Devon on October 1st, 2009

I have done some research on Halloween. I knew that it stemmed from a pagan holiday, but I did not know which one. My original intent was to find some poetry or old folk lore, but instead I found recipes and some interesting facts.

“Halloween,” originally spelled “Hallowe’en,” is from the phrase “All Hallows’ Eve,” shortened from “All Hallows’ Even” (“even” being an old word for “evening”). Which all stemmed from the Old English term eallra hālgena ǣfen meaning “all saints’ evening,” for it is the eve of “All Hallows’ Day,” which is known now as “All Saints’ Day.”

Halloween (“Oíche Shamhna” in gaelic) has origins related to the Celt’s traditional pagan Samhain festival on October 31st. Samhain is a festival held at the end of the harvest season. The Celts believed on October 31st the division between the living and the dead dissipates, the departed become unpredictable, causing sickness and/or damaged crops. Costumes were worn at the festival in an attempt to imitate the evil spirits and placate them.

An old Irish Samhain meal tradition is to serve Colcannon with small coins concealed in it as prizes. Colcannon is a traditional Irish dish made from mashed potatoes, kale or cabbage, butter, salt, and pepper (give or take some ingredients).


Traditional Irish Colcannon


  • 1 pound small red potatoes, cut in half
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1/2 cup thinly-sliced onion
  • 1/2 head cabbage, tough outer leaves removed, thinly sliced (should make about 6 cups)
  • 1 cup milk
  • Salt and freshly-ground black pepper, to taste


  1. Steam potatoes over boiling water in a steamer basket until tender, about 15 minutes. Place in a large bowl and cover to keep warm.
  2. In a heavy-bottomed skillet over medium heat, melt the butter and add onion, cooking about 2 minutes, until it is translucent. Add cabbage and continue cooking about 5 minutes, stirring frequently, until cabbage is beginning to brown.
  3. Reduce heat to low and add milk, salt, and pepper, stirring to combine. Cover skillet and cook about 8 minutes, until cabbage is tender.
  4. Add cabbage mixture to the potatoes in the bowl and mash with a potato masher.

For dessert, a traditional Báirín Breac bread (aka barmbrack). Barmbrack is a cross between Irish Soda bread, raisin bread, and Mardi Gras King Cake. To make a traditional Barmbrack, trinkets and charms are always added into the mixture. Upon cooling, pieces of the cake are carefully cut and eaten and the charms divined. Barmbrack traditional charms include (some of the meanings are antiquated — if not downright insulting):

  • Bean/button: Bachelorhood
  • Thimble: Spinsterhood
  • Gold Ring: Marriage
  • Matchstick: Husband will beat wife
  • A small piece of cloth: Poverty
  • Coin: Wealth

Naturally, your own charms and meanings can and should be utilized as a part of your Samhain traditions. Each charm should be wrapped carefully in parchment paper and placed in equal intervals throughout the bread before its final rise. Remember, when adding charms to your Barmbrack, be certain to warn the eaters.


Traditional Barmbrack


  • 1 cup Constant Comment tea, prepared
  • 4 cups white flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp Allspice
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1/2 stick butter
  • 1 package of yeast
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tsp white sugar
  • 1 1/4 cups luke-warm milk
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 cup raisins
  • 1 cup dried fruit
  • Charms


  1. The evening before, soak the raisins and dried fruit in the brown sugar and tea. Constant Comment is an orange spiced tea which adds a delicious flavor to the fruits, however any black tea can be substituted. Drain before using.
  2. Sift flour, spices and salt into a bowl. Rub in the butter.
  3. Add the yeast to the teaspoon of sugar and 1 teaspoon of the warm milk.
  4. Pour the rest of the warm milk and the egg into the yeast mixture and combine with the dry ingredients and the sugar. Beat well and knead until the batter is stiff but elastic.
  5. Fold in the prepared fruit. Cover the bowl with a damp cloth and leave in a warm place until the dough has doubled (about 1 to 2 hours). Knead again for another 2 or 3 minutes and divide between two greased 1 1b loaf pans.
  6. Wrap the charms in greaseproof paper and then hide them in the dough. Be sure they are well distributed. Cover again and let rise until the dough comes up to the top of the pan (30 minutes to an hour).
  7. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  8. Bake at 350 degrees for about an hour, until the top is nicely browned and the bread sounds hollow when thumped.

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