Monday, 28 October 2013

Halloween and Harvest time

The Halloween tradition was an ancient Pagan Festival. This was the most significant festival in the Celtic calendar.

The Celtic people, who had settled in Britain a couple of thousand years or so before Christianity became the principal religion in Britain, celebrated harvest time with rigour. On this night, these people lit many bonfires to celebrate a successful harvest, as well as to honour their dead. They believed that the spirits of those that had died that year walked the earth for one last time before passing over to the otherworld, and that the fires aided those dead ‘in transit’ on their journey.

Old customs die hard, and while Christians remember the sainthood on the first day of November, the notion of dead folks roaming the earth was too symbolic to be lost forever.

We learn then that the name Halloween came along much later than the tradition itself. It derives from the eve that precedes the Christian Feast/Festival of All Saints Day, otherwise known as All Hallows, (All Hallows’ – eve).

We have continued to follow the same seasonal calendar as our ancient ancestors. In our Northerly position we harvest our fruit and vegetables before the winter chill penetrates the earth, trees growth slows and plants die down.

Make the most of these seasonal root vegetables, in particular, the potato, our main staple food: Try baking potatoes in their jackets until crispy. Cut each potato in half and scrape the tender potato middles into a bowl. Put the skins aside. Mash the potato with butter and a little milk. Add some grated cheese. Refill the skins and brown the potato halves under a hot grill.

A comforting, slightly exotic alternative to the potato is the sweet potato: Try peeling, slicing (into chunky slices) and placing sweet potatoes in a pan of slightly, salted water; simmer until just tender. Transfer the sweet potato slices into an ovenproof dish. Drizzle two tablespoons of honey over the top and bake in the oven until brown and the honey has caramelised.

Irish immigrants took Halloween to the US, after fleeing the potato famine, and the American people embraced it. Their version of Halloween surfaced here, in Britain, in the 1980s. As a result pumpkin growing has become big business. Remember not to waste the pumpkin flesh scooped from the jack-o-lanterns, use it to make pumpkin pie, or pumpkin soup:

Pumpkin Soup

3 tablespoons of Olive Oil
1 large onion chopped
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
500g of pumpkin flesh chopped
1 litre of chicken stock
1 teaspoon of finely grated nutmeg
Salt and black pepper
300ml milk

What to do:
In a large pan heat the oil and fry the onion until soft. Add the garlic and cook for a further two minutes. Add the pumpkin flesh and cook until lightly browned. Add chicken stock and milk. Season well, with salt and pepper. Add the nutmeg.
Bring to almost boiling point, turn heat down and cover.
Simmer for 25-30 minutes, or until pumpkin flesh has softened. Allow to cool for a few minutes and check the seasoning.
Puree the soup in a blender or processor until smooth.
Return to saucepan. Reheat to serve.

Carrots grated and added to a favourite cake mix along with a teaspoon of mixed spice and chopped walnuts makes a deliciously moist carrot cake - top with sweet icing. Other seasonal fruits and nuts can be used in traditional recipes such as almond slices and toffee/chocolate apples.

Embrace the harvest and celebrate as our ancestral people once did.

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