Traditional Halloween foods and preparing for a cold holiday

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Fall took a sudden cold turn this last week. On Halloween, temperatures could drop to what we usually see in winter — plus, the ground might be too wet for walking, especially for kids in costumes. There is even a chance for snow.

Not everyone likes the idea of a White Halloween, but there are some alternatives that can help keep the holiday fun for you and your family and friends.

This weekend is an excellent time to prepare in advance, buy some groceries, and to create a backup plan in case you decide to ditch the parties and keep the kids indoors.

One alternative: focus on making a memorable Halloween meal and think ahead about some kid friendly Halloween movies and shows. Some candy at home with a couple of friends over in costumes might be more manageable this year than a hike through the neighborhoods in freezing to almost freezing temperatures. Contact other parents you know and see if you can come up with an indoors plan together.

A snowy Halloween will likely be memorable for your kids, help them see it as positive

Most people on Halloween focus on getting candy, but there are also a lot of hearty foods associated with the day. The spooky holiday originates from a mixture of European influences, including pagan festivals and Christian observances. Foods that were available for these events hundreds of years ago are commonly used at fall and Halloween gatherings today including: turnips, apples, gourds, nuts, corn, squash, potatoes, beef, pork, lamb, poultry, wines, and ale.

Halloween gets a lot of its identity from an older Irish holiday called Samhain, which has a long list of savory and sweet foods associated with it. Western Christianity’s influence on Halloween led to churches and communities abstaining from meats around that time of year as a way to reflect on departed loved ones.

At the bottom of this post, there are a couple of recipes and a plan for a Halloween dinner if you need to make an alternative indoors plan this year. These foods could also be used for another cold day this week or in the near future. This post would be far too long to add a recipe for each item below, and this isn’t a cookbook. The foods on this list could also teach you more about Halloween and its history.

Side dishes

Boxty

The Irish love potatoes in just about every form. Boxty is another take on potato pancakes. It consists of finely grated potatoes or mashed potatoes mixed with flour, baking soda, buttermilk, and sometimes eggs. The mixture is fried on a pan for a few minutes, then flipped to the other side — just like a more traditional pancake. The most noticeable difference between boxty and other fried potato dishes is its smooth, fine-grained consistency. It can also be served as a type of dumpling. This is generally easy to make and great for kids.

Champ

Several Samhain foods feature potatoes, including champ. It is made by combining mashed potatoes and chopped scallions with butter, milk, salt, and pepper. It is simple and inexpensive to make. In Samhain lore, a bowl of champ along with a spoon was set at the foot of a hawthorn bush. People believed the shrub was the entrance to a fairy home — and fairies played a big role in Irish folklore. Leaving behind a bowl of champ was a way for people to honor and remember the dead, and for others, a way to give an offering to fairies.

An Irish Halloween tradition is to serve colcannon with a ring and thimble hidden in it. The dish champ is similar, but made with buttermilk. Colcannon is generally made from potatoes, butter, milk, and kale. Image taken from Wikipedia.

Colcannon

Similar to champ, colcannon is another traditional Irish dish made of mashed potatoes, but with kale or cabbage. It’s a mashed potato dish with butter and milk, with chopped up cabbage and herbs. It can contain other ingredients such as scallions, leeks, Laverbread (a type of seaweed), onions, and chives. This dish is popular at Samhain gatherings. There are several variations out there of it. Brady’s Public House in Kansas City serves colcannon.

Finnish mashed turnip casserole

This is a traditional Christmas dish in Finland — sorry, it’s not Halloween themed, but it’s one of the better turnip dishes out there. The root vegetable is popular in European dishes around autumn. The casserole is also called “Lanttulaatikko.” It’s not easy to pronounce for English speakers.

The casserole is usually served as a side to ham, fish, or other meats. It’s made of boiled and mashed rutabagas and enriched with a mixture of bread crumbs, eggs, cream, treacle, butter, and seasoned with salt, cinnamon, or nutmeg.

Irish stew

Warm and filling, Irish stew is a popular dish typically made with lamb, potatoes, carrots, onions, parsley, and beer. Many food historians believe that goat was originally the meat of choice for this classic stew; it eventually was supplanted by beef and mutton. Recipes vary widely as this meal dates back to medieval times. Recipes today generally include Guinness or an Irish stout, but there are ways to cook a pot of this without using alcohol.

