Halloween was a spooky time when I was child, we heard all about the banshee. People told ghost stories and we ate barmbrack and colcannon. It was all about fortune telling and divination. There was lots of apple-bobbing and I also remember a game that involved three saucers, one held water, the second some soil, the third a ring. One after another we were blindfolded and there was lots of giggling. When one touched a saucer, fingers in the water meant you were going on a journey ‘over seas’, the ring meant you would be married within the year – even if you were only six – the clay was very bad news, it indicated that you would meet a sticky end before the year ‘was out’. 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. Many visit grave yards and bring the favourite food of their loved ones to picnic and reminisce on the graves. Increasingly it 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.
So what to do with all the pumpkin flesh? Pumpkin soup is an obvious solution or make a puree, sweeten it for pumpkin pie or add lots of seasoning, fresh herbs and spices to serve it with savoury dishes. In Dublin recently I had a delicious pizza at Juniors – Paulie’s Pizza on Grand Canal Street (the sister restaurant of Juniors on Bath Avenue in Ballsbridge). Both are cool restaurants doing good food at reasonable prices. The thin crust was topped with fresh tomato sauce, roasted butternut, mozzarella, diced pancetta, freshly cracked black pepper and chilli flakes with a fistful of rocket leaves on top – very good indeed. I can’t usually manage to eat a whole pizza. It was so good I couldn’t bear to leave some behind. When I was crossing the road a passing motorist honked his horn and yelled out through his window “Where’s Darina Allen going with a take out pizza!”
Juniors – Paulie’s Pizza, 58 Grand Canal Street, Dublin 4, + 353 (0) 1 6643658
Juniors Restaurant, Bath Avenue, Ballsbridge, Co. Dublin + 353 (0)1 6643648
Spiced Pumpkin Soup
Pumpkins vary in intensity of flavour; some are much stronger than others so you may need to add some extra stock or milk. I sometimes add a can of coconut milk with delicious results.
900g (2 lb) peeled and seeded pumpkin or winter squash, cut into cubes
175g (6oz) onion, peeled and chopped
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
25g (1oz) butter
450g (l lb) very ripe tomatoes or 1 x 14oz (400g) tinned tomatoes, skinned, deseeded and roughly chopped
1 tablespoon tomato puree
1 sprig thyme
1.2 litres (2 pints) homemade chicken stock
salt, freshly ground pepper and nutmeg
40g (1 1/2 ozs) butter
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds
1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns
1 teaspoon white mustard seeds
2 inch (5cm) piece of cinnamon stick
Put the cubes of squash into a pan with the onion, garlic, butter and thyme. Cover and sweat over a low heat for 10 minutes, stirring once or twice. Add the chopped tomatoes, (add 1/2-1 teaspoon sugar if using tinned tomatoes), puree and cook until they have dissolved to a thick sauce. Stir in the stock, salt, freshly ground pepper and a little freshly ground nutmeg and simmer until the squash is very tender. Discard the thyme stalk, then liquidise the soup in several batches and return to the pan. You may need to add a little more stock or milk if the soup is too thick for you liking. Taste and adjust the seasoning.
Just before serving, gently reheat the soup and pour into a warm serving bowl. Heat the coriander, cumin and pepper, and crush coarsely. Melt the butter and, when foaming add the crushed spices, mustard seeds and cinnamon. Stir for a few seconds until the mustard seeds start to pop. Quickly pour over the soup and serve, mixing in the spice butter as you ladle it out, having removed the cinnamon stick.
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. If this recipe feels like too much work, make the teabrack (Irish Barmbrack, see recipe), which, after you’ve plumped up the fruit,
takes mere minutes to mix.
450g (1lb) strong white bakers flour
2 level teaspoon ground cinnamon
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 recipe above). This little gem of a recipe is much easier to make at home than the Halloween Barmbrack.
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)
Put the dried fruit and cherries into a bowl. Cover with hot tea and leave to plump up overnight.
, 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.
Keeps very well in an airtight tin.
