Halloween Special -Barmbreac & Irish Traditions

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I decided to make a traditional Irish Halloween food today, as not many people know that the festival of Halloween is derived from Irish Celtic traditions adapted and popularised in North America by the Irish emigrants who arrived there in the 19th century.  Halloween is derived from the pagan holiday of Samhain, celebrated between the autumn equinox and the winter solstice, which heralded the beginning of harvest and the pagan new year.  Traditionally it was used to take stock of herds and food supplies, and prepare for the coming winter.  Samhain or Halloween  is deeply entwined within Irish mythology, folklore and legend.   Over time Samhain also became absorbed into pre Christian and Christian customs.

Most of the Halloween traditions popular today have their origins in the Irish celebration of this festival.  Halloween is associated with spooky events as Samhain was a liminal time, when the veils between the worlds of the living and the dead were more easily transversed and the souls of the dead were thought to visit their past homes.   This is where the tradition of the pumpkin comes from -Irish families would hollow out a turnip (swede), place a candle inside, and put it on their window through the night.   This was to signify that the dead were welcome to return.   When the Irish immigrants moved to North America, this tradition evolved in to the carved faces in pumpkins that we are familiar with today.   After the turnip was placed in the window, the eating, drinking, fortune telling and games would begin.   Bonfires were used for ritualistic cleansing and protection.  Trick or treating in costume is derived from the offerings of food and drink left out to appease the evil spirits or faeries, and the dressing up in robes to disguise oneself from them, or to imitate their form in the hopes of confusing them.  Mimicking these spirits also involved playing pranks, hence the threat of a trick, if one did not get a treat!
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Breac is one of the predominant foods which would have been eaten on Halloween.  The dried fruits that a breac would traditionally be made with are raisins, sultanas, currants and mixed peel.  I am not a great fan of currants and mixed peel, so in this version I tried out raisins, sultanas and cranberries.  I guess therefore this breac is not so traditional as my granny would certainly never have put cranberries in a breac, in fact, they would have been relatively unheard of in Ireland a few decades ago.  You could also replace about 50ml of the cold tea with whiskey to give this a kick!
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It is traditional to add objects wrapped in greaseproof paper to a breac, as a way of fortune telling.  My mother used to put a ring, a coin, and a dried pea in the one she would make.  The person who got the ring in their slice would be the next to get married; the person who got the coin would be rich, and the person who got the pea would be poor.   I remember cheating many times by poking at the breac and trying to spot  if there was a slice with the ring sticking out -not because I wanted to be married, but because I wanted the ring!!
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This breac is made with spelt flour, which is a lot more nutritious than wheat.  In place of the egg, I have used milled chia seeds with water, which combine to form a gel with the same binding properties as an egg, and with all the amazing benefits of chia.  I have replaced refined sugar with coconut sugar.  As well as being healthier, It is a perfect substitute in this recipe as traditionally demerara sugar would be used, which has a similar caramel colour and consistency.

INGREDIENTS:

  • 375 g mixed dried fruit
  • 275ml cold black tea
  • 3 tsp baking powder
  • 225 g white spelt flour
  • 125 g coconut sugar
  • 1/2 tsp mixed spice
  • 2 tbsp ground chia or flax seed mixed with 6 tbsp water

Place the mixed dried fruit in a bowl and pour over the cold tea.   Allow to soak up the liquid overnight. Preheat the oven to 170 degrees celsius, and grease and line a loaf tin.   Mix the flour, baking powder, coconut sugar, and mixed spice in a bowl.  Make a well in the centre and pour in the chia egg replacer.  Mix well with a wooden spoon, gradually adding some of the liquid from the dried fruit.  You may not need to use all of the liquid, but the dough should be quite wet.

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When everything is stirred though, add the dried fruit, ring and other objects if you are including them.  Spoon the dough in to the tin and bake in the middle of the oven for around one hour.   Allow to cool in the tin slightly before turning on to a wire rack to cool fully.  Best served with (vegan) margarine if you use it, and a cup of tea!

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3 thoughts on “Halloween Special -Barmbreac & Irish Traditions

  1. I didn’t know that the festival of Halloween is derived from Irish Celtic traditions – how interesting! My husband and I were just talking about Halloween and wondering what the origins were. We both assumed that it had something to do with the Mexico’s ‘Day of the Dead’, but we were dead wrong! Your Breac looks delicious!! Celeste :)

    • Hi Celeste,
      Ah thats great, I find all history and folklore fascinating, but I got carried away writing that and afterwards I thought, uh oh, this is supposed to be about food, no wants to read this big long paragraph about Halloween traditions! So I’m glad to hear that you did and found it interesting!
      Rowena

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