Stewing is an ancient method of cooking meats throughout the world. Cauldrons came to Ireland around the 7th century AD and became the dominant cooking tool at that time. This type of stew goes great with bread.  Conroy’s Public House has a version of the stew. Browne’s Irish Market has an Irish potato soup on its menu along with several other traditional Irish foods.

Potato pancakes come in a variety of forms. Different cultures around the world have their take on the treat. Image taken from Wikipedia.

Potato pancakes

Also called boxties, draniki, deruny, latkes, or raggmunk are shallow-fried pancakes of grated potato, matza meal, or flour. It is made with a bonding ingredient — like applesauce or eggs — and flavored with garlic or onions. The dish is sometimes made from mashed potatoes to make pancake shaped croquettes. These pancakes can also be made from sweet potatoes.

Several European, Middle Eastern, and Asian countries have some kind of potato pancake recipe.

Pumpkin and squash soups

Pumpkin dominates Halloween food season, especially in the United States. In Europe, turnips are more abundant and have a tie to Halloween that dates back hundreds — if not thousands — of years. When the holiday moved overseas, pumpkins were used in place of turnips as the gourd was more common in the U.S.

There are a variety of soups that fit the fall season from pumpkin and roasted butternut squash soups, apple based soups, chilies, and vegetable broths. These are often easy to make and great to eat on a cold day.

Squash soups often include acorns. Roasting squash before putting it in a soup can help concentrate the gourd’s flavor. Squash soup can be prepared with chunks or pieces of squash. Onion, cream, sage, thyme, cinnamon, old bay, and marjoram all make for great spices with pumpkin or squash dishes. You can find pumpkin and squash like soups at Panera Bread locations, Rye Plaza, and Brown & Loe.

Sowans

Also called virpa, sowans are a Scottish porridge dish made from oats after milling. The oat husks are soaked in water and fermented for a few days. The liquor is strained and allowed to stand for a day. This allows starchy matter to settle. The liquid part can be poured out or used as a drink. The leftover sowans are salted and boiled with water until thickened, then served with butter or dipped into milk. Recipes for sowans might be complicated if you’re not familiar with these processes.

Meats & mains

Beef and Guinness pie

Beef in dark, silky gravy composed of fat and reduced stout, along with vegetables, and in a covered pastry. It’s a dish that works well to warm people up and fits for any day in fall. This food is a challenge to make and takes a lot of time – it’s for the expert cook or baker in the family to attempt. One recipe online listed it takes more than 4 hours to make and needs 2 hours of refrigeration.

Meat pies

Samhain is big on the meat pies. Historians date the pies back to the Neolithic Period around 9500 BC. It’s simply a pie with a meat filling and other savory ingredients. Meat pies are great for fall dinners and can be assembled in hundreds of different ways.

Meat pies in Kansas City are found at a variety of places including Banksia and PotPie. Ashleigh’s Bake Shop in Westport serves meat quiches.

Other meat mains

If pies don’t really satisfy your meat cravings, other main courses that might work include: roasted lamb, meatloaf, chicken fricassee, apple cider glazed chicken, garlic rosemary pork chops, honey garlic glazed salmon, and chicken Florentine.

Vegetable main courses

Try casseroles or pastas with apples, turnips, pumpkin, onions, or squash. Also, try harvest bowls with a mix of your favorite fall vegetarian ingredients.

Cakes & breads

Apple bread

For the baker in the family, there are plenty of great bread recipes online appropriate for autumn. Apple bread pairs well with foods for both Halloween and Thanksgiving. An added bonus: bread can easily be made from ingredients from your pantry without having to buy too many items from the store.  Apple bread usually consists of flour, cinnamon, white and brown sugar, vanilla, vegetable oil, eggs, baking powder, and, of course, some apples. Throw in some chocolate chips, nuts, or bacon if it fits your palette. Make sure to give yourself plenty of time if you want to make bread for a specific day.

Barmbrack is a quick bread with sultanas or raisins. For a traditional Irish Halloween gathering, a baker may add objects into the dough to play a game.

Barmbrack

Cake has long been a part of Halloween celebrations. Barmbrack is a quick bread with sultanas and raisins. The dough is sweet, but not as rich as a regular cake. It is sometimes called Bairín Breac.

The cake is often used as part of a fortune-telling game or for entertainment. Traditionally, a baker would place in the dough a pea, a stick, a piece of cloth, a small coin, and a ring. Each item meant something for the person who discovered it in their slice. These items can easily pose as a choking hazard. If you ever place objects in food like this, you should warn those about to eat it… so they can look for items thoroughly before biting into something unpleasant.

