A Spooctacular Halloween Feast
13 recipes to celebrate your favourite fear festival
By Ramya Menon
Illustrations by Ramya Ramakrishnan
Zombies roaming the streets in blissful abandon, vampires stalking their prey in broad daylight and the deviousness of the Devil celebrated a million times over. That time of the year, when every family is transformed into TheAddam’s Family is upon us.
Halloween is here!
Everyone has that one festival, that they wait for all year long. Making elaborate plans and deciding plate settings, way before the festival is even around the corner. For me, its Halloween. The one time of the year, I can bring on the crazy without being mistaken for a mental asylum escapee!
And like most celebrations, food is right on top in my list of priorities.
If you think of it, I am not being greedy here. Festivals and food have an undeniable connection, that has lasted the test of time and tide. Can you think of Thanksgiving without the bird, Christmas without the pudding, or Easter without the egg?
But when it comes to Halloween recipes, for some reason, I can’t think beyond the ghoulish grub and the saccharine-heavy candy bars.
Hell, I myself can’t wait to get away with offering the neighbours some mouldy eyeballs, served with some piping hot ‘blood’ sauce.
But, surely there was a time before the candy conglomerates took over Halloween, and made it synonymous with the sugar highs of late?
What are these traditional recipes of Halloween? And where did they go? How did a menu that featured potatoes, apples, turnips and nuts, mutate into platters of bloody edible fingers, and sinister cookies, glowing maliciously in the light of the Jack-O’-Lanterns?
This year, Cucumbertown is going to take you through the evolution of the Halloween menu. Click on the dishes to find the recipes, and take your pick, from this old-meets-new list of Halloween treats.
The traditional feasts before the tricks
Halloween traces its roots back to pagan festivals in Ireland and Scotland. And the focus in the early editions of Halloween was on the local produce, and certainly not on the fear factor.
Not many people realise that Halloween is a harvest festival.
So, the original recipes centred on the main harvest around this time. And the popular products were potatoes, turnips, apples, cinnamon and nuts.
And it would totally surprise you to know that, the most traditional of the Halloween recipes is actually savoury, has nothing to do with pumpkins and is nowhere near scary.
Now the funniest thing here is not that the absence of the fear factor from the recipe. The story is so far removed from what Halloween has become, that I bet this is going to be your new ‘trivia to flaunt’ for the month.
In the good old days, before pop culture invaded Halloween and made it the gore-fest, that we now know it as, this harvest festival was the time of courtship. Myths of matrimonial bliss presided at the dinner table.
So when the Colcannon was made, in some parts of Ireland, a maiden was sent, blindfolded in the middle of the night, to pluck out a cabbage from the garden. The shape of the root apparently was a sign from the dearly-departed-spirits, about the kind of man she would marry.
So if it was a thin root, she was bound to marry to a lean lad. And if it was stubby, she could expect a portly partner.
Another tradition was to place a ring in the colcannon. Any unmarried person who got it, was expected to be on board the marriage train within the year.
Something tells me this may be the real reason behind why Halloween turned into a festival of fear!
And when the theme is matrimony, there is an obvious need for cakes. And that is where, the Barmbrack cakes came into the picture. Just like the Colcannon, this cake too had a hidden ring to suggest who was going to get hitched within the year. The very hotly debated idea, of placing a ring in the cake and proposing, may just have taken off from this tradition!
Trick or treating: Going Old School
Ever wondered where the tradition of trick-or-treating began? Well, read on to find out more.
Halloween was a festival to honour the departed souls. In Ireland, there was a time when the children were designated the role of praying for these souls. So they would go from house to house and collect these ‘soul’ cakes as a token for praying. Slowly the association with death caught people’s imagination, and the spooky angle became a Halloween mainstay.
The praying part has almost gone out of the window. But the part with children going from house to house, looking for treats, stuck. The only difference being that, now, it’s about scaring the person who opens the door, and demanding lots of candy.
The trick or treat theme continues with the Caramel Apples. Being a harvest festival, Halloween was big on apples, which were abundant around this time of the year. When kids started coming around for treats, the adults must have figured out a creative way to make use of the them.
