Almost every culture around the world marks Halloween, the Day of the Dead or All Souls Day in it’s own magical way, but despite the differences, the basic idea behind all these customs is to honour, remember and appease the dead.
Mexico’s Day of the Dead celebrations are the most colourful and flamboyant, it’s a huge festival, celebrated by Mexicans all over the world. Common traditions include creating altars, Ofrenda, in the home to honour the dead, laying out offerings, sharing stories and reminiscences and visiting and cleaning the graves. This is a convivial rather than sombre affair with relatives bringing the favourite foods of the deceased to the graveyard to share a picnic with relatives and friends as they share memories of their loved ones.
For non-Mexicans their first introduction to the Day of the Dead seems spooky and macabre. Colourful skeletons, bones and skulls decorate both homes and food. The tradition of making sugar skulls, calaveras de azucar, endures. These gaily decorated vibrant candied skulls are not considered to be creepy or morbid, instead they are happy , even smiling or laughing, embellished with eye popping colours, hot pinks, neon blue, bright yellow, vivid orange, glowing green…. They can be further decorated with glitter, sequins, beads, rhinestones, feathers, shiny foil and googly eyes, anything that will stick to the icing. Female skulls can be adorned with paper hats, male with cowboy or sailor hats.
There’s a lot of room for creativity, but they are rarely eaten. Sugar skulls are placed on the altar and last for up to year. Check out Pinterest for a feast of colour.
Other Day of the Dead foods are Pan de Muerto, traditional Mexican sweet bread which is made in a variety of ways across different regions of Mexico. It’s easy to make but takes time and again can be decorated in a myriad of styles with bones and skulls and sparkly sugar on colourful icing.
In Spain, Halloween is a three day celebration, starting on the 31st October every year. The first is, Dia de las Brujas or Day of the Witches, this is also called Samhain or Noite des Calacus, Night of the Pumpkins in Galicia. This is followed by Dia de Todos los Santos, all Saints Day and finally on 2nd November, the customs and rituals of Dia de los Muertos, All Saints day, are observed as in Mexico. Halloween is not just about the dead it’s also celebration of the continuity of life.
Once again there are specific foods and drinks including one made from herbs and set alight to chase away the evil spirits, called quemadas.
Here in Ireland, Halloween festivities gather momentum every year. As with Christmas, the original raison d’être is all but forgotten in the frenzy of ‘trick or treating’ but still local bakers mark the festival by adding the traditional ring to a fruity yeasted bread called barmbrack and maybe a stick, a pea and a piece of rag for added excitement.
In our house we also eat colcannon made with the early kale – traditionally eaten in Ireland and Scotland, a little bowl was put outside on a window sill to ward away the evil spirits. It’s comfort food at it’s best.
Colcannon was one of the festive dishes eaten at Halloween, when a ring and a thimble would be hidden in the fluffy green-flecked mass. The ring denotes marriage, but the person who found the thimble would be a spinster for life. Poems would have been written and songs sung about this much-loved dish.
Threepenny or sixpenny bits were sometimes hidden in the colcannon at Halloween for children to find.
Serves about 8
450g (1lb) Savoy, spring cabbage or kale (kale is the most traditional)
1.3kg (3lb) ‘old’ potatoes, e.g. Golden Wonders or Kerr’s Pinks
about 225ml (8fl oz) milk
salt and freshly ground pepper
50g (2oz) butter
Scrub the potatoes, put them in a saucepan of cold water, add a good pinch of salt and bring to the boil. When the potatoes are half-cooked after about 15 minutes, strain off two-thirds of the water, replace the lid on the saucepan and put onto a gentle heat, leaving the potatoes to steam until they are cooked.
Meanwhile, if using cabbage, remove the dark outer leaves, wash the remainder, cut it into quarters, remove the core and cut finely across the grain. Boil in a little boiling water or bacon cooking water until soft. Drain and season with salt, freshly ground pepper and a little butter.
When the potatoes are just cooked, put the milk and the finely chopped shallots into a saucepan and bring to the boil. Pull the peel off the potatoes and discard. Mash the potatoes quickly, while they are still warm, and beat in enough boiling milk to make a fluffy purée. (If you have a large quantity, put the potatoes in the bowl of a food mixer and beat with the spade.) Then stir in the cooked cabbage and taste for seasoning. For perfection, serve immediately in a hot dish with a lump of butter melting in the centre.
