Fourth Course: All About All Hallow’s Eve
Happy Halloween! It’s a beautiful day here in Boston after a mostly gray weekend. We are finally settled into a routine here and it’s been great to see family and friends so much more frequently. I’m also very happy that Greg and I are back on a regular work schedule rather than the business school schedule we’ve been on for the last two+ years. While I definitely don’t’ see him quite as much, the quieter, quality time and fewer number of parties is definitely preferable for an introvert like me.
During the week I’ve been focusing on wrapping up my NC job, job searching here in Boston, cooking, writing, improving my very-mediocre photography, and doing some work with Christopher Kimball’s Milk Street Cooking School. If you’re at all familiar with America’s Test Kitchen or Cook’s Illustrated, you know who Chris Kimball is. Milk Street (located at 177 Milk Street in Boston) is his new venture and its focus is on more global flavors and styles of cooking. I’ve learned a ton so far and am excited to be involved. Lots of emphasis on spices, herbs, and really fresh flavors and I think my cooking has already improved. In addition to the cooking school Milk Street also offers a bimonthly magazine, a podcast, and a TV show that will be airing on public television in September 2017 (look for me in the studio audience!) You should definitely check it out.
Since this weekend marks one of childhood’s great traditions, I thought I would dive into some of the history behind Halloween and All Saints Day (November 1st). Although I haven’t dressed up in years, I DO love Halloween candy. Candy was a real treat for me when I was a kid. I was really only allowed to have a candy bar on our way to vacation, a Toblerone at Christmas, some chocolate at Easter, and two pieces of my Halloween candy a day until it was gone in November. (There were often sweets – my mom is a great baker – but candy itself was only for special occasions.) I eat candy more often as an adult, but still consider it a treat and opt for the really good stuff when I do. Since Halloween and candy are basically synonymous today, I thought I’d take a look at why and how that came to be and what’s behind our Halloween revelries.
Although the end of October and beginning of November is full of celebrations of darkness and death around the world, it is most widely believed that the concepts behind Halloween started with my dear Celtic ancestors. “Samhain,” a Gaelic celebration, has been observed since well before it showed up in the earliest Celtic writings. One of four major seasonal celebrations, Samhain marked the end of summer and the start of winter. It therefore coincided with the deepening darkness days, the end of the fall harvest, colder weather, and falling leaves. These factors played into the belief that, as author Nicholas Rogers notes, Samhain was “a period of supernatural intensity, when the forces of darkness and decay were said to be abroad.” Author Patricia Monagnah also notes that Samhain was, “the day when the veils between this world and the otherworld grew thinnest.” The Celts feared these supernatural beings and left food and tobacco products out for them as appeasement, lest they grow irritated and cause problems for the living. The Celts also feasted together, shared food with the less fortunate, and planned and prepared for the winter months.
When Christianity arrived to what is now Ireland, Pope Gregory the First issued an edict urging his missionaries to incorporate traditional, pagan rituals into Christian practices. This was an incredibly effective position that made converting people much easier because it did not require that they completely abandon their practices and worshiping. In keeping with this belief, Pope Gregory the Third announced the adoption of All Saints Day – also known as “All Hallows Day” on November 1 of each year, which celebrates the lives of all saints (who were, by definition, dead.) To hallow, of course, means to honor as holy. Thus, the evening before All Hallows Day became known as All Hallows Eve. E’en in Gaelic means evening, so the night before Hallows Day became known as Hallowe’en or Halloween.
Today, we strongly associate Halloween with children trick-or-treating, but the origins of that practice are less clear. Some sources noted that the pre-Christian pagans took to dressing up as members of the afterworld in order to take the appeasement food that people left out on their doorsteps on Samhain. Other sources suggest that the practice of dressing up began in Mediaeval England, when poor children went door-to-door praying for family members’ souls in exchange for small cakes (a practice called “souling.”) Still other sources trace the origins of trick-or-treating to “mumming,” during which adults went door-to-door performing as a troop, dressed in costume. My suspicion is that trick-or-treating derives from a mishmash of these practices.