So they began making taffy apples, toffee apples and caramel apples coated in nuts as enticing munchies, for the trick-or-treaters.
But there was a sinister angle to these offerings, which put a stop to the tradition. Apparently, a few children were given apples with needles inserted, harming them. Because of the bad press, despite the fact that the actual number of people who did something so heinous was minuscule, the practise stopped altogether. Now, the Halloween that we know of is creeping into the picture slowly.
Did you know the original Jack-O’-Lantern, was actually made out of turnips?
Halloween, has its roots in Ireland and Scotland, where turnips were in plenty during autumn. When the Irish moved to America, they took Halloween with them. And the succulent, ripe and versatile pumpkin, local to the US, captured their imagination.
That, my friends, is the real reason, the Jack-O’-Lantern became such a widely recognised symbol of Halloween.
Of course, they did not use the pumpkin to just carve out a spooky face. The ripe parts of the versatile veggie was used to make the pumpkin pie. And just look at this one! Sigh!
Getting the spooks on in the kitchen
With the sinister looking Jack-O’-Lantern entering the picture and the pre- existing gothic aspect of death helping it along, Halloween soon became a captivating festival, celebrating death, ghosts, zombies and all things frightening. Then, the recipes evolved too. What was originally a harvest festival, became an opportunity for cooks to become mavericks of monstrous recipes, showcasing their most gruesome creations at dinner parties.
So it would be incomplete, to talk about food and Halloween without a little ode to the deliciously wicked recipes that have become the norm of today’s festival of pumpkins, trick-or-treating and fear.
Since Halloween was traditionally a vegetarian festival, let us start off this scary list, with the veggie friendly, Halloween Teeth recipe. We made these at work and the expressions on my colleagues face after one biting into these teeth, (yes we can say that without sounding like Hannibal Lecter’s cousin), was comical. Tuck into one of these for dessert and save yourself from the candy invasion!
Now if you have adorable little monsters of your own at home, scurrying about in Halloween frenzy, get them involved in a recipe project that is sure to keep them occupied and far away from the bags of Mars bars. These Monster Face Pizza’s are truly the working mom’s quick fix Halloween recipe.
Since sugar highs are the norm for a truly fantabulous halloween, these Braaaains will be a definite hit with the Halloween connoisseurs like me. This is the perfect example of a truly creative approach to the scary theme of Halloween, using some very easily available ingredients. And anything with Red Velvet is a guaranteed hit!
Now the next one pulls out all stops to get the scary, spooky effect. All in a matter of a few minutes. So get some ‘finger-licking-good’ compliments with these super creepy, but extremely delicious Halloween Severed Finger Sausages.
This one is sure to be a hit with the trick-or-treaters. So get these yummy mummies done, just in time for the tired tots to gobble up, after getting their yearly haul of candy.
Any recipe with ‘devil’ in it is obviously perfect for Halloween. And these will get the healthy angle sorted out for the worried mommies out there. Yes, there is the mayonnaise, but hey, better than packing the sugar, don’t you think?
Carrying on the theme of slightly more healthy recipes is this super tasty creation. This can be whipped up pretty quickly and is bound to be a hit with the kids and adults alike. I am definitely going to offer these to the neighbours!
It’s not just the earth bound creatures like mummies and monsters that are scary. the extraterrestrials are definitely part of this scare fest. And what better way to get them on board?
What’s on the menu for this Halloween?
This, in a nutshell, is the story of how the recipes of Halloween have transformed over the years. It is fascinating, how the human imagination can engineer such frighteningly delicious recipes. Of course pop-culture, literature and art have helped to create this aura of mystique and fear around Halloween. The fact that the food too has evolved with these influences is truly spectacular, and unique to Halloween.
I am certain that this is nowhere near the end of the evolution of Halloween and its recipes. In years to come we will see more fearsome concoctions captivate us.
So this year are you going old school with the traditional recipes of Halloween or are you going to let lose, the evil genius cook in you, and concoct a feast fit for the beast?
Either way, Cucumbertown, has the answer for you!
Research material based on, Land of Milk and Honey: The Story of Traditional Irish Food and Drink, by Brid Mahon
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