Makes approximately 40 witches
300g (11oz) butter
125g (4 1/2oz) caster sugar
125g (4 1/2oz) soft dark brown sugar
225g (8oz) golden syrup or treacle
725g (1lb 9oz) plain flour
2 teaspoons bicarbonate of soda
3 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Icing for witches
175g (6oz) icing sugar
1 ½ tablespoon water
1 ½ tablespoon lemon juice
Decoration for witches
Chocolate buttons (milk or white chocolate);
Piping bag and nozzles
Preheat the oven to 180ºC/350ºF/Gas Mark 4.
Line 2 baking trays with parchment paper.
In a large saucepan, melt the butter together with the sugars and golden syrup or treacle. Sift the flour, bicarbonate of soda and ground ginger and cinnamon into a large bowl. Add the melted butter and sugar and mix together.
Knead the mixture for a few seconds until it comes together, adding a teaspoon or so of water if necessary, but without allowing it to get too wet. Flatten the dough slightly into a round about 2cm (3/4 inch) thick, wrap with cling film and place in the fridge for 30 minutes.
To make the gingerbread witches, remove the dough from the fridge, dust the work surface with flour and roll all of the dough to about 5mm (1/4 inch) thick. Cut out the witch shapes using a stencil, transfer onto the baking trays and cook in the preheated oven for 12 minutes, until they are slightly firm, a little darker at the edges and slightly drier on top. Allow the shapes to firm up for a few minutes, then place them on a wire rack to cool. When they have cooled, they can be iced, if you wish.
To make the icing, sift the icing sugar into a bowl and add the water. Beat until the icing comes together, adding a little more water if necessary. (Be careful not to add too much or the icing will be too runny).
Using a small palette knife or the back of a spoon dipped into boiling water (to make the icing easier to spread), spread the icing over the gingerbread witches. If you wish to pipe on details, such as faces and hair, spoon the icing into a small piping bag with just the smallest corner cut off. While the icing is still slightly “unset” on the biscuits, arrange the decorations you are using, then set aside for the icing to set.
This meringue mixture can also be made into pumpkins, brooms, cats, moons, stars…
4 egg whites
250g (9oz approx.) icing sugar, sieved
1/2 pint (300ml) whipped cream
Cover 3 baking trays with a perfectly fitting sheet of silicone paper.
Mix all the icing sugar with the egg whites at once in a spotlessly clean bowl. Whisk until the mixture forms stiff dry peaks – 10 to 15 minutes. Spoon into a clean piping bag with a star nozzle and pipe into spooky ghost shapes. Bake immediately in a low oven 150°C (fan) \300°F\regulo 2 for 30 minutes or until set crisp.
Pipe black eyes with melted chocolate on half of the ghosts.
Sandwich the meringues together with whipped cream.
The RTÉ Vanbrugh Quartet
will be performing a series of six concerts over Saturday 30th & Sunday 31st October in The Grain Store at Ballymaloe celebrating fine cuisine and the best of chamber classical music. For more information please visit www.ballymaloe.ie or call 083 3631468
Hickey’s Bakery in Clonmel’s
is back in business and has re-opened at the Old Pottery in Shanagarry. Lots of beautiful dishes hot off the potters wheel to enhance your delicious food. The pottery is open Monday to Saturday 9am – 5 and Sunday 12 – 5pm. 021 4646807. www.stephenpearce.com
Wild Fruit Wines – at the Clare Harvest Festival
There are still places left on the one day Christmas Cooking Part 2 course which covers both traditional and modern recipes including many favourites. Monday 13th December 9:30am to 5:00pm €245.00. Booking essential 021 4646785
all the food came from within a 40 mile radius of the Falls Hotel in Ennistymon where the feast was held and very delicious it was too. We drank a local fruit wine made by Brian Ingram. I usually avoid that kind of thing but I was mightily impressed by both the quality and fresh clean flavour – really worth seeking out
makes seriously fruity Barmbrack which recently won Gold in The 2010 Blas na hEireann National Irish Food Awards