Food and Recipes for an Irish Halloween or Samhain

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Irish Soda Bread.

Elaine Lemm

Everyone has their picture of Halloween. When it comes to the food that comes with the holiday – it's either a bunch of pumpkins and creepy 'spooky' foods with ghosts and ghouls everywhere, or an abundance of tiny packaged candies in a pillowcase.

However, in Ireland, when celebrating on the 31st October there isn't just Halloween to consider, at this time there is also Samhain, the Irish-Celtic festival of remembrance for the dead which is held on the eve of November 1st. The festival does seem to have been gobbled up by Halloween, but an Irish Samhain is still very much in evidence throughout the country.
Bernd Biege, the writer on all things Irish tells, us November 1st was traditionally known as Samhain, literally translated the "end of summer" and pronounced something like sow-een and was the end of the Celtic year and the start of winter. Samhain was considered a time for reflection.
One of the most popular foods served with this festival is Barm Brack or Barnbrack as it is also known. This is a fruit-studded bread and baked with other tiny objects inside to help predict the upcoming year. A ring inside signified finding true love and marrying, a thimble meant you would never marry, a rag predicted poverty and a coin you would be rich. (Each family member would, as you can imagine, choose their piece with care.)
Today even supermarkets sell the bread, but the only charm you will find inside is usually just the ring.
Traditionally, seasonal food played a large part in Samhain as the day is the end of October and start of November, then the harvest was in and food plentiful. However, when Samhain eventually became known as All Hallows or All Saints Day, then eating meat was not allowed, so the food so became anything vegetarian.

Traditional Irish recipes perfect for Samhain. 

  • Colcannon - a dish of mashed potatoes with cabbage and Kale and spring onions (scallions). Usually served as a side dish. 
  • Irish Stew - exactly as it says, this is Ireland's favorite stew and made with world-class lamb.
  • Soda Bread - the ubiquitous bread served throughout Ireland north and south. 
  • Boxty - Irish potato cakes usually cooked on a griddle.
  • Irish Champ - not unlike Colcannon above but without the cabbage or Kale. 
  • Barm Brack - described above, the fruit-studded cake containing charms to predict the future of the finder. 
  • Beef and Guinness Pie - a deep, hearty pie filled with beef cooking in Irish Guinness, a real classic and perfect for the weather around Halloween and Samhain.