A Witch's Afternoon Tea - Celtic Style Halloween

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About: I live in a forest garden in an old Celtic longhouse in the Baie de Mont Saint Michel, France. I was born in the UK, the furthest possible you can get from the sea but in what was some of the most beautiful ...

Afternoon Tea was officially 'invented' in the Victorian period by Anna Maria Russell wife of the 7th Duke of Bedford, Lady in Waiting to Queen Victoria, herself a great lover of all things cake. Legend has it that the Duchess had noticed what she referred to as; 'a sinking feeling' due to the long wait between the relatively new institution of 'lunch' and the subsequently much later evening meal.

There is no reason, however why this delicious mini-feast shouldn't have existed in another form and under another name for millennia. Here is my version of it with a distinctly Halloween or Samhain flavour to the recipes. This includes Soul Cakes, traditionally made with raisins but for which I am substituting blackberries.

For the savoury side of the tea, I'm offering 'Devils on Horseback' and 'Quail Eggs in Nests'.

For the drinks I have rose hip tea and for those wishing for something stronger, a Witch's Kir, made from berries, spices and cider.

All these recipes are to give our afternoon tea the Samhain tradition of the circle of life and death and in celebration of a good harvest and plentiful food for the coming Winter.

All the ingredients I use are organically grown/raised and I have put links to where you can get some of them if you are interested.

Step 1: Soul Cakes, Sin Eating and Samhain

The idea of symbolically eating someone's sins, particularly those who had died without confession and thereby allowing them access to the afterlife was a profession practiced right up until the beginning of the twentieth century. The last 'Sin-Eater', Richard Munslow died in 1906 and had lived near to where I was born in the county of Shropshire. Mr Munslow was a gentleman farmer and therefore somewhat unusual in following what was considered the rather gruesome career of eating buns around an open coffin and a job judged suitable only for beggars and those in dire poverty.

Samhain, the Celtic festival celebrating the end of Summer, in its simplest definition, involves eating, drinking, lighting bonfires and as the legend goes, making and using cakes for divination and to appease the spirits of the Harvest. From this evolved the three day celebration comprising; All Hallows' Eve (or Halloween), All Hallows' (or All Saints' Day) and finally All Souls'. On this last day, traditionally, another form of Sin-Eating was practiced, it was called 'Soul-caking'. There is a rhyme that goes with it, which we as children used to sing in school with neither any idea of its roots, nor any remuneration in cake!

In going out 'Souling', the children and adults of a village would visit the houses of the wealthiest families begging for soul cakes and in return offer to pray for the souls of departed relatives. You've probably guessed that this has been cited by various sources as the root of 'Trick or Treat'.

As families made their own cakes at home, there were no set rules for soul cake recipes, which often varied from region to region or even town to town. In Whitby (of Dracula fame), the Soul Cake recipe was for a bread mixture called 'Soul Mass Loaves' rather than the more usual cake or biscuit. In other towns, Hereford for example, oatmeal was used rather than wheat flour and often the raising agent changed too, with yeast being chosen over baking powder and white or cider apple vinegar. So here's my version.

TEMPERATURE

Preheat the oven to 425°F (220°C)

RECIPE

Makes 12-14 large Soul Cakes

1½ cups (230g) of All Purpose aka Plain Flour

1 pinch Celtic Sea Salt

3 tablespoons (40g) Sugar

3 tablespoons (40g) Butter

1 Egg made up to just under ½ cup (130ml) with Milk

1 teaspoon Bicarbonate of Soda aka Baking Powder

1 teaspoon Mixed or Pumpkin Spice

A little extra flour for dusting the board and rolling pin

Cookie cutters

Optional decoration: 12 blackberries or raisins ( a little cream to stick them on)

METHOD

Either by hand or in a food processor add the sifted flour, raising agent, salt and stir in the sugar.

Add the diced butter and rub the ingredients together with fingertips until the mixture resembles fine bread crumbs.

Stir in spice.

Beat the egg with the milk until mixed and slowly pour into processor, whilst the machine is running. Turn off the machine as soon as the mixture forms into a soft ball of dough. If it looks too dry add a little more milk but the dough should be soft not sticky.

Turn dough out onto a floured board and with a floured rolling pin roll it out to between ¼ and ½ an inch thickness.

Dip the cookie cutter in flour and cut out the cakes.

Using a sharp knife make a sign of a cross on the top of each cake - traditionally this signifies its purpose as alms given in return for prayers for the dead.

At the end of each arm of the cross I made a slight indentation with a chopstick or wooden spoon handle,

Place on a buttered tray or baking sheet and cook in the middle of the oven for 12-15 minutes.

Place on a cooling rack.

Decorate.

Enjoy!

