By: John Gleeson
Boo…if Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year, that would make Hallowe’en the most magical and mystical time of the year. It’s no surprise food plays a central role in Hallowe’en; it evokes mental images of candy, caramel apples, pumpkin-flavoured everything, and Barmbrack. Wait what? Barmbrack? We’ll get to that in a moment. First, I need to set the stage…
Hallowe’en traces its roots back to Celtic countries, most particularly Ireland, and the festival of Samhain. This festival celebrated the end of the harvest season, and marked the beginning of the dark half of year. Supposedly, during this festival, the boundary between this world and the Otherworld (inhabited by fairies and spirits) became crossable. Due to this lack of a boundary, creatures from the Otherworld could freely enter our world during Samhain. Because of this, people carved faces into turnips, and placed these by their windows and doorways to ward off evil spirits.
Irish folk are fairly fond of their traditions. So when Irish people immigrated to America, they stumbled across an easier vegetable to carve…the pumpkin. The pumpkin had been associated with harvest season in America, and began being specifically associated with Halloween from the mid to late 19th century. Pumpkin is now the de facto autumn/fall flavour, and is featured in a world-renowned beverage known as the “Pumpkin Spice Latte” or PSL. (For more on the PSL, check out: http://sciencemeetsfood.org/pumpkin-spice-the-flavor-of-the-month/ ).
Although candy and pumpkin have become associated with Hallowe’en flavours and foods, there are a couple foods that the Irish immigrants brought that didn’t stick as well… a.k.a. Barmbrack! Barmbrack is a delicious, yeasted, sweat bread full of raisins. But if you’re indulging in a slice of traditional brack, be careful; you may end up having your fortune told! Traditional brack would have a ring, a stick, a coin and a piece of cloth baked within and each corresponds to your future (i.e. you will wed in the next year, have an unhappy marriage, become rich, become a pauper, etc.). The food safety readers might be panicking right about now….but don’t worry! Commercial brack only includes a toy ring!
So next time Hallowe’en rears its head, houses are decked out in fantastic pumpkin carvings, and the supermarket shelves flood with pumpkin inspired food products, think back to the Irish immigrants who traversed the Atlantic with hopes of carving turnips!