Wednesday, 31 October 2007

Halloweens I have known

Most of my childhood was spent in Africa where we didn't celebrate Halloween at all. It was celebrated, though, in Ireland when we returned to visit the grandmothers, but really consisted only of a few party games for children, no dressing up in elaborate costumes, no pumpkins - we carved turnips instead, the big yellow turnips which I now know as swedes (with a small s all you sensitive Scandinavians), not the small white ones. I look back with great fondness to our grandmother and her sister who made considerable efforts to "educate" the little heathens in the traditions of our forebears.

The party games I recall seemed to revolve around apples:

  • bobbing for apples - you had to try to catch apples floating in a bowl of water in your teeth, no hands allowed. My memory is that you end up getting wet.

  • snap apples - again you had to catch an apple in your teeth but this time they were suspended on a string in a doorway. This time you end up with bruised lips.

We would have a special meal which included colcannon (mashed potatoes mixed with curly kale and spring onions) and barm brack (a fruit bread/cake), either or both of which could have a ring or a coin hidden inside.

During my teenage years in England, there seemed to be little celebration of Halloween, instead the emphasis was on Guy Fawke's Day on 5 November, about which more nearer the event.

France in theory disapproves of Halloween as being from another culture. Nevertheless it is creeping in, and the last two years we have had a few little children knocking on the door for treats. I know the family they come from and I suspect ours may be the only door they knock, so they'll be disappointed we aren't there this year. The big day in France is 1 November, a public holiday and a great family day, when everyone puts flowers, chrysanthemums, on family graves.

Barm brack recipe from my grandmother's recipe book (exactly as it is written)

1lb self raising flour
1lb mixed fruit
1 breakfast cup of warm strong tea
3/4 breakfast cup Demerara sugar
1 large egg
1 full teaspoon spice

Put sugar and fruit in a bowl, cover with tea and leave steeping overnight. Next day beat egg and add to tea and fruit, work in flour and lastly spice, beating well. Bake Reg 5, 1 and quarter hours. Cover after 20 minutes and remove cover 15 minutes before finished.

If you try it, enjoy it!

Updated to add that the Halloween header is courtesy of Gattina. Thanks very much Gattina.

Other Halloween celebrations in Sweden, Waterloo in Belgium, Barcelona


  1. recipe sounds good.

    When I was young, Guy Fawkes day was seen as being exclusively an English event, and we in Scotland had our bonfires on 31 October. We too had carved turnips ( or neeps or swedes, though the latter was also seen as an English name)

    Dooking for apples involved kneeling on a dining roomchair leaning over its back with a fork in your mouth. The apples were floating in a basin of water, and you had to drop the fork in the hope of spearing an applem which then became yours.

  2. My Mother is Irish and so everything you describe rings big bells with me.
    I think her name for colcannon was "champ". I also remember Toffee Apples as a Halloween treat: a fresh eating apple on a stick coated in melted sugar that set to a transparent toffee glaze. Yummee.

  3. Interesting note about the turnips vs swedes. My background is Irish as well and I was raised with the big yellow veggies as turnips. Where I live now, turnips are small and white. What I knew as turnips are rutabagas.

  4. And, the recipe looks good - but what is a 'breakfast cup'? what spice is 'spice'?

  5. Thanks for sharing your experience as child. I find this post very interesting. You had chance to live in different places. You can have another vision of things more objective perhaps. I you like laugh you could visit Dracula's castle. It is a funny party in two times. What could I do here in France where we don't celebrate Halloween?

  6. Sounds yummy. I'll try to give it a whirl! :D

  7. Elaine, your Halloween sounds fairly similar. I can remember asking my grandmother why we didn't have anything on 5 November. It was the first time I realised there were differences between countries other than Africa/not-Africa.
    LR Funny you should bring up the difference between champ and colcannon. To me champ is made with onions and colcannon with cabbage/kale. I added the onions to the receipe after checking a few on line and they all had onion as well. I'm almost certain my grandmother never used onion in colcannon.
    janewayThe big yellow turnips are known as rutabaga in France, and considered to be animal fodder. They are starting to appear in some supermarkets, to feed the mad English! Spice is mixed spice, normally cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cloves. Proportions vary and there can also be other spices too. A breakfast cup is a large teacup. Not very helpful to you. It wouldn't be quite as big as an American cup but I doubt whether it matters too much for this recipe.
    Claudie and aka r'aquelThanks to you both. I'll be over to your blog any minute now Claudie. Aka r'aquel, I was with you yesterday as I think you noticed :)


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