Halloween, It’s More Than Just a Martha Stewart Recipe

Finger and skull
Photo credit: C. Bertelsen

I confess, I love Halloween, it’s so pagan in its roots that I know that I am seeing vestiges of ancient practices. People associated many different foods with the holiday, not just pumpkins. A little shiver of pleasure runs through me as I think of those customs coming down to us from the past, visible reminders of cultural practices begun before universal literacy, acts rarely recorded on paper or vellum or parchment.

Cake, yes cake, played a role in the festivities, as did eggs, nuts, cabbages, apples, and honey cakes. (See below for a list of my previous posts about these fascinating practices.)

Prolific nineteenth-century domestic scientist, Sarah Tyson Hetson Rorer, in her Home Games and Parties (1898,  p. 139, available as an ebook at the link), wrote about some of the old Halloween customs. The ancient association of Halloween with fertility and love comes out in this section of Home Games and Parties:


MUCH sport may be had at suppertime by having a large cake in the centre of the table with as many candles around it as there are guests, each candle a different color. The cake is passed last. The guests each take a candle and a piece of cake, choosing whatever color pleases their fancy. As they do so some one reads:

He who takes the candle blue,
Will find his sweetheart ever true.

The pink, the sweetest of them all,
Will wed a fellow six feet tall.

Alas, for yellow, bright to see,
Your lover e’er will jealous be.

Happy she who orange takes ;
Now begin your wedding cake.

Hopeless, homeless bachelor he,
If white candle his should be.

The hostess may evolve some other pleasant and clever couplets to finish the list. The candles come in play later, when each tries his or her fate. All candles lighted, each holds his at arm’s length, and blows three times; should the candle go out the first time, he will be married that year; if the second, in two years; if the third, in three years.

Supper may be served between the games and fate-charms, or afterward, and may consist of salads, sandwiches, biscuits, olives, cakes, nuts, apples, and coffee.

Here are some of my previous posts about Halloween:

Saints, Souls, and Haints: Here Come the Pumpkins

Saints, Souls, and Haints: Ghoulish Goodies

Saints, Souls, and Haints: Honey Cakes

Saints, Souls, and Haints: Nuts

Saints, Souls, and Haints: Still Nuts

Saints, Souls, and Haints: Apples

Saints, Souls, and Haints: Cabbages and Rings

Saints, Souls, and Haints: Eggs

Saints, Souls, and Haints: Cider and Curds

Saints, Souls, and Haints: Soul Cakes

Saints, Souls, and Haints: More Soul Cakes


A Meditation on Pumpkin Pie

Día de los Muertos (Todos Santos)/ Day of the Dead Food-Laden Altars

© 2013 C. Bertelsen

3 thoughts on “Halloween, It’s More Than Just a Martha Stewart Recipe

  1. Off Topic.
    I am seeing a shift in cookbooks.
    Folkways and cookbooks were a good match since the time rotary printing presses made cookbooks available to everyone (c.1850). But. Cookbooks remained domestic. Professionals tended to the medieval Guild philosophy – you get the skills through a grueling apprenticeship to a close-lipped Fraternity.
    Now, Keller’s ‘Under Pressure’ and René Redzepi’s Noma change that. They give you recipes that assume you have a professional kitchen. In other words, the Secrets of the Guild ! Why? what does this mean? Where is that going? A new stream?

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