Step 2: Devils on Horseback

Devils on Horseback, a variation on the popular Victorian savoury Angels on Horseback, was itself a variation on the paradoxically named French dish Huitres à la Diable. Instead of oysters the recipe uses prunes and the complimentary sweetness of the fruit combined with the crispy, savoury ham or bacon means you'll never ever make enough of these to go round. Here I'm making 20 - at a time

TEMPERATURES

Preheat the oven to 400°F or 200°C.

COOKING TIME

Approximately 10 minutes.

INGREDIENTS

20 small thin slices of Prosciutto di Parma, ham or bacon

20 Dried Prunes

20 Cocktail sticks/picks

Butter for greasing the cooking pan/tray/baking sheet

METHOD

Soak the prunes in water. I just brought some water to the boil took it off the heat and then popped them in, they plumped up within a few minutes and then I removed the stones.

Soak the wooden picks in water. This is to prevent them from charring in the oven.

Take each slice of bacon or ham and using the back of a knife, run it along each piece in order to stretch it. This prevents it shrinking when cooked.

Wrap each prune in a slice of bacon or ham and fasten it with a pre-soaked cocktail stick.

Place on a buttered tray and place in oven for 10 minutes or until ham/bacon is crisp.

Serve hot - but the are really good cold too!

Enjoy!

Step 3: Quails Eggs in Nests

It is of course much easier to make these if you have quail, which by an amazing co-incidence we do! You can however make this recipe in larger, bantam egg or standard egg size and they are just as delicious but rather more filling.

TEMPERATURES
Preheat the oven to 220°C or 425°F

INGREDIENTS Makes 18 to 20 nests

4 Medium to Large Potatoes. Preferably 'floury' varieties that are suitable for mashing.

Quail Eggs

Butter

Salt and Pepper to taste.

METHOD

Peel and then boil the potatoes until firm but cooked well enough so that a fork will pierce them easily. Mash with a hand masher, thus avoiding any chance of the mash becoming 'gluey'. Add salt and pepper and a little butter.

Form the mash into small round balls.

Make a depression in the centre of the ball with the thumb and work the potato into a nest shape.

With a fork, lift up sections of mash to create a 'twiggy' appearance.

Place the nests on a buttered baking sheet and cook until lightly golden (around 10 to 15 minutes).

Crack a quail egg into each nest put a dot of butter on the egg white and return to the oven cook for a further 10 minutes or until the eggs have set and have a glazed appearance.

The nests without the eggs can be made in advance and frozen.

I also made a larger more rustic version, which is quicker to produce but obviously doesn't have the uniformity of the above and is not as easy to freeze!

Step 4: Rose Hip Kir

Kir is a very popular apéritif drink, traditionally made by pouring white wine or champagne over a fruit liqueur, this is usually black currant. In this part of Normandie we use cider, which is also a traditional drink for Samhain and here I'm using rose hips for the fruit syrup because with its rich colour and spicy accents it's a great choice for Halloween.

I make my own rose hip syrup with less sugar than the usual recipes and thus freeze it and I use the various types of roses I grow in the garden but traditionally this is made from the wild dog rose (rosa canina) or the larger version (rosa rugosa). It makes delicious syrup for ice cream and pancakes and has also been used for centuries as a medicinal and we keep it handy in case of Winter colds.

INGREDIENTS

1¼ cups (250g) of Fresh rose hips

1 Cinnamon stick

1 Star Anise

1 Pint (500ml) of water

Approx ½ cup (100g) Raw cane sugar aka rappadura or sucanat

METHOD

Put all the ingredients except for the sugar into a pan.

Crush the rose hips with a fork or potato masher. The less ripe ones will crush better when cooked but the reason for doing this is so that the rose hips do not come in contact with the air when they are broken open because otherwise they will lose almost all their Vitamin C content.

Simmer, without a lid for 20 minutes.

Press gently through a fine sieve.

Add the same amount of sugar as liquid (this usually works out around 4oz or 100g but if you want a thinner syrup add less sugar.

Stir in sugar until it dissolves.

Bring to the boil and leave to cook without stirring until syrup forms in around 5 to 10 minutes.

Leave to cool and if you don't use it all, then freeze it. It freezes really well and can be frozen in an ice cube tray for ease of adding to drinks.

TO MAKE KIR

Place a little rose hip syrup (around ½ to 1" or 1 to 2cm) in the bottom of a tall cocktail glass or similar and fill with chilled cider.

Enjoy!

Step 5: Rose Hip or Hibiscus Tea

The rich red colour of these fruits and flowers is symbolic of Samhain and Halloween. Red, orange and gold were the colours associated with harvest and the time of plenty, also the colours of the sun, fire and the leaves at this time of year.