The celebration of Halloween and trick-or-treating did not travel to North America with any of the early English settlers. (They were, in fact, against the concept of holidays altogether, instead believing that every day was equally holy. To identify some as “celebrations” was to lessen the significance of all the others. What can I say? They weren’t a fun bunch.) It was not until the flood of Irish immigrants in the late 1840s that Halloween became an entrenched American tradition. Once here, it quickly lost its religious significance and became the secular practice we see today. By the mid-twentieth century, trick-or-treating also began to show up in its current form, and distributing candy to children in costume became an inexpensive way to build community and celebrate childhood
Today, Halloween is a holiday celebrated by both adults and children of all races, ethnicities and religions in the United States. (The one exception to this rule is Jehovah’s Witnesses who are forbidden from participating due to its pagan origins.) Children trick-or-treat dressed in costumes ranging from the traditionally ghoulish (ghosts, witches, ghouls) to character-specific and TV characters, to historical figures. Adults think they’re cute, they get hopped up on sugar, and everyone wins.
Adults who are celebrating are usually attending parties. This is particularly true of college students who often use Halloween as an excuse to dress provocatively. Various “sexy” versions of women’s costumes have long been the norm (but have recently faced pushback from women rejecting the “sexy” trope.)
There’s also been a very interesting national conversation over the last few years about the line between dressing offensively and pretending to be someone else for a night. I think it’s very clear that a line needs to be drawn at stereotyping, but I do wonder if dressing as someone else can also be a tool for building empathy, if done correctly. When I was 7, for example, I dressed up as an American Indian. But my parents and I also discussed which tribe I was dressing as (Lakota Sioux), their culture (one of the buffalo-hunting tribes of the Great Plains), and their history (genocide). Would that be considered offensive? I’m genuinely not sure, but it’s very possible.
Last year a Yale professor was forced to resign last year after she sent an email to students in her residence hall suggesting that Yale college officials should not be in the business of monitoring costumes and that students should vocalize their concerns with one another if they found something offensive. In response, colleges and universities around the country this year have implemented varying degrees of costume guidelines, a step I consider unnecessary. But I also think it’s important to have conversations about who and what you’re dressing up as and why. Is it to have a chance to embody someone else for a day? To learn about another people or culture? Or to make fun? Perhaps that is the line we should be discussing.
Because Halloween is an unofficial holiday, there aren’t many political guidelines or regulations associated with it beyond individual towns setting trick-or-treating dates and age limits. But there is one area that has traditionally been highly regulated around the world and that is witchcraft. And while there are certainly pagan religions that practice polytheism and worship nature and women and men who own the “witch” nomenclature, accusing people – especially women – of being witches has also been an effective political tool for keeping women subservient, across cultural lines. Take for example, the Salem Witch Trials.
During the summer of 1692, 150 men, women and children were arrested and tried for witchcraft after eight teenage girls showed symptoms of what was thought to be spectral interference. Of these, 14 women and five men were found guilty and executed. Five others died in prison. Different explanations have been given for this behavior, including the disenfranchisement and powerlessness of young women in Puritan society. The most interesting (to me, anyway) explanation, however suggests that the symptoms these young women showed were actually a result of consuming an LSD-like fungus called Ergot, which is thought to have infected the colonists’ rye crop in the summer of 1691. Regardless, whether due to an infection or an attempt to gain some level of control over their lives, the young women affected by “witchcraft” eventually returned to normal and the trials ended, but not before many of the women in Salem village had had their lives ruined.
By the mid-1700s, so-called witch-hunts had disappeared from public space in the US, and, of course, the first amendment of the United States Constitution guarantees the right to practice one’s religion, whatever that may be. But that is not the case elsewhere.
There are still laws against flying on broomsticks in Swaziland, a tax on “seers” (nearly all women) in Romania, a police force dedicated to monitoring supposed witches (typically non-Saudi domestic workers) in Saudi Arabia, and laws forbidding any kind of magic in Iran and the Central African Republic. Most troubling today, is a long-standing witch-hunt in Papua New Guinea. As recently as 2009, a young girl was burned alive after having been accused of witchcraft and some reports indicate that the witch-hunts are getting more intense. That women and children who are different can still be accused of sorcery and devil-worship in 2016 is a tragedy and is reflective of the varied state of education and enlightenment around the world.
