Bailey is a blogger, freelance writer and student at the
Hofmann Culinary School in Barcelona, Spain.
For many, the word Halloween conjures up either images of cinematic psychos in hockey masks, or costumed North American children plodding from house to house toting sacks weighted down with store-bought sugary treats while their parents hover back on sidewalks, visions of exorbitant dental bills dancing through their heads.
Without a doubt, the Americans have taken this holiday, dipped it in copious amounts of commercially manufactured chocolate, and run with it (often while covered in fake ketchup blood). Halloween did not start in North America however, and it is still celebrated in various forms in a number of places throughout the world.
Most believe that Halloween has its origins with the Irish Celts and the festival of Samhain (“Summer’s End” in Gaelic), a time during which it was believed that the veil between the living and the dead was very thin. However, many traditional Halloween practices are also related to the Catholic traditions of All Saints Day (a day for honoring the saints) on November 1, and All Souls Day (a day for honoring the deceased) on November 2. For example, it is thought that trick-or-treating is descended from the British or Irish medieval practice of “souling” where poor people and children would go from door to door on November 1, asking for food in exchange for prayers for the dead.
Often the “soulers” would be given “soul cakes,” and each cake eaten would supposedly save a soul. Recipes for these cakes vary but in general, they are more cookie than cake (I suppose “soul cookie” just don’t have quite the same ring), and they usually include egg yolks, currants and spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, allspice or saffron (so now, if nothing else, you now know what Sting is talking about in this song).
In Ireland (which outside of the US, is definitely the place where Halloween is most celebrated), the festivities include bonfires, apple-bobbing, trick-or-treating and a variety of delicious traditional Halloween dishes. However, as is perhaps to be expected, the foods are not without their controversies. Take “Colcannon,” for example, a hearty mash of potatoes butter and kale. Or should it be cabbage? There is apparently bitter debate over the question with the two sides falling into what the Irish blog “The Evening Hérault
” refers to as “The Traditional Camp” (the kaleists) and “The Other Crowd” (the cabbageites).
And then there’s Barnback (or “Barmback”?). It appears that they can’t agree upon even the name of this traditional Irish Halloween fruitcake. Actually it seems that there is very little that can be agreed upon when it comes to Barnback/Barmback. As The Evening Herault writes, “The consensus is that you start by soaking the dried fruit in tea. But that’s it. The tea should be weak (or is it strong?), and cold (or is it hot?), and the soaking should be overnight (or six and a half hours?). Well, soak it in some kind of tea for some time anyway, we can at least agree on that. Then do you use yeast or baking powder (or self-raising flour)? Sultanas AND raisins OR just sultanas OR raisins? Candied orange peel? Or…” It’s clear that the matter is complicated but the cake sounds tasty however you make it.
Many other countries in Europe have their own unique dishes that are
made especially around this time of year, most often in association with
All Saints and All Souls Days. In Spain, “huesos de santo” (Bones of
the Saints), cylindrical marzipan pastries filled with custard, and “Buñuelos
a fritter-like pastry made with a choux dough and then filled with
cream, are both traditionally eaten on November 1. In the Catalonian
region, the holiday is typically celebrated with “castañadas” (chestnut
parties) and “panellets,” (little breads) made from sugar, ground
almonds and potatoes (or sweet potatoes) and then flavored with
ingredients such as cocoa, coconut, pine nuts, anise, cinnamon, coffee
or lemon zest.
In Italy, “Ossa di Morti” (Bones of the Dead)
cookies are prepared to celebrate the days of All Souls and All Saints.
Depending on the region, the cookies may be made with wheat flour or
polenta, and then flavored with a variety of ingredients including
anise, cloves, cinnamon, lemon peel, almonds and vanilla.
in Mexico, “El Dia de los Muertos” (The Day of the Dead) is a three-day
celebration of All Souls/All Saints that begins on the evening of
October 31. Favorite foods are made as offerings to the deceased and
popular treats include “calabaza en tacha” (candied pumpkin made with
cinnamon and brown sugar), skulls made from sugar and “pan de muerto
,” an egg-rich bread which is often molded into decorative shapes and flavored with anise seeds.
it may still be only in the US that one can hardly turn around without
upsetting a bowl of miniature Snickers bars or becoming entangled in a
plastic skeleton, the Americanized version of Halloween is nevertheless
slowly spreading its sticky web over much of the rest of the world. My
Colombian husband claims that costumed trick-or-treaters fill the
streets of Bogota every October 31, and indeed, it isn’t at all unusual
to see small gangs of rogue trick-or-treaters meandering through the
streets of a number of European countries where the practice is not all a
traditional activity. It’s a bit nervy to be sure but hey, you never
know which kindly neighbor might have a few stale packets of Oreos
hidden in the back of her cupboard.
Unsurprisingly, the Japanese
have jumped on the bandwagon with their own unique brand of Halloween
cheer which includes Halloween themed origami, Halloween Hello Kitty
, and to eat, Pumpkin flavored Kit Kats.
much more appetizing use for pumpkin might be to try your hand at this
“Calabaza en Tacha” recipe from Jude Cabal of the food blog Apple Pie, Patis and Pâté
.Calabaza en Tacha
1 medium pumpkin, about 5 pounds
8 cups water
1 1/2 pounds piloncillo/panela
or dark brown sugar, about 4 cups
2 cinnamon sticks, about 3 to 4 inches each
10 guavas (optional)Notes:
The original recipe calls for simmering the seeds, pulp, and flesh in the syrup. I usually reserve the seeds for other things
. Keep the rind on to prevent the pumpkin slices from disintegrating during the long simmer.Instructions:
1. Stab the pumpkin in several places to allow the syrup to penetrate the flesh.
2. Cleave the pumpkin and guavas in half lengthwise.
3. Disembowel the pumpkin.
4. Hack the pumpkin into 3-inch chunks or crescent-shaped slivers.
In a wide and heavy cauldron, add the pumpkin pieces, guavas, raw
sugar, and cinnamon sticks. Add enough water to drown the pumpkin pieces
and guavas, about 8 cups. Bring to a boil.
6. Cover the pot and cook the pumpkin and guavas over medium-high heat for about 15 minutes.
Remove the lid and simmer until the liquid is reduced to a thick syrup
and the pumpkin and guavas are glazed, about 1 to 2 hours.To Serve:
Serve warm or chilled with milk or ice cream. Drizzle with some of the reserved syrup.
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Johanna's thoughts on food at: http://www.barcelonabites.com