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Happy-Gourmand

Food for your Soul

I have talked about the strong feelings of change that many of us feel at this time of year. The changing colours and weather seem to bring a sense of melancholy to some, restlessness in others. Historically these tumultuous feelings have been linked to the holidays of the season.

For those who believe in the Druidic or similar philosophies that link themselves to the seasons, the time around the autumn Full Moon and the equinox are said to be when the barrier between the netherworld and ours is at its most fragile. Souls may pass back onto our side during this time. 

You might be familiar with Halloween and the pagan roots of donning a costume to scare away bad spirits. Or perhaps you know of its predecessor, Samhain (pronounced “sah-win”), the Gaelic festival celebrating the end of the harvest season. There is also the Catholic All Saint’s Day. All of these have a connection to souls who have departed our world. 

Perhaps this mystical element is what gives Hallowe’en its edge. There is something crazy about it, encouraging excess and silliness. On any other day of the year, who would tell their kids to gather as much candy as they could carry? When else would you entertain the idea of donning green face paint and a pointy hat, or wings and sparkles in your hair? All Hallow’s Eve is the time when anything goes.

For most of us, Halloween is a fun day to dress up and have a somewhat reasonable excuse to eat lots of crazy candy. Everyone is encouraged to get into the spirit of things (pardon the pun). Kids can often dress up for school that day, or at the very least will be attending some sort of neighbourhood gathering at a mall or community hall if they don’t go trick-or-treating door to door. Perhaps they dress up as what they want to be when they grow up, or maybe its their favourite character in a movie or book. Everyone deserves to feel like a superhero at least once in their lives, don’t you think?  And if they don a suit at an early age and decide they hate it, you might just save yourself the costs of helping with law school. 

The adults are not to be left out of the festivities. Many parents go to great efforts to decorate the house and dress up for the visitors to their door. My dad worked in the media business, and so one year he and some of his audio technicians created a scary soundtrack of sounds to play as the kids came up the walkway. The only problem was that it was so scary, lots of kids turned around and ran away. The good news was that my brother and I got mini chocolate bars in our lunches for a couple of weeks. 

Candy at Halloween even steps outside the boundaries of normal goodies. 

Popcorn balls? The urban myth is that these first occurred naturally in the late 1800s when extreme Nebraska weather at the end of the season caused them. First, extreme heat made the kernels pop right on the cobs in the fields. Then heavy rain caused the sorghum syrup in the stalks to leak out and stick the popcorn together. This can’t be disproven, as apparently the evidence was eaten by a swarm of locusts very soon after it happened.  
How about another treat from the 1800s, Candy Corn? Did you know it was originally marketed as chicken feed?

You might not have bobbed for an apple if you aren’t as old as I (wink), but do you like candy apples? They were invented in 1908 by a New Jersey candymaker who melted down cinnamon candies to dress up apples, since they were a popular fall food. Caramel apples came later; they were the brainchild of a Kraft employee in the 1950s who was trying to find a way to use up leftover caramels that didn’t get sold at Halloween. (I never did really like those little caramels, but that was probably because they got stuck in my braces.)

There are the grown-up costume parties too, where everyone gets to unleash their inner self – whether that be a princess, a minion, a Transformer or a sexy nurse. I for one like the idea that once a year we can show an alter ego and not have to offer any explanation. There may be treats at those parties too, and all kinds of crazy punches; most of us can remember a “witch’s brew” from some Hallowe’en party that might have left us feeling like we jumped through time when we woke up the following morning.

You don’t need me to find a recipe for a witch’s brew or Jello shots – I’ll leave the partying to you. My contribution is a gentle one to celebrate this time of connecting with all souls. I’m going back to another Medieval tradition, when people went door to door asking for food in exchange for prayers made for loves one who had departed the world. Those giving food would often give out Soul Cakes, a sort of scone or biscuit that was often studded with dried fruit or raisins. They would feel good sharing food and knowing that someone was thinking of their lost loved ones. The person getting the cake was thanked for their good spirit with some sustenance. Like most traditions, there is no one recipe or right way to prepare them but the recipe I’m sharing is one that pays homage to the symbols we love about this time of year.

I know some of you would rather snuggle up with a friend and watch a horror movie to celebrate, but what can I say – this is my foodie version of the holiday. Extra points are given for those who dress up when they share their cakes. They don’t keep very long, so find more friends or make new ones to make sure they aren’t wasted. 

SOUL CAKES  (from T. Susan Chang)

Makes 12 to 15 2-inch soul cakes

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg, ground fresh if possible
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon (this spice is said to encourage warm feelings of friendship and comfort when people smell and taste it)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Generous pinch of saffron threads (to symbolize the sun, so important for the harvest, and the bonfires of Samhain)
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1/2 cup currants, raisins or other dried fruit

For the Glaze:

  • 1 egg yolk, beaten (you can substitute 2 tbsp cream if you wish – it’s not as golden but it will give a bit of shine. You can add sprinkles after the milk if you want some pizzazz.)

 

  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  • Combine the flour, the nutmeg, cinnamon and salt in a small bowl. Mix well with a fork.
  • Crumble the saffron threads into a small saucepan and heat over low heat just until they become aromatic, taking care not to burn them. Add the milk and heat just until hot to the touch. The milk will have turned a bright yellow. Remove from heat.
  • Cream the butter and sugar together in a medium bowl with a wooden spoon (or use an electric mixer with the paddle attachment). Add the egg yolks and blend in thoroughly with the back of the spoon. Add the spiced flour and combine as thoroughly as possible; the mixture will be dry and crumbly.
  • One tablespoon at a time, begin adding in the warm saffron milk, blending vigorously with the spoon. When you have a soft dough, stop adding milk; you probably won't need the entire half-cup. (If you have some left, you can use this as your glaze.)
  • Turn the dough out onto a floured counter and knead gently, with floured hands, until the dough is uniform. Roll out gently to a thickness of 1/2 inch. Using a floured 2-inch round cookie or biscuit cutter, cut out as many rounds as you can and set on an ungreased baking sheet. You can gather and re-roll the scraps, gently. The round shape is like the sun, and also like a coin – it makes a lovely offering.
  • Decorate the soul cakes with currants (you can make a cross pattern if you wish, or a star – whatever inspires you.) Then brush liberally with the glaze. Bake for 15 minutes, until just golden and shiny. Serve warm if possible. 


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About the Author

Kristin Peturson-Laprise is a customer experience specialist by trade, which means she is someone passionate about people having a good time. 

Her company, Wow Service Mentor, helps businesses enhance their customer experience through hands-on training, service programs, and special event coordination.

Kristin enjoys her own experiences too, and that is what she writes about in this column. She and her husband Martin Laprise (also known as Chef Martin, of The Chef Instead) love to share their passion for food and entertaining.  

Kristin says:

"Wikipedia lists a gourmand as a person who takes great pleasure in food. I have taken the concept of gourmandise, or enjoying something to the fullest, in all parts of my life. I love to grow and cook food, and I loved wine enough to become a Sommelier. I call a meal a success when I can convey that 'sense of place' from where the food has come . . . the French call that terroir, but I just call it the full experience. It might mean tasting the flavours of my own garden, or transporting everyone at the table to a faraway place, reminiscent of travels or dreams we have had."

 

E-mail Kristin at:  [email protected]

Check out her website here:  www.wowservicementor.com

 



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The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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