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Traditional Halloween Sweet Treats

For many centuries, the autumn festival was a time to give thanks for the harvest, to mourn the vitality of the summer, and to mark the coming death of the cold winter. There are records showing that in Celtic pagan traditions, even thousands of years ago, the night of, on 31st October, included costumes, bonfires and gifts of food. The festival signalled the end of the previous year and beginning of the new, and was believed to be the night when the boundary between the living and the dead was at its thinnest. They believed that spirits roamed on this night, and costumes should be worn to confuse the ghosts.

While bread, ale and seasonal foods, particularly those recently harvested, have always been the main gift or treat of the festival, when early Romans entered Britain and began to assimilate, the Roman goddess Pomona became linked with Autumn time, as her festival was also held in October. She is the goddess of abundance, fruits and orchards, and her symbol is the apple.

Thus, the apple became one of the most popular fruits to eat at Halloween.

Apples were cooked in various ways, covered in sweet syrups and baked into pies, as well as used for fun party games. Even until the middle ages, Halloween parties would include variations of ‘bobbing for apples’, which is still popular in Scotland today. Turnips or swedes would also be carved, with candles lit inside to scare away evil spirits, until later the pumpkin was brought over from the new world.

When, in the 8th century, Pope Gregory III moved the date of All Saints Day or All Hallows Day (previously in May) to the 1st November, the symbology and traditions of the festival slowly began to amalgamate with those of the Celtic festival of Samhain, which came to be known as All Hallows Eve, later condensed to Hallow E’en, Allhallowtide, Hallowmas and finally to Halloween. Autumnal fruits and harvest foods, ghosts and trickery, parties and community giving began to include more overt Christian imagery.

Soul Cakes were a traditional gift at Halloween for centuries, and are still made in some counties in England to this day. These sweet, filing seasonal biscuits would be handed out to ‘soulers’, usually small children and the poor, who would go around the houses on All Hallow’s Eve asking for alms – money, food and ale. Prosperous houses would hand out these supplies, to feed t