The symbolism behind the traditional objects in barmbrack often had to do with marriage. The pea meant the person would not marry that year. A stick: the person would have an unhappy marriage or continuous quarrels with their spouse. A cloth signaled bad luck. The coin meant good fortune. The ring meant someone would wed within the year.

Other articles added to the cake include a medallion, usually of the Virgin Mary, to symbolize going into the priesthood or into nunhood.

Barmbrack is often sold in flattened rounds, served toasted with butter along with a cup of tea.

Garlic and herb Irish soda bread & buttered rolls

Rolls with lots of herbs and spices are a mainstay of Samhain. Throw in some whipped butter or a specialty butter and most dinner guests will be happy. Rolls and soda bread go great with stews, soups, and mashed potatoes. Browne’s Irish Marketplace has soda bread and other traditional Irish foods.

Fairy spice cakes

A delicate treat popular for Samhain will appeal to children. Fairy cakes are actually smaller versions of cupcakes. They’re widely popular in the United Kingdom, and come with far less icing than here in the United States. Our friends across the pond find our sugar addiction somewhat cloying.

Fairy cakes are traditionally made with a lighter sponge cake as opposed to the thicker butter cakes used in cupcakes. Muffin tins were not widely available back in the 1700s, so people used ramekins or individual pottery cups to make the tiny spice cakes. In Irish lore, the cakes would be small enough to serve to fairies. Children will like the size of these – but it’ll be far too easy to eat too many of them. Pack in a variety of spices to give it a punch.

Making smaller cakes in tins might also be fun for older children or teens who like to bake.

Pumpkin cider bread

For those who love both apple cider and pumpkin spiced lattes, you can marry the two flavors in a bread that will have the full taste of fall. You can use pumpkin puree (which is usually squash) or carve a pumpkin and use the pumpkin guts to make the bread… or use the guts for soups, pastas, cakes, and pies. Pumpkins are pretty versatile and soak up spices. The gourd goes well with a variety of meats, sauces, and pastries.

Red beet chocolate cake

The color of this cake is perfect for Halloween; it should come out a brownish-red hue. It might look a little like a red velvet cake. This is an earthy sweet cake – and despite the concerns around beets and whether you like them – the mix should be moist and with a slight kick to it. This cake does well with a variety of spices — the best recipes include cinnamon.

Soul Cakes are usually filled with allspice, nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger, or other sweet spices. They usually contain currants. Before baking, the cakes are topped with the mark of a cross to signify the food is meant for alms. Soul cakes are traditionally set out with glasses of wine as an offering for the dead — this was an early Christian tradition. The cakes are customary around Halloween, All Saints’ Day, and All Souls’ Day. Image taken from Wikipedia.

Soul cakes

A soul cake is a small round cake usually made for Halloween, All Saints’ Day, and All Souls’ Day to remember the dearly departed — this is part of a Western Christian tradition popular in the United Kingdom. The cakes were given out to children who went from door to door during  the days of Allhallowtide. The children would sing and say prayers often in exchange for gifts. The practice in England dates back to the medieval period, but it lost prominence in the 1930s as trick-or-treating became mainstream. Soul-mass loaves usually have currants in the center and include oats.

Treats

Bonfire toffee is a customary bitter treat in the United Kingdom for Halloween and Guy Fawkes Night.

Bonfire toffee

Also called the treacle toffee, Plot toffee, or Tom Trot. It is a hard, brittle toffee associated with Halloween and Guy Fawkes Night in the United Kingdom. The toffee is bitter and tastes of molasses. In Scotland, the treat is called claggum, and less sweet versions are called clack. In Wales, it is known as loshin du. The toffee tastes similar to butterscotch.

People first started using molasses in the United Kingdom in the 1660s to make gingerbread. At first, people thought bonfire toffee had medicinal value — this led to an inflation of the price. Toffee was widely popular by the 1800s. Bonfire toffee is popular in the northern part of the United Kingdom, where sweets darker in color are preferred.

Candy apples

Known as toffee apples outside of North America — these are whole apples covered in hard toffee or sugar candy coating. A stick is placed in the middle to act as a handle. These are commonly sold during Halloween, at fall festivals, and for Guy Fawkes events. Toffee apples are made by coating an apple with a layer of sugar that has been heated to hard crack stage. Humidity can prevent the sugar from hardening, so it is better to make this treat in fall and not in summer.

