Fri 06 Oct 2017
Halloween and where it all began
Halloween, although the term originally coined in 1745 by Christians, a word meaning Hallowed Evening. The traditions associated with the night have been around for hundreds if not thousands of years.
It’s a night of magic and mystery, a night commonly proclaimed as the one night a year where the vale between the living world and the world of the dead fades and spirits and demons alike can walk the earth.
Costumes are worn to disguise the living in the hopes they are not snatched away to the other side and bonfires lit to ward off ill fortune.
The ancient customs of Halloween can trace their roots back to an amalgamation of two even more ancient traditions, the Judo-Christian All saints eve, a three day celebration and feast in honour of the martyred dead and the Celtic pagan tradition of Samhain, marking the change in season and the end of harvest, a time for stocking up on the essentials before the winter sets in.
A traditional Halloween in England, Scotland and Ireland (although these traditions have all but died out in the former two), would have seen huge bonfires lit in the centre of villages and towns and processions of torches carried through the streets into homes to light the hearths as a way to bind the people together. Candles would also line the streets in the hopes they would help lead the dead back to their family homes, where places at tables would be carefully laid in the in anticipation of their attendance for one more meal.
The people of the towns and villages would wear costumes of animal skins and burn offerings in the fires to the Gods. Town elders would make predictions for the coming year.
These traditions carried across to the Americas where they mingled with Spanish, Mexican and Latin American traditions to form Día de Los Muertos, the day of the dead which is celebrated from the 31st October until the 2nd November.
Altars are made in homes and decorated with offerings. It is believed that deceased family would return to their homes on these nights.
Today, unfortunately, the mystery has been somewhat lost, with corporations co-opting the spooky nature of this most hallowed of nights.
However, a few things do still remain in some isolated parts of the country; bonfires still glow on this night and the dead still try to find their way back to their loved ones. In Ireland, the tradition of baking a Barm Brack loaf is still very much alive.
Historically the loaf was used to predict the future, objects such as a ring or a piece of straw were baked within and if you were to take a slice with an object in that would foretell an event to come.
To make the loaf
60g mixed peel
300ml warm, black strong tea
1 or 2 teaspoons treacle
200g dark brown demerara sugar
225g self-raising flour
1/4 teaspoon mixed spice
Mix the dried fruit, mixed peel, warm tea and treacle in a bowl. Cover and set aside overnight.
Preheat oven to 180 degrees C/ gas mark 4. Grease and line a 900g (2 lb) loaf tin or a 20cm (8 inch) round cake tin.
Add the brown sugar, self-raising flour, mixed spice and egg to the dried fruit-tea mixture; stir well until mixed.
Pour into prepared tin and bake for 1 1/2 hours, or until it feels firm to touch. Transfer to a wire rack and cool.
Be patient, if you can and store in an airtight container for a day or two. It really does taste better this way.
I have never made this before so the recipe is taken from allrecipes.co.uk/recipe/23493/irish-barm-brack.aspx
"Dear Gail, the service you gave to myself and my father was second to none and you could not have been more patient, understanding and so helpful. You kept us informed all throughout the process which made it much less stressful and your advice was invaluable. It was a pleasure working with you and speaking with you so regularly on the telephone. Many many thanks for everything with best wishes."