Now, on a lighter note, back to my kitchen…
My favorite candies are Justin’s Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups. They are out of this world. BUT I’m also obsessed with Milk Street’s Orange Caramel right now. I could (and have) eaten it with a spoon. So I decided to make Dark Chocolate Orange Caramel Cups because dark chocolate and orange are a match made in heaven. Candy can be daunting to make, especially if you’re tempering your own chocolate as I did. But I don’t think it’s really that hard as long as you have a thermometer, which you can get for a few dollars online or at most kitchen and food stores. I have a cheapo one that clips onto the edge of the pot (very handy for monitoring temps) and I think it was only $5. Enjoy these – once you eat one, you’ll know what I mean when I say that candy is still a treat to me!
P.S. These have the added bonus of being black and orange which I really didn’t set out to do. Added bonus for holiday color coordination.
Orange-Caramel Chocolate Cups
Makes 9 cups and extra caramel.
- 8 oz semi-sweet or bitter-sweet chocolate bars (no chips! They have stabilizers you don’t want)
- ¾ cup of fresh squeezed orange juice (about 2 oranges). Don’t use store bought juice.
- 1 cup sugar (NOT organic – not refined enough for this recipe. J )
- 2 tablespoons of melted butter
- Pinch of sea salt (optional)
- Juice 2 of the oranges to yield ¾ cup juice.
- Combine the sugar and ¼ cup of the orange juice in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat (this should only take a couple of minutes) and cook, swirling the pan occasionally, until the mixture begins to color around the edges, 3 to 5 minutes.
- Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook, swirling the pan often, until the sugar is copper-colored, 3-4 minutes.
- Remove the pan from the heat, add the butter, and whisk until melted. Add a splash of the remaining orange juice and whisk until smooth (the mixture will bubble), then add the remaining orange juice and whisk until fully incorporated.
- Return to heat and let it boil (watching VERY closely) until it registers 230 degrees, which will make the candy the consistency of a thick, viscous syrup. This will only take a few minutes.
- Immediately remove from heat, whisk once more and pour into an 8-inch pan.
- Let cool for in the refrigerator while you temper the chocolate.
Temper the chocolate. This is probably the trickiest step, so take your time. I’m using the directions from Epicurious because they are clear and straightforward, but you can temper chocolate in the microwave or without a thermometer – tt’s just a lot harder. The Epicurious recipe calls for at least 1.5 lbs of chocolate – that’s more than you need, but does make the temperature easier to control. I’m using 8 oz (half a pound) instead.
- Finely chop the chocolate.
- Place two-thirds of the chocolate in a double boiler or metal bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water. Make sure the bottom of the bowl does not touch the water. Place a candy thermometer or digital thermometer in the chocolate and stir frequently with a rubber spatula.
- Do not let the temperature of the chocolate exceed 120°F. When the chocolate has fully melted, remove the bowl from heat. Wipe the bottom of the bowl to get rid of any condensation.
- Stir in the remaining third of the chocolate a little at a time. Let it melt before adding more.
- Let the chocolate cool to about 82°F. If it is warmer, keep stirring and let it cool some more. If it is cooler, begin reheating in the next step. (I used a glass bowl which held the heat, so I put the chocolate in the refrigerator for a few minutes to cool it down. Stir often if you do that.)
- Once the chocolate is 82°F, place it back over simmering water. For dark chocolate, reheat to 88°F to 91°F. Remove the bowl from heat once you have reached the right temperature.
- Work quickly before the chocolate starts to set up!
- Line 9 cups of a muffin tin with paper cupcake liners.
- Pour about 1 TBSP of the tempered chocolate into a cup – it will start to set up as you go. Use a spoon or your thumb to make a divot in the chocolate.
- Add about a teaspoon of caramel to each cup.
- Pour about 1 TBSP of tempered chocolate on top.
- Repeat until all nine are finished. Sprinkle with sea salt, if using.
- Let sit for 30-45 minutes until the chocolate sets.
- Love life.