Witches are known for having food when others don’t — and good food at that. We see this in fairy tales and records of witch trials. Hansel and Gretel are ostensibly abandoned because there isn’t enough food to feed their entire family, yet the witch’s very house is edible. In the tale of Rapunzel, the witch’s food is worth the price of a child.
Seventeenth-century witch hunters described the witches’ sabbats, or meetings, as feasts that featured enormous quantities of food and drink, often including luxurious dishes of meat and out-of-season fresh fruit. During an era that prized asceticism, witches lived extravagantly.
It comes as no surprise, then, that Halloween, the holiday most associated with witchcraft, has its share of traditional recipes.
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Modern Halloween derives from a few converging sources, most notably, Samhain (pronounced Sow’-en), an ancient Celtic harvest festival. The Celtic year was divided in half: a light half and a dark half. Samhain signals the beginning of the dark half of the year and was a time to placate the restless souls of the dead.
Another source is the Roman festival of Pomona, the goddess of fruit trees and fresh fruit, especially apples. The Romans are credited as the first to domesticate wild apples, transforming a sour fruit into the sweet, juicy apples of today. Pomona’s name derives from the Latin pomum, similar to the French word “pomme” or apple. Pomona’s presence lingers in the ubiquity of apples in Halloween traditions — from caramel apples to bobbing for apples.
A less formal, but no less ancient, belief suggests that during this time of year, the veil separating the realm of the living from the realm of the dead and the spirits, especially fairies, is particularly thin and permeable. Divination and oracles were believed to be especially strong during this time. Witches would congregate to honor their ancestors and celebrate the fairies. The tradition of witches’ balls dates to these practices.
Meanwhile, divinatory rituals evolved into household oracles that often involved food. Small charms were hidden in dishes (similar to the plastic baby hidden in a Mardi Gras King Cake). Family and friends would share a Halloween meal together, eagerly anticipating who would receive which charm, and thus, which destiny. Traditional charms include a baby doll (symbolizing future offspring), a coin (wealth), a horseshoe (luck or good health), a ring (marriage), a thimble (steady income), and a wishbone (fulfilled wishes).
In the Victorian Era, Halloween developed a romantic aura. Rather than a series of charms, a dish might contain just one ring, symbolizing marriage. The one who received it in their portion was destined to be the first to marry.
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If you want to harken back to ancient celebrations of Halloween, give one of these old recipes a try. While you can always prepare dishes that traditionally feature charms without them, follow these safety tips if you plan to add them:
— Use metal charms. Do not use plastic or any material that could melt when exposed to heat.
— To make them larger and more easily found, charms can be wrapped in wax paper before inserting into the food.
— Make sure that all diners are aware of the charms and know to eat carefully.
This traditional Irish Halloween meal is still popular today. (Serves four.)
One pound of potatoes
One head of cabbage (kale works as a substitute)
One stick of butter, divided into tablespoons
One white or yellow onion
Salt and pepper to taste
Milk, as needed
1. Boil the cabbage in a large saucepot.
2. When the cabbage is tender, remove it from the pot, allow it to cool, and then chop it.
3. Meanwhile, peel the potatoes, if desired. Skin may be left on, if preferred. Quarter them and then boil until tender.
4. Mash the potatoes using a potato masher. Add milk and butter to achieve the desired texture.
5. Gently stir the chopped, cooked cabbage into the mashed potatoes.
6. Melt one tablespoon of butter in a pan.
7. Chop the onion and sauté it in the butter.
8. Mix the sautéed onions into the mashed potatoes and cabbage.
9. Add salt and pepper to taste.
10. If you are adding charms to the dish, this is the time to do so: stir them in gently, hiding them under the potato-cabbage mixture, so they are not easily visible.
11. Serve in individual bowls.
12. It’s traditional to make a well with a wooden spoon in the center of each mound of colcannon and place the butter within it.
Mash of Nine Sorts
Nine is widely considered a magical number. With the exception of the potatoes, you may vary and substitute the root vegetables in this traditional English Halloween dish, but try to maintain nine ingredients. Other root vegetables you can use are parsley root, celeriac, or salsify. Charms are traditionally added to this dish. (Serves six.)
Two pounds potatoes, peeled and chopped
Two carrots, peeled and chopped
2 leeks, cleaned and chopped
Two tablespoons cream or milk
Six ounces grated cheddar cheese
Salt & pepper to taste
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
2. Chop and boil the root vegetables together until soft.
3. When cooked, drain and allow them to cool.
4. Mash the root vegetables, adding milk and butter to achieve the desired consistency.
5. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
6. Meanwhile, poach the leeks.
7. Add the chopped, cooked leeks to the mashed root vegetables.
8. Add cream and grated cheddar cheese.
9. If desired, stir in the charms so that they are covered by the mash.
10. Stir the mash into a buttered ovenproof dish.
11. Sprinkle grated cheese over the top.
12. Bake for approximately 30 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and the mash is nicely browned.
Fortune Teller’s Bean
This is an older and simpler divinatory dish that requires but a single bean. Add one single bean to an entire pot of peas. Steam or boil as desired. Once cooked, serve by ladling into individual dishes. Eat carefully! The person who finds the bean can look forward to a year of good fortune.
There’s no wool in this traditional Irish Halloween drink, but the name is believed to derive from the Irish Gaelic La Mas Nbhal (“The Feast of Apple Gathering”). Pronounced Lammas-ool, it eventually evolved into “Lambswool.” Crushed, baked apples form the basis of this potion. They are added to the beverage of your choice: traditionally cider, hot, spiced ale, or wine. Milk, ginger ale, or apple juice may be substituted if a non-alcoholic beverage is preferred. At least one gallon is required. In addition, you will need:
Brown sugar to taste
A pinch of ground cinnamon
A pinch of ground cloves
A pinch of ground ginger
1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
2. Place the apples in the oven on a baking tray and bake until they soften and begin to burst.
3. Remove from the oven and allow apples to cool.
4. Crush or break the apples into small pieces with a knife or wooden spoon, removing seeds and stems.
5. While the apples are cooling, warm the beverage. Add sugar to taste.
6. Add the desired spices and simmer for 10 minutes.
7. Place broken apples into a punch bowl or large pot.
8. Pour the spiced, warmed beverage over the apples and serve.
The Witch’s Supper
This quick, inexpensive Italian recipe is reputably able to pacify and please even the grumpiest witch. (Serves two.)
Two tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
Peeled fresh garlic, finely chopped (use as much as desired)
One 15-ounce can of chickpeas
One tablespoon chopped fresh mint
Salt and pepper to taste
1. Drain the chickpeas, but keep the liquid from the can.
2. Warm the olive oil in a cast iron pan.
3. Carefully sauté the garlic in the olive oil, making sure it doesn’t burn.
4. When the garlic begins to brown, add the drained chickpeas. (If you prefer a saucier dish, add the liquid from the chickpeas at this stage, stirring in a little at a time until the desired consistency is achieved.)
5. Add the chopped mint. Stir and sauté for 15 minutes.
6. Season to taste with salt, pepper, and extra mint.
7. Serve on pasta or toast.
Further recipes as well as information about witches, witchcraft, and the foods associated with them can be found in the author’s book Encyclopedia of Witchcraft: The Complete A-Z for the Entire Magical World.
Image courtesy of Shutterstock.