An All Hallows Feast – Menus, Symbolism & Folklore

In which I explore a completely different direction, have fun with food symbolism and folklore at this interesting time of year and make a realisation about how I really feel about good food.

I hope you enjoy this bonus episode as it is very different to anything I have done on the podcast before. I will be presenting a menu for a Halloween or an All Hallows Eve Feast, providing some of the folk beliefs or symbolic meanings for the foods involved and folklore around some of the ingredients for each course. The recipe cards will be available for the dishes I share below via a special code in the show notes.

I do want to reassure you before we start on a substantial feast menu that pudding aside, I could genuinely make a meal from each of these dishes on their own although I may need to put a couple of side dishes together for balance. You definitely don’t need to make the whole menu to enjoy the celebration, you could pick a course (including pudding if that is your favourite) and just make that. It can be enjoyed alone (and you will have the bonus of a freezer full of leftovers) or with friends and family (there may still be leftovers, my portion sizing tends to be a little large). Equally, you could just enjoy the sounds of this seasonal menu and the folklore and sit back and order yourself your favourite takeaway or simply make yourself beans on toast, with or without cheese if that is what brings you comfort.

I have designed essentially a menu which contains two options for each course, allowing for flexibility and recipe adjustments to be made to suit most common dietary requirements. Some of the dishes I present here may contain meat but can either be easily adjusted to be vegetarian or plant-based or I have provided specific plant based alternative recipes in the recipe cards. There is one exception but it can be easily left out without diminishing the feast. I have not provided gluten free recipes but I think most of the dishes which contain gluten could be adjust fairly easily by swapping in gluten free ingredients.

A final brief note on suggested drink accompaniments to this menu before we look into the symbolism and folklore of our dishes and the relevance of the date itself. I would suggest apple juice, cider, beer or even hot spiced wine. They are all seasonal with the apple juice, cider and beer celebrating the end of the harvest and the hot spiced wine preparing the senses for the cold season ahead.

This year’s Halloween for All Hallow’s Eve alls on a Tuesday with a waxing gibbous moon in in Gemini so it is the perfect time for a feast of foods which enhance our strength and physical well-being as well as giving us the gift of improved communication skills and banish negative energy. October brings also brings transformation and change and increased awareness of the spaces in between. The menu has been built around seasonal foods, some full of earth energy said to provide protection, grounding, health and abundance as well as enhancing warmth and compassion, others are believed to increase openness to spirituality and psychic abilities and finally a few that promote peace, love, happiness and possibly some passion (dependent on the spices!) Most importantly, it tastes amazing.

Let me see if I can tempt you by sharing the full menu before I break it down:

Our first course is either a gorgeously velvety Pumpkin Soup with Mushrooms & Blue Cheese crumbles served with warm cornbread & whipped chipotle butter for a devilish kick or temptingly crisp Spiced Carrot Fritters with a refreshing herb & pomegranate dip. I adore both of these options and would cheerfully have either as a main meal. The soup is so comforting but the toppings give it a fantastic boost of flavour and the fritters are perfect to enjoy with a Friday night in front of the telly, all crisp, craggy edges, soft spiced middle and salt licked off your fingers. The only problem with the cornbread & whipped spicy butter is stopping eating it early enough to leave space for other dishes.

The second course is either an earthy Baked sausages & Lentils with heavenly buttery Colcannon and Roasted Carrots and Beetroot with chilli, honey and thyme or a rich, gently spiced Pumpkin, Potato & Spinach Curry with Buttered Lentil Oven Rice accompanied by vampire defying garlic yoghurt, chutneys and flat breads. The lentils and sausages are one of my favourite weekend dishes, all warm earthy goodness with tight skinned sausages and a special piquancy from the finishing capers and lemon juice. You can just eat this on its own with big hunks torn off a baguette and some hot mustard on the side but if you can manage to make the Colcannon you won’t regret it. The buttery mashed potato, cut through with the dark green leaves is also good enough to eat on its own but it enhances the sausages and lentils to such an extent, that slightly humble ingredients become a celebration dish.

