FEAST: Ghoulish Tastes

By on October 25, 2016

Halloween’s foodie history has nothing to do with sugary treats.

A traditional Irish turnip jack-o’-lantern from the early 20th century photographed at the Museum of Country Life in Ireland. (Photo: Wikicommons)

A traditional Irish turnip jack-o’-lantern from the early 20th century photographed at the Museum of Country Life in Ireland. (Photo: Wikicommons)

JACKSON HOLE, WY – Have you ever been caught with your pants down on Halloween? Not in the literal sense, but in the sense that you are completely unprepared for the onslaught of ghouls, goblins, ghosts, and (dare I say) clowns parading to your doorstep? I have. I remember it clearly. My husband and I were sitting down to dinner—one of our homegrown chickens roasted with rosemary, lemon and garlic and paired with a nice crisp chardonnay, when we heard the first knock at the door. A glance out the window revealed a long handled scythe sticking up above the hedge next to a ladybug, a lion, and Sponge Bob Square Pants.

“Oh no,” I recoiled in horror, “we have no candy!”

And what was worse, we had no curtains, no blinds, nowhere to hide from their sugar thirsty stares. I quickly tipped a bag of art supplies into the wicker basket that usually held our car keys, plastered a smile on my face, and opened the door to their battle cry, “Trick or treat!”

They each took three colored pencils, except for the Grim Reaper, who got my plastic protractor. My husband, ever the hero, followed up with a packet of blueberry Pop-Tarts apiece. We passed out Pop-Tarts until the box was empty, turned off all of our lights, and snuck out the back door with our bottle of wine, narrowly escaping Princess Elsa and a seven-foot tall banana.

So I didn’t have candy on hand on Halloween, so what? Does that make me a bad person? No, no it does not! Why? Because candy corn and miniature snickers bars were never intended to be a part of a tradition that has been celebrated for two thousand years before the invention of high fructose corn syrup.

The ancient origin of Halloween dates back to Ireland and the Celtic festival of Samhain (sow-in), on the last day of the late fall harvest. People invoked ancestral spirits, thanked the Earth for her bounty, and distributed offerings of nuts, root vegetables, sacrificial beasts and wine beyond the boundaries of the village to appease evil spirits and keep mischievous fairies at bay.

Around the same time, the Romans were celebrating their own harvest. Nuts and fruits were placed at the altar of the orchard goddess, Pamona, along with apples, to represent love and fertility. By the year 43 AD, the Roman Empire had overtaken the Celtic lands and the two traditions merged into one.

The Roman Catholic church grafted itself onto the holiday in 835 AD, dulling down the party a bit by replacing traditional food and wine with spiced biscuits known as soul cakes, which were distributed to the poor in exchange for their prayers. The name of the holiday was changed to All Saints Day or All Hallow’s Day while Halloween, of course, falls on the evening before All Hallow’s Day.

The tradition, ever entrenched in mysticism, evolved and the foods associated with the holiday were given certain powers of divination. In Colonial America, a girl might see the reflection of her would-be lover’s face in the pans used to make the Hallow’s Eve feast. If peeling an apple, she might see the name of her future husband take shape where the apple’s peel fell on the floor.

And let’s not forget the pumpkin. The jack-o’-lantern comes from the legend of drunken Irish Jack, whose spirit, cast away from both heaven and hell, was forced to roam the Earth with a lantern made from coal nested within a carved turnip. Irish immigrants brought this legend to North America, and adapted to the ease of carving large soft pumpkins instead of the smaller, harder turnip.

Halloween remained a popular family celebration up until World War II, after which Americans, more sober and lackluster from the trials of war, handed the celebration completely over to their children. And the children have spoken. While bobbing for apples might be a good time, turns out what kids really want is candy. In fact, the National Confectioner’s Association projects that this year’s candy sales will soar beyond the more than $2.6 billion dollars people spent on Halloween sweets last year.

The moral of the story is that this time around, I’ll be more prepared. While the little ones are still at home duct taping their outfits together, my printer will be buzzing as I print out copies of this article and attach it to healthy little bags of my All Hallow’s Eve Trail Mix instead of candy.

Then I’ll sit back with a glass of wine and wait for the little darlings to come toilet paper my house.

Happy Halloween! PJH

All Hallow’s Eve Trail Mix

2c. Granola
1c. Dried Apples
1c. Craisins
1/2c. Toasted Pumpkin Seeds
1/2c. Pecans
1/2c. Honey Roasted Almonds
Optional: white chocolate chips or 55 percent dark chocolate chunks, which really have nothing to do with the season, but may satisfy salty trick or treaters

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