The Halloween custom we have come to enjoy has come a long way from its origins in Celtic Ireland. Once a serious Pagan holiday, we have transformed it into a fun, party holiday. The holiday originates from a 2,000 year old Celtic festival call Samhain. Samhain, pronounced sow-wen, is a Celtic word meaning "summer's end." It is also the Irish Gaelic word for the month of November. Samhain is the last harvest festival as well as the end of the year on the Celtic calendar. Ancient Celts believed that the on October 31st, the dead mingled with the living. The Celts lit bonfires in honor of the dead and to keep them away from the living.
On the Halloween holiday all manner of beings are playing about and mixing with the living; ghosts, fairies, and evil spirits. Children and adults wore Costumes and masks to mimic the evil spirits or placate them.
Samhain became "the evening of All Hallows". Traditional activities for Halloween include costume parties, Jack-o-lanterns, trick-or-treating, reading scary stories and providing special foods. Irish immigrants carried versions of these traditions to the Mid-Atlantic region of North America in the nineteenth century.
One food tradition is the Bram Brack Cake also known as Soul Cakes. During the Medieval era of Ireland, children would go from house to house singing songs and asking for Soul Cakes. For each cake gathered, they would then say a prayer for a deceased loved one from the family who gave the cake. These prayers helped lost souls or those in purgatory into Heaven. Many historians believe this may have been the beginning of our modern day trick'or'treaters.
Bram Brack is a special fruit cake or bread baked and handed out at Halloween. In Wilmington, the Irish Americans make these tasty treats for adult and children Halloween parties. Wilmingtonian tradition says that each member of the family or friends gets a slice. The slice might contain another treat; such as a coin, ring or piece of rag. Tradition has it that each represents a sign for the future. A coin will give a prosperous year, a ring is a sign of romance or marriage, and the rag brings a bad financial future.
4 cups flour
1 cup milk, room temperature
1 1/4 cups sultanas (golden raisins)
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 cup sugar
1 (1/4 oz) package dry active yeast,
1/2 cup candied orange or lemon peel
1 cup dried currants
3/4 tsp nutmeg
1 each of Halloween gifts (a small ring, rag, and coin wrapped in parchment paper).
1) Cream the yeast with 1 teaspoon of the sugar and 1 teaspoon of the milk. Allow mixture to froth. Sift flour, spices, and salt together, and then cut in the butter.
2) Add the rest of the sugar to the flour mixture and blend well. Add the milk and egg into the yeast mixture. Combine the yeast and flour mixtures.
3) Beat well with an electric mixer for about 5 minutes. The dough should be stiff but elastic.
4) Fold in raisins, currants, and candied fruit or peel. Add the Halloween gifts and mix well. Cover with a cloth and let rise in a warm place until dough has doubled.
5) Divide dough in half and place each in a greased 7" cake tin. Cover pans and let dough rise again for 30 minutes.
6) Bake tins in a 400 degree oven for about 1 hour.
7) Glaze cake tops with 1 tablespoon honey dissolved in 2 tablespoons boiling water and return to oven for 3 minutes or so to set glaze.
8) Cool on wire rack. Serve in slices, buttered, with freshly whipped cream, or similar topping.
Warning: The Halloweens gifts could be small enough to choke on. Make sure everyone is aware that these little gifts are in the cakes. Supervise children if they are eating or poking through a piece in search of these extra treats.