Colcannon may be prepared ahead up to this point and reheated later in a moderate oven 180ºC/350ºF/gas mark 4, for 20–25 minutes. Cover while reheating so it doesn’t get too crusty on top.
Diana Kennedy’s Pan de Muerto
From The Art of Mexican Cooking (Bantam Books, 1989)
Makes 1 large bread, about 11 inches in diameter, or three small ones.
450g/1 lb (4 scant cups) plain white flour, plus extra for bowl and working surface
12g/ ½ oz (1 ¼ teaspoons) sea salt
50g/ 2oz ( 1/3 cup) sugar
Scant 25g /1oz (3 scant tablespoons) fresh yeast or 1 ½ scant tablespoons dry yeast
150ml /5 fl ozs ( ½ cup plus 2 tablespoons) water
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
Put the flour, salt, sugar and yeast into a mixing bowl and gradually beat in the water and eggs. (Mexican bakers do not bother to cream the yeast, knowing that it is fresh – do it if you wish.) Continue beating until the dough forms a cohesive mass around the dough hook; it should be sticky, elastic and shiny – about 5 minutes. Turn out onto a floured board and form into a round cushion shape. Butter and flour a clean bowl. Place the dough in it and cover with greased plastic wrap and a towel and set aside in a warm place – ideally 21C / 70°F – until the dough doubles in volume, about 2 hours.
The Final Dough
The starter torn into small pieces
225g/ 8oz ( 1 cup) sugar
200g / 7 ozs (14 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened, plus extra for greasing baking sheets
450g / 1 lb plain white flour, plus extra for board and bowl
8 egg yolks, lightly beaten with 2 tablespoons water
50ml/ 2 fl ozs ( ¼ cup) water, approximately
1 teaspoon orange flower water and/or grated rind of 1 orange
4 egg yolks, lightly beaten
¼ cup melted unsalted butter, approximately
50g / 2oz (1/3 cup) sugar, approximately
Liberally grease 4 baking sheets (for both breads while proofing). Put the starter, sugar and butter into a mixing bowl and mix well, gradually beating in the flour and egg yolks alternately. Beat in the water and flavouring – you should have a slightly sticky, smooth, shiny dough that just holds its shape (since eggs, flours and climates differ, you may need to reduce or increase the liquid). Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and form into a round cushion shape.
Wash out mixing bowl, butter and flour it, and replace the dough in it. Cover with greased plastic wrap and a towel and set aside in a warm place – ideally about 21C / 70°F – for about 1½ hours, until it almost doubles in size, or set aside overnight in the bottom of the refrigerator.
Bring the dough up to room temperature before attempting to work with it. Turn out onto a lightly floured board and divide the dough into two equal pieces. Set one aside for forming later. Take three quarters of the dough and roll it into a smooth ball. Press it out to a circle about 8 inches in diameter – it should be about 1-inch thick. Press all around the edge to form a narrow ridge – like the brim of a hat – and transfer to one of the greased baking sheets. Cover loosely with greased plastic wrap and set aside in a warm place (about 21c / 70°F) to rise about half its size – about 1 hour. Taking the remaining one-quarter of the dough, divide it into four equal parts. Roll one of the parts into a smooth ball. Roll the other 3 strips about 8 inches long, forming knobs as you go for the “bones.” Transfer the four pieces to another greased tray, cover loosely with greased plastic wrap, and set aside to rise for about 1 hour.
Repeat these steps to form the second bread with the other piece of dough that was set aside. Heat oven to 190C/375°F/regalo 5.
At the end of the rising period, carefully place the strips of dough forming the “bones” across the main part of the bread, place the round ball in the middle to form the “skull,” and press your finger in hard to form the eye sockets. Brush the surface of the dough well with the beaten yolks and bake at the top of the oven until well browned and springy – about 15 to 20 minutes. Turn off the oven, open the door, and let the bread sit there for about 5 minutes more. Remove from the oven, brush with melted butter, and sprinkle well with sugar.