The Roasted Carrots and Beetroots go with so many dishes, but the beautiful bright colours and sweet savouriness are the perfect finishing side here. They are also delicious with the buttered lentil oven rice to make a side into a main dish. The Pumpkin Curry is rich from the coconut milk but the spices and intense, ,irony greenness of the spinach lift it and give it vitality. The potatoes are a lovely surprise as they soak up all the fantastic flavours and enable you, if eating with the rice and flat breads to indulge in a rare treat: triple carbs! The buttery lentil rice oven rice is a triumph over lack of effort, you do so little and it gives back so much. This is another comfort food favourite that I can eat in a big bowl with just the garlic yoghurt splodged all over the top, steaming tasty rice with ice cold yoghurt, perfect.

Our final course is obviously pudding and it is designed to be both mix and match and portable should you wish guests to take it home, take outside to eat around a halloween fire or even just nibble over the best bit of an evening when you are convinced you are too full but still have ridiculous amounts of talking left to do. Our rule of three pudding is sticky, gingery Parkin, meltingly delicious honey fudge and last but not least sinfully dark chocolate tiffin. I don’t think I’ll need to try and tempt you to try this but I’ll just mention the intense gingeriness, the crisp bite of bittersweet dark chocolate and the intensely sweet creaminess of these perfect autumn confections.

Now is the time to see if I can also persuade you of the worthiness of these dishes by sharing their symbolism and the folklore of their ingredients:

First, those temptingly crispy fried Spiced Carrot fritters with their refreshing herb & pomegranate dip. Carrots carry a lot of masculine energy and are said to posses fiery attributes. They enhance both strength and clarity of mind. The dip balances the fiery masculine energies with more feminine energies from the yoghurt, known for enhancing health. The botanical properties of the dip are also said to encourage healing, protection, creativity and abundance.

The velvety pumpkin soup which contains cream as well as its buttery mushroom and rich blue cheese topping, is decadent and delicious. The roundness of the pumpkin, as well as the richness of the added cream are said to be symbolic of the mother goddess embodying warmth, love and hospitality, the mushrooms are suggested to improved psychic awareness and the finishing cheese brings joy to the eater and is symbolic of things coming to fruition.

The accompanying bread brings a sense of kinship and sustenance. The corn itself is symbolic of divination, plenty, and vitality. The devilish kick brought by the smoky chillies in the paste adds protection and potency.

Before we move on to our next course, I’ll think we’ll take a peep at the folklore around carrots, pomegranates and pumpkins.

Did you know that carrots are one of the oldest identified vegetables and have a folklore nearly as old. In fact, the Greeks called the carrot “Philtron” and used it as a love medicine, they thought it made men more ardent and women more yielding. The particularly unpleasant Roman emperor Caligula, thought there was something in this, and forced the whole Roman Senate to eat carrots so he could see them “in rut like wild beasts”. No-one says what happened afterwards, perhaps Caligula was disappointed that they just enjoyed a dish of root vegetables with no discernible effect. It certainly did not improve their eyesight.

During the Second World War, two imaginative, conniving and, as it turns out, convincing, ideas were spread throughout Europe: the first was that the success of the RAF in night-flying and target location was due to their exceptional eyesight, and second that their keen eyesight was fuelled by the consumption of carrots. These both came from a desire to hide the success of radar and to encourage the eating of carrots which were one of the few foods at the time of which there was an excess. This is where the folklore that eating carrots is good for your eyes came about.

Carrots seem to encourage fakelore, as demonstrated in the story that Dutch farmers began to develop and cultivate orange varieties of carrot as mark of respect for William, Prince of Orange and his house, whose descendants went on to occupy the Dutch throne and still reign today. The carrots then grew in popularity and spread around the world to become the vegetable’s standard colour. In reality, the orange varieties just grew better in the mild wet climate of the Netherlands than the purple and yellow ones and were more stable with a higher yield so were obviously the ones that the Dutch merchants would spread across Northern Europe. There is also evidence that orange carrot was being cultivated as far back as the 14th century, two centuries before the Prince of Orange was a twinkle in his father’s eye.

Pomegranates are said to indicate luck and fertility because they are bursting with seeds. Although the earliest pomegranate bushes grew wild and uninhibited throughout the Middle East, they have long been cultivated for sale and personal use. Armenia, in particular, has a detailed history of interaction with the pomegranate, with actual fossilized remains evident from as far back as 1000 BC.

