Saturday, 31 October 2009

All Hallow's Eve

Barm Breac- distinctive and delicious!
Soda Bread with the traditional cross on top.
Since it is Hallowe'en today I thought I would entertain you with the way we do things here in the rural West of Ireland.

Oiche Samhain (pronounced 'Eehuh Sowen')was traditionally, ie. from Celtic pre-history until the coming of Christianity, the night when people celebrated their ancestors. This was done as a community through lighting lamps around their burial places and probably pouring libations thereon. Today you won't find many people pouring libations at the old burial sites but lamps and food are still important.
The old traditions continued unchanged until the early 1900's probably, mitigated by attendance in Church for All Saints' Day on November 1st. The Irish have always done precisely as they choose, and then gone to Church after- that hasn't changed a bit!

In the countryside Hallowe'en dinner was traditionally Colcannon and soda bread followed by Barm Breac. Colcannon is a dish of mashed potato and chopped cabbage, and Barm Breac is a sort of raisin cake. There is always a ring in the Breac and whoever gets it will have good luck and a husband before the year is out! There can also be other tokens as another Celtic tradition was to foresee the immediate future or a calendar year, so this morning I included a few other items: a button (bachelor), a cent (poverty), a two euro piece (wealth), and if I could have found my thimble I was going to include that (spinster!). It seems that in Celtic times there were certain points in the year during which it was believed that the warp and weft of time wavered, St. John's Eve on 21st June, Oiche Samhain 31st October, and Winter Solstice, or Yule which I think is 21st December. At these times the past, present and future could sometimes be see or known simultaneously. I don't think this is a belief in magic or anything sinister, as it seems that they weren't given to any of the divination or occult rites which may be found in other pre-Christian cultures. There is still something of it left in the present, a tingle in the air after dark.
Earlier this evening we were outside setting out lanterns and candles in jars and B asked if I could feel the history under my feet? I knew what she meant.
Well there wasn't a chance of B and Co. eating anything with cabbage in, but I made Breac and soda bread for them, as well as all the usual party food- marshmallows, chocolate digestive biscuits, crisps, carrot sticks, and blackberry and apple muffins. They began with the Breac as they wanted the tokens, and when I was last in the kitchen were eating everything in sight! The girls have the house lit with lanterns and candles and it looks great.
If you are interested here is a traditional recipe for Barm Breac:
3 cups sultanas, 3 cups raisins, 2+1/3cups brown sugar all soaked overnight in 3 cups of black tea. Next day stir in 4 cups flour, 3 beaten eggs, 3tsp. baking powder and 3 tsp. mixed spice.
Turn into three greased loaf tins and bake for 1+1/2 hours in a moderate oven, 300 F.
You could do worse than celebrate Hallowe'en the old way, saying a prayer for the souls of the dear departed, lighting a few lanterns and inviting some friends around for a feast! There's a bunch of teenagers in my kitchen who would agree with that!

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