Halloween, celebrated on October 31st, is one of those true Celtic traditions that has become a world-wide celebrated occasion. Historically, it is based on the Celtic festival of Samhain which is derived from Old Irish and means roughly “summer’s end”.
With the plantation of Ulster in the early 1600’s, the Scottish colonists brought with them the festival of All Hallow’s Evening (All Hallows Even’) celebrated on the same night and the two traditions merged. This was the night that the souls of the dead were thought to walk the earth and many people believed it a setting for supernatural encounters! I remember how Holy Water was sprinkled on the outhouses, sheds and farm animals to keep them safe during the night and mirrors in our house were covered with sheets so that the poor souls could not enter the living world.
The traditional bread served on the night was the Halloween Barmbrack, meaning speckled cake, which is a sweet fruit bread. The word Barm comes from an old English word, beorma, meaning yeasty fermented liquor and Brack comes from the Irish word brac, meaning speckled – which it is with the dried fruit and candied peel.
The bracks made with yeast are called “barmbracks” and those that use baking powder and fruit soaked in tea are called “tea bracks”.
Each member of your family must get a slice and it was always a great treat, to find the penny in the cake as this meant you were going to be rich. Other items buried in the barmbrack are: a ring for the bride-to-be, a thimble for the one who would never marry and a small piece of cloth indicating the one who would be poor. This is the recipe I have used for many years and it makes one loaf.
450g plain flour
1/2 tspn ground cinnamon
1/2 tspn ground nutmeg
7g (1 sachet) dried yeast
75g castor sugar
1 beaten egg
50g chopped peel
A little melted butter for greasing
1. Warm the milk, add the butter and let it melt in the warm milk.
2. Mix the yeast with 1 tablespoon of sugar. Add half the warmed milk mixture. Add the beaten egg.
3. Sift the cinnamon with the flour into a bowl. Make a well in the centre and pour the yeast and liquid mixture into it. Sprinkle a little flour over the liquid and leave it in a warm place for 1/2 hour until yeast froths up.
4. Add in the remainder of the liquid and mix the whole lot into a dough. Turn it out onto a floured board and knead the sugar, raisins, currants and chopped peel into the dough.
5. Put the dough into a butter-greased large bowl, cover with clingfilm and leave in a warm place until doubled in size.
6. Knead it back again and then shape into your greased bread tin. Brush the top with melted butter and cover until doubled in bulk again.
7. Bake for 40 minutes in a pre-heated hot oven at 200°C until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.
8. To give it a nice glaze stir 1 tbls sugar into 50ml boiling water and brush this over the top of the loaf when it comes out of the oven and is still hot.
Don’t forget to Feed the Fish at the end of this Post!