The fruit played an integral role in a wedding custom widely practiced in ancient Armenia; a bride was given a pomegranate fruit, which she threw against a wall on her return from church, breaking it into pieces. The resulting scattered seeds ensured the bride’s future children. The pomegranate is also said to be found in the Garden of Eden according to Ancient Christianity and was believed to be the real forbidden fruit rather than the apple.

In Greek mythology, the pomegranate was known as the ‘fruit of the dead’ as it was said to have arisen from the blood of Adonis. It also prominently featured in the myth of Hades and Persephone. Hades, God of the underworld, used pomegranate seeds to trick Persephone into returning to the underworld for a few months of every year. Alongside death, the pomegranate symbolised fertility in Ancient Greece and Rome and had a strong association to Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love, as well as Hera, the Greek goddess of marriage and childbirth. In Ancient Rome, newlywed women also wore crowns woven from pomegranate leaves, and the juice of pomegranates was used to cure infertility.

The folklore around pumpkins is overwhelmingly about Jack O’ Lanterns and the story of the wicked blacksmith called Jack (his profession varies with the teller) who annoyed the devil so much he wasn’t admitted into Hell and was too wicked to be permitted into heaven, so was cursed to walk the earth carrying a lantern contains an ember from hell which won’t ever go out. This folklore was really based on Irish tales which actually referred to turnips. There is however some interesting folklore and creation myths around pumpkins from the indigenous peoples of the Americas.

Pumpkins are technically a type of squash and are considered as such by some Native American tribes, where pumpkins were grown alongside corn and beans as one of the mythological Three Sisters of agriculture. Pumpkins are one of the earliest known food crops in the Americas, with ancient containers of stored pumpkin seeds from Mexico found dating back as far as 7000 BCE. Pumpkin flesh and seeds were both popular food items among many Native American tribes. Pumpkins were especially important to the diet of the Tohono people, who ground pumpkin seeds into flour and mixed it with corn meal to make breads. Some Mexican tribes believe pumpkin seeds give exceptional energy and endurance to the people that eat them, and the Cocopa tribe of Arizona considers pumpkin seeds protection against the cold.

Pumpkins are also a clan symbol in some Native American cultures. Tribes with Pumpkin Clans include the Navajo, Hopi, and Pueblo tribes. Some Pueblo tribes also have a Pumpkin Flower Dance among their tribal dance traditions.

In the Huron creation myth the pumpkin vine grew from the head of the divine woman, the first person to grace the earth. It was said that pumpkins (along with their sisters, beans and maize) could defeat evil.

That brings us nicely on to our Pumpkin, Potato and Spinach Curry which like in the soup, is symbolic of the mother goddess embodying warmth, love and hospitality, the other vegetables present here increase both the grounding and protective qualities of the dish. The spices heighten those protective qualities and improve the potency of the dish as well as increasing the possibility for love. The Buttered Lentil Rice plays an important role with its connection to abundance and luck but also fortunately if shared at a large gathering, the butter and the lentils are said to bring tranquility and reduce the risk of arguments. The garlic yoghurt, pickles and chutneys provide provide protective energies from the garlic, vinegar, onions and chillies involved. Garlic is also said good for banishing those more difficult life elements.

Our second option of Baked Lentils & Sausages provide a mixture of grounding energy, good fortune and vitality with perhaps just a touch of psychic awareness as well as strength and health coming from the bay leaves. The Colcannon is full of grounding earth energies from the potatoes, the butter will help to smooth relationships at any gathering and those green leaves attract abundance with just a touch of protection from the spring onions. The Roasted Beetroot and Carrots attract passion, love and happiness as well making you more open to the sweeter things in life and a sense of heightened vitality. The pomegranate seeds are said to attract luck and abundance in many areas of life.

It’s time for a little more ingredient folklore: firstly sausages which have a longer history than you might think and appear in one of the first known joke collections. I won’t repeat the joke as it is terrible and I am not 12 years old, which in consideration may be why I think it is terrible. They also appear in slightly classier classical literature as we will shortly read. They even have their own fakelore in the form of the story that sausages were invented by the Roman emperor Nero’s chef in the middle of the first century AD. Since they were also mentioned almost 1,000 years earlier, in the Odyssey, Nero’s chef may be said to lack some innovation.

