The Recipes And History Of Halloween

When we think of Halloween today, we tend to think of it as an American festival. We think of dressing up and 'trick or treating'. What most people are unaware of is that Halloween dates back more than 2000 years to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain (literally 'Summer's End'). This day marked the passage from the old Celtic year to the new Celtic year.

As such the night of October 31st a 'no time' between the old and the new year and between the light half and the dark halves of the year. It was the practice at this time to extinguish the hearth-fires and to re-kindle them on the following day. Big bonfires were lit to ward off evil spirits and to sanctify the cattle ready for slaughter. (There are still traditional of walking cattle between two bonfires on this day.)

It should also be remembered that November was the traditional time for slaughtering cattle in the Celtic world. Indeed, the modern Welsh name for this month, Tachwedd literally means 'The Month of Slaughter' and the feast of Halloween would have been the start of this month of plentiful meat.

Apples were also important to the ancient Celts and this became even more important with the arrival of the Romans as the worship of the goddess Pomona, the Roman goddess of fruit and trees, became grafted on Celtic belief. Also late autumn is the time of apples.

To celebrate these two parts of Celtic belief I have re-created a Celtic pork and apple stew for you to enjoy, below

Celtic Pork and Apple Stew

This is an ancient-inspired stew of pork with apples (these have a natural affinity) that's been re-created using authentic ingredients and techniques

1.2kg pork meat, cubed
2 tbsp fat (or oil)
2 leeks, chopped
400g greens (strong greens like turnips tops, collard greens, kale are best), chopped
400g wild mushrooms, sliced
3 turnips, peeled and chopped
3 cooking apples, peeled, cored and quartered
70g hazelnuts, toasted and chopped
200ml cider
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1 tbsp chives
1 tsp dried sage, rubbed
salt, to taste

Add the fat (or oil) to a large casserole or pot and use to fry the pork and leeks until the meat is nicely browned (about 8 minutes). Add the mushrooms and turnips and cook for 2 minutes then add the herbs and cider along with 800ml water. Bring the mixture to a boil then add the apples.

Reduce to a simmer, cover and cook for about 90 minutes, or until the pork is truly tender. Season to taste, then serve ladled into bowls, topped with the hazelnuts. Accompany with chunks of warm crusty bread.

Christianization of the Celtic lands led to the merging of the Christian festival of All Saints' Day with November 1st. Indeed, in 825 Pope Gregory III moved the date of this festival to November 1st, setting it to coincide with the pagan festival of Samhain, thus supplanting the festival with a Christian meaning. Now, in Old English the mass held on All Saints' Day was known as Allhallowmass and the night before was know as All Hallow's Eve (where hallow means sacred, sanctified, holy). By contraction All Hallow's Eve became Hallowe'en (or Halloween).

Interestingly, it was the Irish and Scottish immigrants during the 19th century who brought Halloween festivities to America, so the modern festivities remain a continuation of the ancient Celtic original. Even the caved pumpkin originates with carved swedes and turnips (done in Wales, Scotland and Ireland) and the traditional carved beetroot of England.
Which brings us nicely to that mainstay of modern Halloween foods, the pumpkin.

Pumpkins are a New World food (indeed, only one type of squash is known to be native to the Old World, the green Chinese squash and it was this that was used to make the original Ancient Roman pumpkin pie) and are a very useful carbohydrate source. They can be turned into a dizzying array of dishes  everything from pies to chilis.

Below is a recipe for a classic stuffed pumpkin dish for Halloween:

Pumpkin Ghoulish

This is a dish of pumpkin stuffed with a ghoulash-inspired stew,

675g beef stewing steak cut into 2cm dice
400g baby carrots
300g potatoes, finely diced
1 onion, finely sliced
450g button mushrooms, finely sliced
4 tomatoes, blanched, peeled, de-seeded and chopped
1 green bell pepper, finely sliced
1 celery stick, finely sliced
800ml cream of mushroom soup (tinned is fine)
2 tsp sweet paprika
1 garlic clove, crushed
1/2 tsp ground allspice
1/2 tsp dried mixed herbs
1 whole pumpkin (at least 25 cm in diameter)

Cut a lid in the top of the pumpkin then scoop out the seeds and clean the pumpkin core then dry thoroughly and set aside.

Add a little oil to a frying pans and use to brown the beef all over then add the spices and herbs and mix to combine. Stir-in the tomatoes, bell pepper and celery and fry for about 5 minutes before adding the mushroom soup. Heat through thoroughly then pour into the prepared pumpkin.

Peel the carrots and cut into 3cm pieces then add to the mixture within the pumpkin along with the mushrooms and 250ml water. Stir to combine then add the lid to the pumpkin and set on a baking tray. Cover the stem of the pumpkin with foil then place in an oven pre-heated to 150°C and bake for about 3 hours, or until cooked through.

Carefully transfer the whole pumpkin to a serving dish, remove the lid and serve at the table. When serving scrape some of the pumpkin flesh to serve with the goulash.

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About The Author, Gwydion
Dyfed Lloyd Evans runs the Celtnet Recipes site, where you can find more information about the History and Recipes of Halloween (as part of the Recipes for Special Occasions section of his site) along with an extensive collection of pumpkin-based recipes.