Hallowe’en in Barbara’s Back Yard
Hallowe’en – the night when the divide between the worlds of the living and the dead is especially thin – my Grandmother used to have a teapot stand that said: “From ghoulies and ghosties and long-leggity beasties, and things that go bump in the night, may the good Lord deliver us.” I’ve no idea why it was on a teapot stand but I always think of it at Hallowe’en. (Looking it up I find out that it’s a Scottish prayer.)
Time to pick pumpkins and carve Jack O’lanterns (tip – use an ice cream scoop to scrape out the seeds). Reserve the flesh for pumpkin soup.
The idea of a hollowed-out vegetable with a candle in the middle originated with the Celts – but they didn’t have pumpkins (they came later – from America). They used beets, and turnips, and carved grotesque faces on them – and put them outside their doors to ward off evil spirits.
According to Irish folklore, Jack O’lantern comes from the story of Stingy Jack who tried to outsmart the Devil: Jack invites the Devil for a drink and convinces him to transform into a coin to pay with – as soon as the coin appeared, Jack changed his mind and kept the coin in his pocket with a silver cross – so preventing it turning back into the Devil. Eventually Jack freed the devil, on condition that he would leave Jack alone for a year – and – that he wouldn’t claim Jack’s soul when he died. At the end of the year Jack tricked the devil again by persuading him to climb up a tree to pick some fruit. Whilst the Devil was in the tree, Jack carved a cross into the tree trunk so the Devil couldn’t get down. The Devil had to swear that he would leave Jack alone for another ten years before he was allowed to come down.
Then Jack died – but he had led such a sinful life that God wouldn’t let him into Heaven and, because of his bargain with the Devil, he couldn’t get into hell either, so Jack was sent instead into the eternal night. Jack complained about how dark it was, wandering around earth with no place to go, so someone tossed him a hot coal, which he placed in a hollowed-out turnip – and he has been roaming the earth ever since – with his turnip-lantern to guide him.
The Irish began to refer to this spooky figure as “Jack of the Lantern”, which has since become Jack O’Lantern – and some folks say that Jack comes out on Hallowe’en night looking for someone to take his place… so watch out, if you see him wandering your way!
The Samhain festival marks the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter, the “darker half” of the year. Time to pick and store the apples for winter puddings – and to add to soups (Squash Apple and Sage Soup) – and to feed to the rabbits and hens when winter sets in. Time to make Wittenham Cider with the windfalls. The recipe says to leave it for a week after its bottled – but it’s usually quite fizzy – and very drinkable – the day after it’s bottled!
At Christmas, we always have a real Christmas tree – and we save it to help get the bonfire going at Samhain. I’m not too keen on fireworks – but we do love sparklers – and no-one is ever too old to draw sparkling shapes in the air on Bonfire night.
We have spicy pumpkin soup, hot dogs – and Wittenham Cider (which is much better before it becomes alcoholic as its much sweeter). And we combine Guy Fawkes with All Hallows Eve and have our own Samhain on the nearest weekend – I always light candles on 31st October – and tealights in our Jack O’Lanterns to keep away Stingy Jack!
Happy, smiley, pumpkin Jack’o’Lantern