Posted in Kafevend Blog
With autumn well and truly set in, a commercial frenzy has well and truly taken hold of shops looking to remind us all first of Halloween, then Bonfire Night and finally Christmas! Alongside the multitude of Halloween garbs and decorations are a number of seasonal foods and drinks. The pumpkin spice latte is back on the menu at Starbucks, doing for coffee what masala chai does for tea as a spicy mixture of cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and clove to top a latte- no pumpkin though. For that you might like to try your hand at making a traditional pumpkin pie. And if you've got something against pumpkins, you might enjoy the similarly spicy sweet potato pie, which we here at the Kafevend blog can attest to as being delicious!
The origin of Halloween and the customs surrounding it are typically attributed to Celtic paganism, particularly the Irish festival of Samhain or "summer's end". It marked the end of the harvest and the beginning of winter. It was believed that during this time the Aos Si - the elves, fairies and other such supernatural beings- would enter our world. People would leave out offerings of food and drink in order to placate these mythical beings so that they and their livestock would survive the winter. Along with the fairy folk, it was also believed that the souls of the dead returned home for a day. Places were made up at the table or by the fire in order to welcome them.
The tradition of carving pumpkins isn't as easy to nail down, but the mythology behind it is at least interesting. One explanation for the name Jack o' lantern is an Irish myth that talks of a drunkard named Stingy Jack. On hearing of his wicked exploits, Satan decides it is time for Jack to die. Jack plays a couple of tricks on Satan however in a bid to escape his fate.
First, he convinces Satan to let him have one final drink. He agrees and takes Jack to a tavern. After his drink, Jack persuades Satan to transform himself into a silver coin to pay his bar tab. He puts the coin in his pocket next to a crucifix, and barters Satan's release for ten more years of life. Ten years later Satan comes back for Jack again. This time, Jack asks Satan for an apple before he goes. Satan agrees and climbs an apple tree to pick one. Meanwhile, Jack places many crucifixes around the tree. Trapped again, Jack barters Satan's freedom for a promise that he will never take his soul to Hades.
Eventually Jack dies and given his decadent ways is refused entry to Heaven. He then goes to Hades and asks to be let in- however, Satan reminds him of his promise and refuses, giving him an ember, which Jack places in a carved turnip to light his way as he roams the world searching for a final resting place.
Whilst the debate has yet to settle on who was the first to carve vegetable lanterns, it was North American immigrants who first used the native pumpkin for the job. Initially the carved pumpkins were associated with Thanksgiving and the harvest, but later became part of Halloween with records of their use appearing from 1866.
If you're having a Halloween party this year and you fancy something a little stronger than a pumpkin pie or spiced latte, you might be interested in trying your hand at the Witch's coffee that featured in last year's Halloween blog!