How Feile Na Marbh or 'Feast of the Dead' became Halloween

That which we know as All Hallows Eve actually began as a harvest festival several millennia ago in Ireland.

Nearly eight hundred years on, All Hallows Eve is yet the night for magic, mystery and merry making. Ghosts haunt the imagination and trick-or-treaters go begging for goodies from door to door.

Decorations have gone far beyond carved out turnips and become big business, with devotees of the night decorating their lawns, yards and homes even more lavishly – and definitely more ghoulishly – than Christmas. Costuming is limited only by the imagination, and parties spawned by this ancient Irish tradition now rival the revelry of Mardi Gras.

In New Orleans, which like New York boasts a long history of Irish immigration, Anne Rice’s annual Vampire Ball is the stuff of legend. Author of Interview with a Vampire and several sequels collectively known as The Vampire Chronicles, Anne Rice is Irish American to the core and her books continue the ‘undead tradition’ begun by Ireland’s own Bram Stoker. While costuming at the Ball runs the gamut of all that is weird and wonderful, I spotted more than a few leprechauns, banshees, and fairy folk among the guests the year I attended. My costume? A drop dead come hither vampire, of course. Pardon the pun.



Soul Cakes

 1 3⁄4     cups oatmeal
    1⁄4     tsp baking powder
    1⁄2     tsp salt
    1     tbsp melted butter
    8     tsp hot water

Preheat oven to 350F. Pulverize 1 cup oatmeal in a blender. In a small bowl, combine ground oats, baking powder and salt. Stir in butter. Gradually add water to make a thick paste. Gather into a ball, place on a board lightly sprinkled with 1/4 cup oatmeal and roll around until completely covered with flakes. Spread another 1/4 cup of oatmeal on the board and flatten the ball into an 8-inch circle 1/4 inch thick. Cut in wedges and transfer to a pan covered with another 1/4  cup oatmeal. Bake 15 minutes. When wedges are light brown, turn off heat, open oven door and let sit in the oven for about 5 minutes until firm and crisp. Makes 8 Soul Cakes. (Personal recipe)

Hot Spiced Cider

    2     quarts apple cider
    2     cups fresh orange juice
    2     tsp whole cloves
        cinnamon sticks
        thin half-round orange slices

Warm cider, orange juice and cloves in a stainless steel pot. Serve with orange slices and cinnamon stick stirrers. Makes 2 1/2 quarts. (Personal recipe)


    4     large potatoes, boiled, drained and mashed with milk
    1     small head of cabbage, minced and sauteed until tender
    1     stick butter, melted

Mix mashed potatoes with minced cooked cabbage. Mound in a serving bowl and make a deep depression in the center. Pour melted butter in the depression. Serve immediately. Serves 4. (Personal recipe)

Traditional Barm Brack

    13⁄4     cups raisins
    13⁄4     cups golden raisins
    33⁄4     cup dark brown sugar
    1     cup cold tea
    4     ounces candied citrus peel, minced
        Grated rind of 1 orange
    8     tbsp melted butter
    2     eggs, lightly beaten
    4     cups flour
    2     tsp baking powder
    1     tsp pumpkin pie spice
    1⁄2     tsp cinnamon
        pinch of salt
    5     fortune tokens, each wrapped in parchment paper (silver coin,
non-plastic button, wooden
matchstick, metal thimble, gold ring)

Preheat oven to 350F. Grease a 9-inch round cake pan; line with waxed paper. In a saucepan, heat raisins and sugar with tea, stirring, until sugar dissolves. Cool. Sift dry ingredients together; set aside. Add candied peel and grated rind to the raisin tea mixture. Stir in butter and eggs. Gradually add dry ingredients. Combine well.
Pour into prepared pan and hide the parchment wrapped fortune tokens deep in the batter. Bake for 1 1/2 hours, or until a cake tester can be withdrawn dry. Makes 1 cake. (Classic Irish Recipes, Georgina Campbell)
Variation: Use up to 1/2 cup whiskey to replace some of the tea.