Autumn is always beautiful in Ireland. Trees covered in different shades of yellow, orange, copper, red…. really magnificent. The seasons take their time to change here on the green isle, unlike how it happens almost overnight in South Africa. And if the days are crisp with clear blue skies then it is even better. I know, the skies can also be grey…
Since we have been living in Ireland every year is defined by Easter, Summer, Halloween and Christmas with a new school year starting after the summer holidays, in September. So not at the start of a new calendar year. Then at the end of October we go into winter time and Halloween is celebrated, which will be at the end of this month.
Celtic festival Samhain
Originated from a Celtic pagan festival, Samhain celebrates the end of the lighter half of the year and the beginning of the darker half. Not sure if this has influenced All Saints’ Day which is celebrated by the Roman Catholic Church annually on November 1. This day is dedicated to the saints of the Church.
The ancient Celts believed that by putting a skull, that would represent the dead, in the windowsill it would avert evil spirits. That is supposedly where the idea comes from to these days carve a face in a turnip or pumpkin and put a candle in it. The idea of the pumpkin (opposed to the turnip) comes from North America where pumpkins were more available as well as bigger and easier to cut than turnips. Apparently the Irish people who immigrated to North America during the Great Famine took these traditions with them and that is why America started celebrating Halloween as well.
As always there is a commercial side to a festival like this. Shop windows here are usually decorated in the orange and black. There are also many gory things to shop for, including all sizes of spiders, big fluffy spider webs, skulls, witches, witch noses, body pieces, nails, zombie things, vampires, make-belief blood, ghosts, and more. Some people go through extreme trouble to decorate their houses and gardens with spooky scenes adding some of the above gruesome details. Spooky!
Many horror movies are also shown on television during this time and spooky stories are read or told. For children it is the time to get as many sweets as they can. Trick or treating is usually innocent fun – kids dress up and go from house to house to see who can get the most sweets!! Originally some would also sing for their sweets. Peanuts, oranges and money would also be treats, but these days kids prefer mars bars, smarties and jellies, although I do think money will still do the trick. Being unfamiliar with this tradition we never really participated although our kids would do the dress up and trick or treating-bit! And off course we would always see to it that we have enough sweets in our house for those who knock on the door.
Recipe : New England Pumpkin Soup for Halloween
Because this is also pumpkin season I regularly make pumpkin soup deliciously spiced with some freshly baked bread or pita bread. Most people here would use the pumpkins only for decoration. Here is a very easy recipe I found in 500 All Time Great Recipes.
Ingredients (serves 4)
1 onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, crushed
15g/1tbsp plain flour
pinch of grated nutmeg
2.5ml/½ tsp ground cinnamon
350g pumpkin, seeded, peeled and diced (I used about half of a medium sized pumpkin)
600ml / 2½cups chicken stock
150ml / ²/з cup orange juice
5ml / 1tsp brown sugar
For the croûtons:
15ml / 1 tbsp vegetable oil/olive oil
2 slices granary bread, without crusts
30ml / 2 tbsp sunflower seeds
salt and pepper
- Melt the butter in a large saucepan and gently fry the onions and garlic for 4 to 5 minutes, until softened.
- Stir in the flour, spices and pumpkin, then cover and cook gently for 6 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Add the chicken stock, orange juice and brown sugar. Cover again, and bring to the boil, then simmer for 20 minutes until the pumpkin has softened.
- Process half the mixture in a blender. Return the soup to the pan with the remaining chunky mixture, stirring constantly. Season to taste and heat through.
- To make the croûtons, heat the oil in a frying pan, cut the bread into cubes and gently fry until just beginning to brown. Add the sunflower seeds and fry for 1 to 2 minutes. Drain the croûtons on kitchen paper. Serve the soup hot, garnished with a few of the croûtons scattered over the top and serve the remaining croûtons separately.
Soups are great for a warm hearty meal and if you don’t want to make pumpkin soup, why not try this Sweet Potato soup which I wrote about in an earlier blog.
And soon, with the clocks going back an hour here in Ireland there will be more light in the morning and darkness will set in earlier.