Haven’t we had fun this week with all the spooky and colorful recipes? And have you all recovered from the onslaught of costumed munchkins (we get over a hundred at our house, and we don’t even live in a city) and the sugar high you got from eating all the leftover candy (you wouldn’t want it to get stale or go to waste, now, would you?)?
But the festivities aren’t quite over yet, because today, November 1st, is All Saints’ Day, and the next day, All Souls' Day—and of course there is food involved. The event dates back to either 609 or 610 (maybe), and Pope Gregory III (731-741) made it official. It also happens to fall on the Celtic holiday of Samhain (pronounced “sow-en”), which marks the last harvest and the beginning of winter, when you’d count your herds and tally up your food supplies, maybe light a bonfire or two on the local hilltops. And since Samhain was the time of the year when beings and souls from the Otherworld could pass into our world, of course you’d make a feast for the souls of your dead kinfolk, and tell stories about them. (But watch out for the fairies, who could steal a soul away—make sure to leave them a snack on your doorstep.)
If you read about this, you’ll notice some similarities to our modern celebration of Halloween, including those (mostly children and the poor) who would go door to door volunteering to say prayers for the dead (in the old days, that is—now we call them trick or treaters). The traditional gift, at least in England and Ireland, was the soul cake, made with sweet spices and marked with a cross on top. (Remember the Peter, Paul and Mary song “A’Soalin,’ which in turn was based on the lyrics of a nineteenth century song; Sting borrowed it for a 2009 album. The tradition lives on!)
So here’s one version of a Soul Cake recipe (there are many). You’ll notice it includes saffron, which I found in more than one version.
2 sticks (1/2 pound) butter, softened
3 ½ cups flour
1 cup sugar
½ tsp nutmeg
½ tsp saffron
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp allspice
2 tsp malt vinegar
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, and grease a baking sheet.
Cut the butter into the flour.
Mix in the sugar and spices.
Lightly beat the eggs and add to the flour mixture.
|Dough, with my Victorian hand-turned rolling pin|
Roll out the dough one-quarter inch thick. Cut the dough into three-inch circles.
|Meet my new Irish cookie cutter!|
Place on the greased baking sheet (some people make a shallow cross on top at this point) and bake for 25 minutes.
If you like, you may sprinkle these with powdered sugar while they are still warm.
As you can see, there is neither liquid (apart from the eggs) nor leavening in these cookies, but they turned out to be fairly light and crisp, and not too sweet. And the dough is very easy to handle, a plus if you’re cutting out elaborate shapes. (P.S. My husband approved of them.)
|This includes my new short|
story, "That Other Woman."
Available in November.