Autumn has finally arrived, which for us Irish folk means that Oíche Shamhna (Halloween) is nearly here. While many people associate it with ghost stories and trick-or-treating, Irish people have a unique relationship with Halloween which stems back to food.
Remember the absolute triumph of finding the ring or the coin in the barmbrack at Halloween or the absolute despair of discovering the matchstick or piece of cloth in your slice? Ah, those were the days when we thought being married and wealthy were the be-all and end all!
Thanks to our supplier, Seery's family-run bakery in Co. Carlow, many of our Gourmet Food Hampers contain a delicious Irish fruit cake similar to the barmbrack.
This traditional bread, the Halloween Barmbrack, means speckled cake, which is a sweet fruit bread. The word Barm comes from old English "Beorma", meaning yeasty fermented liquor and Brack comes from the Irish word "Breac", meaning Trout (the bread is speckled like a trout because of the dried fruit and candied peel).
According to Irish folklore, the spirits of the dead could roam amongst the living during this time of year. The veil between worlds thins, so the spirits can return to the world of the living from the Otherworld.
The tradition of Halloween gained traction as Irish people continued to hold feasts to beckon their dead loved ones home, while lighting bonfires for protection from evil spirits. As a precaution, it was also customary for Celts to leave food and drink on the doorstep as offerings to the “good” spirits. (And we at Hampers & Co know all about food and drink! We recommend our Willy Wonka's Chocolate Gift Box as a delicious offering to occupy your visiting spooky tricksters.)
Thanks to the Irish love of food, gatherings and story-telling, it’s now a world-wide celebrated occasion every October 31st.
These old Irish traditions and food customs were brought to America by Irish immigrants in the 19th century and the pumpkin soon replaced the Irish turnip. And in the 21st century, they sent us back the October ubiquitous and much debated pumpkin spiced latte!
Food is a massively important part of Halloween. Apples were also associated with the Otherworld and immortality, while nuts brought divine wisdom, so both were used in fortune-telling rituals… and now also in our Hampers thanks to Forest Feast and Mr Filberts. And hands-up, who loves a pile of creamy colcannon with the dinner this time of year?
This century, while most traditions of feasting and gifting happily continue, other new less-frightening customs are forming! While we might not all chant around a bonfire with ghosts to celebrate the dark season, we love to enjoy snug fire-side evening as the days get shorter. We at Hampers & Co have curated the prefect gifts for these cosy nights that are drawing-in. Could we possibly survive the winter without munching with movies and books to keep us entertained? That’s why our Movie Nights-In Hamper and The Book Worm Gift are a splendorous gift-choice this season.
So, it looks like good food will always be the perfect way to welcome and entertain visitors, living or indeed, dead. And worry not if you don’t find the ring or the coin in the barmbrack this year… being broke and single are the most fascinating and curious years of self-discovery… just don’t forget the goodies for the ghouls as we celebrate the Celtic festival of Samhain.