Caramel corn

Caramel corn is a confection made of popcorn. This is also a popular item during Christmas. A caramelized candy syrup is used in the process. Making this item is time consuming and requires skill to make without burning the sugar. You can find a bag of caramel corn at Topsy’s, Velvet Crème Popcorn Co., Popculture Gourmet Popcorn, and Walmart.

Cranachan is traditional Scottish treat with raspberries.

Cranachan

For raspberry fans, this is a traditional Scottish harvest dessert. It includes whipped cream, raspberries, oats, honey, and whiskey. These ingredients are all popular in Scotland. Cranachan is served all year round. Alternate versions of the recipe include oranges, trifle, spiced rum, and shortbread. Chocolate cranachan can be made with chopped toasted hazelnuts, light muscovado sugar, and chocolate.

Sweet potato cream cheese pie

A cheesecake-like pie made with fresh or canned pureed sweet potatoes, cream cheese, and brown sugar. Top it off with cinnamon and nutmeg. Fall foods are all about the spices and the herbs, but don’t go too crazy – too much paprika or cloves distracts from other flavors. Recipes for this item should be easy to follow and can be made in a decent amount of time, an hour or less.

Suggested Halloween menu

Irish beef stew

The hearty stew is easy to make and great for a cold night. Cooking it in a slow-cooker during the day means it will be ready for you by the time you get home.

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 pounds beef chuck, cut into 1 ½ inch cubes
  • 1 pound of carrots, peeled and cut into 1-inch chucks
  • 6 large potatoes, peeled and cut into large chucks
  • 1 white onion, cut into large chunks
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced (yes, you can use more)
  • 2 cups of beef broth
  • A six-ounce can of tomato paste
  • A 12 fluid ounce can or bottle of Irish stout beer (Guinness). If you cannot consume alcohol, substitute the Guinness with 2 cups water + 1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce + 2 beef bouillon cubes crumbled. This will make it a classic beef stew.
  • 1 tablespoon cold water
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch

Instructions:

  1. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Toss beef cubes into flour to coat them, then fry the mix in the hot oil until browned.
  2. Place the carrots, potatoes, onion chunks, and garlic in a large slow cooker. Place the meat on top of the vegetables. Mix together the beef broth and tomato paste and pour into the slow cooker along with the beer.
  3. Cover and cook on high for 6 hours or on low for 8 hours.
  4. During the last hour before serving, dissolve the cornstarch in cold water and then stir it into the broth. Simmer on the high setting for a few minutes to thicken.

Champ potatoes

The Irish love potatoes and there are numerous potato recipes online. Champ is an easy to follow potato recipe that’s made from scratch.

Ingredients:

  • 22 ounces / 675 grams of potatoes (floury Idahos or russets are recommended. Peeled and quartered)
  • 1 cup green onions
  • 2 ounces of salted butter
  • 2 to 3 ounces of milk
  • Sea salt (to taste)
  • Black pepper (to taste)

Instructions:

  1. Simmer the potatoes in lightly salted water until cooked (when pierced with the tip of a sharp knife, the potato should be soft in the middle). This will take about 20 minutes depending on the size of the potatoes.
  2. Finely chop the white part of the green onions and roughly chop the green part. Set aside.
  3. Drain the potatoes in a colander. Place both butter and milk into a pan and heat gently until melted.
  4. Add the potatoes to the pan and mash until smooth and creamy. Be careful not to over-mash the potatoes. You’ll end up with an unpleasant texture.
  5. Add the finely chopped white part of the onion and mix well.
  6. Season well with the salt and pepper to taste. Serve with the green part of the onion sprinkled on top.

Pumpkin cider bread

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups of pureed pumpkin
  • 1 tablespoon of cinnamon
  • 2 tablespoons regular sugar
  • 1 tablespoon nutmeg
  • 2 cups of all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons dry yeast dissolved in a half cup of warm water
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1/3 to 1/2 cup molasses
  • 2 cups of apple cider

Instructions:

  1. Combine cinnamon, sugar, and nutmeg with the pureed pumpkin.
  2. Combine salt and 2 cups of flour. Add the cider, yeast mix, and all other ingredients. Add more flour if necessary.
  3. Pour the dough into a lightly greased bowl, cover it, and let it rise for about 45 minutes in a warm place. Wait until it’s doubled in size.
  4. Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees.
  5. Punch down the dough and turn it out onto a floured surface. Roll the dough into a long strip and then roll it up jellyroll style to fit into a bread pan. Place in a greased pan and let it rise until double again.
  6. Bake in the oven for 50-60 minutes until brown. A fork should come out of it clean.
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