As All Hallows' Eve, Halloween or Hallowe'en is fast approaching, I thought I would find out some suitable recipes and share with you the roots of this very interesting and fun festival.
Halloween's roots are in the Pagan Celtic festival of Samhain, which later the Christian church amalgamated with All Saint's Day. The Christian church did this with many Pagan festivals and traditions, as a means of encouraging the Pagan populous to more easily accept and join the Christian church. Sneaky huh.
The word Samhain comes from the Old Irish for 'summer's end', although this is a very rough translation. Samhain celebrates the end of the lighter half of the year and the start of the darker half. Some people still refer to it as the Celtic new year and the Pagan ancient Britons held a similar festival called Calan Gaeaf.
The festival has always had an element of a festival of the dead. This type of festival is very common around the world, especially in cultures that are still close to their Pagan roots. The ancient Celts and modern day Pagans believe that the dividing line or border between the land of the living and that of the dead, is at its thinest at Samhain, thus the belief that spirits can visit our land of the living on this evening.
It was and still is for many people, a day to remember and commune with their dead ancestors, as well as a time when you try to keep away the more harmful spirits. It is believed that this is where the custom of wearing masks etc came from, in order to scare away evil and uninvited spirits from the house and the celebrations.
I still have a bonfire on Halloween which has been a family tradition I can remember my great grandmother practising, and probably all my ancestors before her.
I also read somewhere that 2 bonfires were common, with the people and their livestock walking between the 2 in order to 'cleanse' them.
So, rather than wondering that Halloween has become more and more colourful and wild in recent years, and blaming commercial interests, think of it this way. We are, in fact, celebrating it more in the spirit that our Pagan ancestors did, albeit most people without the Pagan religious aspect. In my mind this is a good thing, as this is a very important festival and a very important point in the year for anyone who lives close to nature, or is even just a keen gardener.
Another important ancient Pagan tradition, that carried on until extremely recently in Christian times, was that the fire in the house was put out on October the 31st, and lit again from the bonfire used in the festival. At that time (and still in some places in Ireland) you never let your household fire go out, it burned night and day all year, apart from on Halloween, when it was doused.
If anyone would like to share their ancient cultural traditions of Halloween, please just let me know in an email and I will post it here. Alternatively you can add it as a comment, although I think less people read the comments.
And so to Colcannon...
Concannon was once a basic staple food of the less well off classes in Ireland, as potatoes and cabbage were all many people had available at times.
Years ago (and in some houses still today) Colannon was traditionally served on Halloween, and wrapped up gifts of small coins were hidden in it. In more modern times this tradition seems to have been transferred to the Halloween Brack here in Ireland.
Colcannon is traditionally made with kale, although dark leaved cabbage works fine. Kale has a much darker colour and a slightly stronger taste. Colcannon is similar to Champ, but champ doesn't contain the kale or cabbage.
1 lb Kale or dark green leaved Cabbage (finely shredded with no stalks)
1 lb Potatoes (unpeeled)
6 Scallions (also called spring onions outside Ireland) (Chives will also do at a push)
1/4 pint Milk or Cream
4 oz Butter
Salt & Pepper to taste
1. Boil the kale in a pan of salted water until it is very soft and tender, maybe 15 to 20 minutes.
2. At the same time (if you can manage it) boil a pan of the potatoes with their skins on and whole, until they too are tender.
3. Heat the milk and scallions up to a boil in another pan, and then simmer them on low for about 5 minutes
4. Drain the kale and mash it up.
5. Drain the potatoes, peel them and mash them well too.
6. Once the potatoes are mashed, add in the hot milk and scallions. Beat this well until it is really fluffy.
7. Then beat in the kale, adding salt and pepper to taste, and half the butter.
8. Heat the finished dish through well, in an oven or similar, before serving fresh. Use the remaining butter to drop a knob on top of the colcannon as it is served on each plate.