Halloween party time

Wouldn't it be fun to turn the clock back 70 to 100 odd years and see how Halloween was celebrated by our forebears. Of course, we have commercial Halloween heritage to fall back on in this country as our public displays of ghouls and ghosts are strictly down to our American cousins.

But we mustn’t forget that Halloween origins are strictly on this side of the Atlantic with the Celtic festival of Samhain - midway between the autumn equinox and the winter solstice. After the harvest was gathered people would join Druid priests to light bonfires and wear costumes to ward off ghosts. In the eighth century, 1 November was designated All Saints Day and  incorporated some of the traditions of Samhain. The evening before was known as All Hallows Eve, and later Halloween.

In the Middle Ages carved turnips called Jack-o-lanterns began to appear, attached by strings to sticks and embedded with coal. Later Irish tradition switched to pumpkins. In Wales, men tossed burning wood at each other in violent games and set off fireworks. And it was those 19th century Irish immigrants arriving in America who brought their traditions with them.

Trick-or-treating is said to have come from those ancient Celtic practices in the nights leading up to Samhain. In Ireland, mumming was the practice of putting on costumes, going door-to-door and singing songs to the dead. Cakes were given as payment.

Over time, Halloween in America evolved into a day of activities like trick-or-treating, carving jack-o-lanterns, dressing up and eating endless sweets or candy. Where, once, buying a pumpkin at the local greengrocers was the only Halloween decoration to be found in the UK, it is now a thriving celebration where two years ago we happily spent £419m on it.

But although there are plenty of decorations, costumes and confectionary to be had this year, it’ll be a family affair at home. So let’s do something different and revisit American Halloween for some inspiration.

This fabulous table setting comes from 1912  and is full of striking black cats, owls, bats and witches. All easily cut from black paper - or found in craft shops - they are easily attached to a white table cloth or sheet for maximum effect. If you happen to have a small bay, then hung with little pumpkins it makes a fantastic centre piece.

So what about the food ? This was the menu for this 100 year old party where the soups had carrots cut as tiny stars & crescents, the fairy wands were bread sticks and chicken patties became mysteries. Cakes were cut into talisman shapes and fruit salad adorned with hobgoblin heads.

From 1936 we have some recipe ideas from Crisco shortening - margarine to us. Onions rings, mincemeat cakes and a Lamb and carrot pie shaped into a sinister looking creature.

By the time war-time rationing came then the much-loved Devil's food cake might have been beyond the reach of most. This recipe boasted that it needed just 7/8 of a cup of rationed sugar.

Into the fifties we find the Holiday Cookbook with suggestions for Pumpkin ice-cream, popcorn balls and caramel apples - toffee apples to us. To really get into the mood, sandwiches and other fare can be garnished with cheese pumpkins, black cats and witches hats. And for the adults there’s a hot spiced cider or a tangy cider punch.

Of course, we’re quite used to our major brands stretching their offers into Cadbury Chocolate Halloween rolls, Mr Kipling Fiendish Fancies or even Soren Scream lunchbox loaves. But UK Halloween sweets have a long way to go to reach the dizzy heights of Brachs who boasted 63 different types of Halloween candy for trick or treating. And no Halloween party would be complete without a dish of some sort of sweets for kids young and old.

Happy Halloween !

Published on 21/10/2023 00:00:00
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