Sausages were even part of Roman fertility rites, which led to them being banned briefly by Constantine the Great in the fourth century AD. Like with Prohibition centuries later, the ban didn’t stop consumption but simply created a thriving black market, and it too was repealed after a few years. Imagine a black market for sausages, or seven sausage speakeasies.

Lentils however have never been banned, primarily because as they are round like a coin, lentils are a natural symbol for luck. Lentils, or lenticchie, are believed to bring good luck in Italy in particular, and eating them at New Year – shortly after midnight – is a tradition that’s said to date back to ancient Rome. The coin-shaped legumes were believed to represent abundance.

In the Jewish tradition, lentils were thought of as a symbol of the circle of life. Legend has it that lentils were a mourner’s food, because they are round with no opening—like mourners, who are supposed to be silent. As a result, lentils and hard-boiled eggs were often served for the consolation meal after a burial or before a fast.

We should probably also pay a flying visit to some of the folklore around garlic mostly because it’s one of my favourites. The Ancient Greeks believed garlic was one of the key ingredients in achieving immortality: Asclepius, son of the god Apollo, learned everything about healing herbs, including raising the dead which made Hades, God of the Underworld a little on the grumpy side. Hades complained to Zeus, who was also miffed with this disruption in the natural order of things, so Zeus killed Asclepius with his trademark thunderbolt while he was in the middle of writing down the formula for immortality.

Zeus then sent down pouring rain to destroy the paper that Asclepius was writing on. The paper melted into the earth, and when the sun came out, a plant sprang up where the formula had been. I think you can guess what that plant was. It’s also another a good reason, should you need one, why it is important to avoid annoying a god of weather.

In Roman times garlic’s fiery taste and ability to furnish the consumer with fighting strength and spirit meant that it was associated with Mars, the Roman god of war. The ancient Greeks, however, linked garlic with Hecate, the triple goddess who represented maiden, mother and crone. Hecate was the Goddess of walls, boundaries and the spaces in between. She was a household goddess of protection as she kept away the angry dead. She inhabited the Underworld and had power over birth, life and death, powers reflected in the almost miraculous healing abilities of garlic. She was also the goddess of magic, witchcraft, sorcery and enchantment and Theophrastus wrote that garlic was placed on stones at crossroads as an offering to Hecate to keep travellers safe.

Lastly before we get to our pudding I feel we can’t leave Colcannon out of our folklore discussion. The first known written mention of it was from a diary in 1735 by a Welsh traveller to Dublin. It became popular in the UK too, there are recipes from Margaret Dodd’s Cook and Housewife’s Manual in 1826 and Eliza Acton’s Modern Cookery in 1857 including the appropriate Irish technique to cook potatoes for the best results.

You can also bury ring and thimble charms in Colcannon (not that anything containing potatoes and that much butter needs any further reason to eat it) If you get the ring then marriage to the person of your dreams should happen within the year; if you get the thimble then there is no wedding for you, at least in the next twelve months. A messier (and more wasteful option) is to put the first and last bite in a stocking and hang it on the door. The next person through the door would be your future spouse if they dont slip over on the butter presumably..

You could also do a spot of divination whist procuring the greens for your Colcannon. A now sadly neglected way of finding out the size and the figure and disposition of a future spouse was by pulling cabbages or Kale plants up blindfolded under the moonlight of All Hallow’s Eve. The size/shape of the cabbage or kale was indicative of whether they would be plump or slender, tall or short. If any dirt clung to the roots they would come with money and depending on whether the heart of the stem was bitter or sweet would indicate the degree of their good temperedness. The leaves were then balanced over doorways and the christian name of the person who caused them to be disturbed would be the same as your future beloved.

Have you got room for pudding? Go on you know you want to, just a smidge. Maybe some to take home for the journey. Firstly the Parkin, the ginger brings health and the spices attract warmth and compassion as well as an increased awareness of the between things, the oats are associated with sustenance & prosperity. The fudge attracts joy as well as the sweeter things in life including love. The Tiffin attracts a mixture of energies depending on the ingredients you use but primarily the chocolate can increase your ability to give and receive love as well as increasing prosperity, if you include nuts many of them are known to attract wealth.