Rose hip tea is a very invigorating tea. Here I'm using fresh ones as they are in season but mostly I dry them and then have a good stock for Winter.

Hibiscus is a flower I buy dried specifically to make tea and also to use as a superb natural colour for cakes, icing, frosting and glazes.

FRUIT & FLOWER TEA

To make rose hip tea add:

2 Fresh or Dried Rose Hips per person and 2 for the tea pot.

If using fresh I would mash them up a little in the tea pot and then put them through a tea strainer, that way you will get a full bodied brew.

Dried Hibiscus tea makes a wonderful alternative and the colour is a deep, dark, rich ruby red which looks great in tea glasses, china mugs and cups. You can also get a ready-made mixture of Rose Hip and Hibiscus Tea Bags too.

With these teas and for personal taste you may need to use honey or sugar as a sweetener. I find that Hibiscus has a more pungent taste than the rose hip. It does however very much depend on how ripe the rose hips were when they were picked, In our garden I tend to pick them early as I am competing with the birds both my own and the wild garden ones who use them as a great source of vitamins and mineral in the Winter months!

Step 6: Setting the Table

GET OUT YOUR BEST CHINA & LINEN!

I think a witch would mix and match china for a tea party and also honour the Samhain traditional animal, flower and bird images. Of course this helps me a lot because my crockery comes from a variety of sources and eras and I collected it over many years, often choosing individual pieces I liked, without finding a whole set of anything. If you are interested in decorative china and where to get it then mine comes from flea markets and yard sales and there are also presents, like the Carlton Ware Foxglove design plates and the Royal Doulton Brambly Hedge mugs. I bought the Mary Rose Young teapot which is really a work of art at an exhibition and of course the Wedgwood Peter Rabbit china and Mrs Rabbit vintage bowl are favourites for afternoon tea. For the evergreen theme, I've the Spode Christmas tree and Portmeirion Holly and Ivy designs which are still being made and the Spode Green Garland cake plate which is not but which I found in a outlet shop.

In true Instructable's Tradition if you have white or plain coloured china, then why not get some china paint pens and make your own great Halloween designs?

My table linen is Irish and was given to me by my Aunt.


DON'T FORGET DECORATIONS!

I used natural objects to dress the tea table including the beautiful colours of Autumn leaves and berries to compliment the foods. I also loved these big mop-headed hydrangeas, I offered to prune and dead head my friend's plants and came home with an armful of these spooky, pastel-coloured blossoms. Don't forget the evergreens too, sacred to the Celts and remember never to dump them at the end of the festivities, traditionally and to avoid bad luck, they should be composted or burned.

I had such fun making all this and I hope you will too

Step 7: Invite Your Ghastly, Ghostly Friends!

Have a ball!

Your tea will taste even more delicious in fancy dress.

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    4 Discussions

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    graciepickle

    27 days ago

    I think you've written a winning instructable. I've never seen anyone be so thoughtfully creative in a contest. The history, recipes, and pictures are so detail oriented and wonderful. I feel like I'm watching/reading a documentary, incredible job!

    1 reply
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    Pavlovafowlgraciepickle

    Reply 27 days ago

    Hi there and thank you so much for your lovely comments, they are appreciated! I am fascinated by the history and legends which surround recipes and traditional dishes. So much has been lost over the centuries but through the internet you can now find a wealth of research material and most of it for free on the Internet Archive. I have also been lucky over the years, when I lived in the UK, to amass a great hoard of second hand books and cookery books from the last century and beyond are very good reads! Best Wishes from Normandie, Sue

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    Alex in NZ

    8 weeks ago

    Wow! I remember reading about sin-eaters years ago, but hadn't given them a thought since. I must rush off and read up about your Mr Munslow.

    On the 'Ible, that rose-hip kir looks fascinating. Thank you so much for sharing the recipe (and the entire menu).

    1 reply
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    PavlovafowlAlex in NZ

    Reply 8 weeks ago

    Thank you Alex for that lovely comment! You made my day! I too read about sin eating many years ago and then was amazed to find out about Mr Munslow and that he came from Shropshire - although in a way that was not so surprising as it is a County steeped in folklore. This particular rose hip syrup I made mainly from Meg Merrilies. If you are unaware of it, it's a sweet briar and a canina hybrid from 1894. When I first planted it it never did very well so I moved it a couple of seasons and finally when I placed it where it could scramble over the greenhouse, it started to flourish. It is very fragrant and this year is covered with large fruits. If you can find a cutting or indeed the whole plant, it should do very well in NZ. It's named for the famous seeress aka Jean Gordon, who was a gypsy queen and lived in the Cheviot Hills. All the very best from Normandie and Cheers for when you make the kir! Sue

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