Jeannie Chesterton Halloween Chocolate and Almond Cake
This rich, moist chocolate cake is made with whole almonds and, like many of the cakes we bake at Buenvino, it uses no flour.
For the cake
115g (4oz) unsalted butter, plus more for the tin
Plain flour, for the tin
115g (4oz) best quality dark (70% cocoa solids) chocolate
2 tablespoons Spanish Brandy
50g (1 ¾ oz) blanched almonds
115g (4oz) granulated or caster sugar plus 1 tablespoon
3 free-range eggs, separated.
For the icing
115g (4oz) best quality dark (70% cocoa solids) chocolate
55g (2oz) icing sugar
2 tablespoons Spanish Brandy
115g (4oz) unsalted butter
Icing sugar, to dust
Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/regalo 4.
Line the bases of two 20cm (8in) cake tins with greaseproof or silicone paper. Brush the base and side with butter and dust with a little flour, turning to coat the tin and tapping out the excess.
Melt the chocolate with the Brandy in a heatproof bowl over barely simmering water. Let cool. Grind the almonds in a food processor; they should be left a little gritty, not ground to a paste.
In a separate bowl, cream the butter and the 1155 (4oz) of sugar, beating until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg yolks one by one.
In a third bowl, beat the egg whites until stiff, then add the 1 tablespoon of sugar and continue whisking until stiff peaks form. Add the melted, cooled chocolate to the butter mixture with half the ground almonds. Fold in the egg whites, followed by the remaining almonds; then the remaining egg white.
Divide the mixture between the prepared tins and make a dip in the centre of each cake. Bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes. The cake should be moist and slightly unset at the centre.
Allow to cool for a few minutes, and then turn out onto a wire rack, remove the papers and allow to get cold.
For the icing, melt the chocolate, icing sugar and brandy in a heatproof bowl over simmering water, then whisk in the butter bit by bit. Remove from the heart and whisk occasionally until cool.
When the cake is cold, fill and ice it with the chocolate icing.
To decorate, make a stencil of a witch or a pumpkin, lay on top of the cake and dust with icing sugar.
Delicious with a chilled glass of pale cream sherry.
Ballymaloe Halloween Barmbrack
This little gem of a recipe is much easier to make at home than the bakers Halloween Barmbrack made with yeast.
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
200g (7oz/scant 1 cup) soft brown sugar
225g (8oz/2 cups) self-raising flour
1 level teaspoon mixed spice
50g (2oz) homemade candied peel (see recipe)
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.
Keeps very well in an airtight tin.
- Feel like an Autumn break? Can’t imagine anywhere lovelier that Finca Buenvino near Aracena in Andalucía. In the midst of oak forests where free range Iberian pigs destined for pata negra, gorge on acorns and then there’s Jeannie’s food which is beyond delicious.
Check out http://www.fincabuenvino.com.
- West Cork Garlic:
Writing about Halloween reminded me that vampires abhor garlic or so I’m told!
Bryan Perrin grows 10 different varieties of garlic with origins in many parts of Europe and Asia on the fertile land in and around the 16th Century ruins of Ballinacarriga Castle near Dunmanway in West Cork. It is sold in local farmers’ markets, supermarkets and wholefood shops. They also sell garlic seed and will offer advice on growing. Traditionally garlic was planted on the shortest day of the year, 21st December, and harvested on the longest (21st June) – you may need to adjust that slightly now with global warming. Contact Bryan@westcorkgarlic.com or 087 133 3751 for your nearest stockist or growing advice.
- Craft Beer and food pairing is all the rage.
So brilliant to have a selection of craft beers at last.
Guess where you can get a really well chosen selection?
At Number 21, a little off licence tucked in behind the Lakeview filling station in Midleton, there’s another in Coburg Street in Cork and also in Charleville. They carry an unbelievable 250 lines, as well as the growing number of Irish craft beers and ciders, they stock Widmer Brothers from Portland, the Kona range from Hawaii, Brewdog from Scotland – Punk IPA has a cult following. There are gluten free ales, a whole range of English ales, Eviltwin Brewing, Sierra Nevada, Fruit beers, Icebocks, Belgian beers and Trappiste beers.
Contact 021 463 8444, Twitter:@no21midleton or Facebook: Number 21 Midleton.