We have one final piece of ingredient folklore before we come to the end: honey. Did you know that apparently the Druid’s called Britain ‘Honey Isle’ due the prevalence of honey and bees there? Honey was thought to be a divine substance, a gift from the gods. The Egyptians thought that bees collected the honey that had been left by the gods and so they were considered sacred manifestations of the gods. Other civilisations considered honey to be gift of the the earth mother Astarte, the goddess of fertility, maternity and love.

The ancient greeks also considered it a food of the gods, consumed in ambrosia. It appears as a divine foodstuff in Homer’s Odyssey as well. Even Virgil believed it was ‘heaven-borne’. The Romans offered it as a sacrifice to Proserpina (known by the Greeks as Persephone) the goddess of both the underworld and the Spring. They thought it was enough to tempt her from the Underworld and bring on the Spring.

Honey has even been used in warfare. Bees harvested the flowers of toxic (to humans) plants and made honey and this honey was given to enemy soldiers to weaken them so they could be easily killed if they hadn’t already died of the toxic honey. There is some evidence of this happening to Greek soldiers in Turkey in 401BCE and to Roman soldiers in 67 BCE whether by accident or design.

I think that’s it, I hope you have enjoyed this as much as I have. I know that for some the idea that there might be a little magic in the ingredients we use is fascinating, I know others don’t see the world in that way. I hope we can all enjoy the folklore and symbolism that is attached to the foods whatever we believe. If this topic interests you I have listed some books via the show notes that you may find useful. If nothing else this menu was created to bring a little joy into an increasingly difficult world whether that is through cooking, eating, imagination or intention. I firmly believe that good food and the appreciation of it lightens your soul, if only for a while.

Even if you consider that fanciful, as well you might, the need to eat is something all of humanity shares and we need to remind ourselves of those things we share even more than ever in these dark days. When I prepared this celebration feast on paper, I held the dishes in my imagination as every cook does and chose to put them together on a big table in a lovely cosy kitchen with lifelong friends, shutting out the world and celebrating an end of harvest festival and the circle of life. A chance to honour those no longer with us by celebrating the important things in life: friendship, love, health, good food, and comfort. That’s a harder picture to hold there now but I feel so strongly that we need to honour those lost by living and doing that as hard as we can, even if the only way we can do that is by taking comfort in food and lightening our souls just a little.

A part of me hopes you do that by adding a little magic to your food and making just one of these recipes if only because I’ve tried to put some warmth and comfort in every one. The bigger part of me would be just as pleased if you made your own version, or even if you just microwaved yourself some soup and enjoyed the folklore as long as it means you allow yourself to take some comfort & allow your cares to be lifted just a little. I said at the beginning that you can enjoy this episode as a piece of folklore & whimsey then just order a takeaway and I absolutely stand by that but if you allow those salt & pepper chips to give you a metaphorical hug I would sincerely appreciate it.

Further Reading:

A Kitchen Witch’s Cookbook – Patricia Telesco

Cunningham’s Encyclopedia of Wicca in the Kitchen – Scott Cunningham

In Praise of the Cook – Midori Snyder

Kitchen Witch: Food, Folklore & Fairy Tale – Sarah Robinson

The Lore of Simple Things: Milk, Honey, and Bread In Myth And Legends by Ari Berk

Myth making and Magic in Votive Foods – Adriana Gallo

Nectar and Ambrosia: An Encyclopedia of Food – Tama Andrews

The Rituals of Dinner – Margaret Visser

The Mystique of Garlic: History, Uses, Superstitions and Scientific Revelations – Alexandra H. Hicks from The Oxford Symposium on Food & Cookery 1984/5 Cookery: Science, Lore & Books
From Cedar to Hyssop, a study in the folklore of plants in Palestine – Grace Crowfoot
The Book of Garlic – Lloyd J Harris 1980
Onions and Garlic Martha Jay
The Little Book of Garlic – Alastau
Garlic, an Edible Biography – Robin Cherry

Featured image credit: Photo by freestocks on Unsplash