip off the point to make a writing pipe.
Quickly, pipe a continuous circle from the centre to the outside. Then use a cocktail stick to draw the icing inwards and outwards to create a spider’s web.

Decorate with spiders and pucas if available.

Serve on a Halloween plate or cake stand.

Spooky Pucas

Easy and fun to make, they can be eaten just as they are with softly whipped cream or used to decorate a spooky cake.

Makes 30 approximately

2 egg whites
110g (4oz/1/2 cup) caster sugar

For Eyes
50g (2oz) chocolate

Preheat the oven to 110°C/225°F/Gas Mark 1/4.

Whip the egg whites with the caster sugar until they form stiff peaks.
Place in a piping bag with a plain nozzle.

Line a tray with parchment or bakewell paper. Carefully squeeze a small circle of meringue out of the bag pulling upwards as you do to make a ghost shape.
Repeat until the mixture is used up.

Bake in the preheated oven for 1 1/2 hours until crisp – the meringues should lift off the parchment/bakewell paper easily. Cool.

Melt the chocolate in a Pyrex bowl over simmering water, place in paper piping bag. Pipe spooky eyes and noses on meringues. Leave to set.


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