What to Eat for Samhain—4 Traditional Recipes
The growing season may be ending, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have a delicious Samhain gathering.
So what exactly is Samhain?
Originating in ancient Europe as a Celtic celebration, Samhain (pronounced saah-win) is now an event that is celebrated worldwide. It’s a pagan holiday to honor the changing of the seasons and acknowledge the end of the harvest and the beginning of colder weather. There’s also the ancient notion that during this time of year the veil between the living world and the land of dead is thinned, making communication with ancestors and loved ones easier. Because of this, family and friends that have passed away are often honored during Samhain.
Most observers practice Samhain traditions from sundown on October 31 through November 1, while others prefer to celebrate on a later date that is closer to the midpoint between Fall Equinox and Winter Solstice.
What are some traditional Samhain foods?
Samhain is often celebrated with food of some type. Since Samhain is usually a communal event, which is sometimes centered around a bonfire or a type of group ceremony, a feast is commonly served. To honor passed away loved ones, a place is often prepared and a plate served for those that are “missing” from these celebrations.
Since Samhain is such an ancient practice, not that many “traditional” recipes are still in use, but there are still plenty of options to keep in the holiday’s spirit. Recipes can focus on fall produce that will soon become scarcer, they can be dishes from the family or friends you’re choosing to honor, or meals can center in on foods you’d like to share with your community. Below are several recipe suggestions that will make your next Samhain a delicious one:
One of the most commonly served foods for Samhain are soul cakes. Although their origins in history are a bit hazy, everything from appeasing evil spirits to feeding beggars, it has become a dish that is closely associated with the fall celebration. Just as the origin stories vary greatly, so do the recipes for soul cakes. They come in all shapes and sizes, and the texture can be anything from biscuit-like to cakes. Most recipes seem to include a type of dried fruit, such as currants or golden raisins, and a dash of nutmeg and saffron. We love making our fluffy crumpets recipe with a few raisins sprinkled onto the batter just before baking. These make for a great starting place to customize as you choose.
Obviously, imbibing is often associated with merriment, and despite Samhain commonly being a holiday that is associated with spookiness and death, it’s still a time to gather and enjoy socializing with friends and family. Mulled wine is a centuries old drink, meaning it could have been consumed during more ancient Samhain celebrations. Either way, it’s delicious. Flavored with cinnamon, cloves, and other spices, sweet red wine is balanced out with a dash of bright citrus in our Spiced Mulled Wine recipe.
Watch: How to Make Mulled Wine
Yet another baked good associated with Samhain, barmbrack is a recipe with Celtic roots. Traditionally this yeast bread is sweet and studded with dried fruits like raisins and fresh citrus zest. In the same vein as a King Cake, barmbrack can be baked with trinkets inside (make sure they’re thoroughly washed and wrapped parchment paper) to act as a form of fortune telling. Every item has its own meaning and can include things like rings (marriage), a coin (wealth), a piece of cloth (hard times), and more. You can easily mix and match the trinkets you include to have personal meanings or predictions. You can create a more modern loaf, inspired by barmbrack, by baking up some fruit-filled Irish soda bread.
A traditional Irish food, a variation on colcannon was likely eaten during Samhain celebrations due to potatoes being in season. Colcannon is made with a base of creamy mashed potatoes, with cooked greens (typically cabbage, but spinach or kale are also great options) and onions mixed in. This type of stick-to-your-ribs dish, much like our Spinach and Garlic Mashed Potatoes, is perfect for a cold evening around the bonfire.