By Tara C.
Halloween is commonly thought to have its roots in the Celtic festival Samhain, however a wide range of traditions paved the way for Halloween as we know it today. Before we talk about soul cakes, I'd like to share a few other food-related tidbits from this episode. Perhaps you would like to incorporate them into your own Halloween festivites.
- Early jack-o-lanterns were carved turnips rather than pumpkins.
(photo from: Martha Stewart)
Thank you, Martha Stewart, for keeping history alive.
- Forecasting the future has long been associated with Halloween. The Scottish tradition "pulling the kale" involved going to a kale field, blind-folded, and pulling up a clump of kale. The amount of dirt of the roots was said to predict your partner's wealth; the taste, his temperament; and the shape, his stature.
- Candy is a recent addition to Halloween. American trick-or-treaters during the 1920s were described as costumed children who knocked on doors and said "Nuts! Nuts! We want nuts!" If you try this tonight, please report the results back to me.
Anyway, during Samhain, it was believed the souls of the dead came back to visit the living. Tales of the origins of soul cakes vary. One explanation is that they served as a lottery. The cakes were cooked on bonfires. Choose the burnt cake and you could be the human sacrifice. Also, your cake cake was burnt, so you're out of luck all around.
Or, soul cakes may have been used to ward off the evil spirits that roamed in animal form.
When I told my husband (he whom the kale predicted) I was making soul cakes, he asked if that was anything like Homer Simpson's soul doughnut.
(image from: Pop Culture Playpen)
If you happen to recall this episode, you might remember that Homer Simpson sold his soul for a doughnut. I am sorry to report that I cannot imagine anyone selling his soul, or anything else of value, for the soul cakes I made. I have to admit that I left out a key ingredient--saffron. I hope I don't provoke the ire of a poltergeist or over-zealous culinary historian, but saffron is $15 per package at my grocery store and simply too expensive. I also topped them with raisins instead of currants, so the historical inaccuracies really pile up here.
For whatever reason, I found the result to be pretty underwhelming. The soul cakes I made were similar to scones, but bland and dry. Plus the raisins on top burned. If you are in the mood for scones, you might what to try this recipe. But you know what? I think that modern ghosts would probably prefer a nice piece of candy anyway.
Whatever your plans, I hope you have a fun and safe Halloween!