Celtic Fire Festival.


Of the four major Celtic fire festivals in Ireland, Samhain or ,more contemporary, Hallow’een, is the largest and most widely known. In other cultures, this is the Feast of the Dead. Or All Souls.


Characteristic to Irish country cooking is the use of a three-legged cauldron sitting over a fire which was kept going all day. Coastal cooking traditions varied from inland towns and districts. The idea was the same, however, and that was to feed hungry peasants. I am using a three -legged grill with fire.


In the old Celtic calendar, Samhain marked the end of harvest and summer as well as the beginning of Winter or the “dark time” of the year. It was also a time of transition marked by the changing of the seasons and weather.


On land, these seasonal changes forced herdsmen to bring their cattle back down from summer mountain pastures. A procedure known as transhumance. Cheeses would have already been made, perhaps to age in a blanket of sea-weed. Pigs or wild boar from the woods would have been killed and cured at this time. The process of preserving meat by curing with sea-salt was introduced by the Celts into Europe. It was also the time of year to “pit” potatoes for winter storage. Guinness goes great with sea salt. Wash your next oyster down with it.


In coastal areas, seafood would have been preserved also. There would not have been many opportunities for off shore fishing during winter. So the techniques of smoking, brining and salting fish would have been common. I wonder if it was the Basque fishermen  who introduced salting to Ireland. Nowadays, there is a small cottage industry of sea-salt harvesting in west Cork on the Beara Peninsula, the most south westerly point on the island. The most famous mussels in the known universe come from Bantry in that same neck of the woods.


Indeed, any opportunities for fishing would have been limited at this time of the year to sheltered coastal inlets and river estuaries. The changing of the season also influenced what species of fish were available to coastal peasants. Seasonal fish like John Dory or Saint Pierre migrated to warmer water. Other ocean swimming fish like some species of shark moved into shallower water. The rocky coastline provided shelter for rock fish like bass and codling and other flat fish like turbot and flounder. There was also plenty of oysters and rock lobster, cockles and mussels too.


Another source of protein for coastal people was the availability of sea-gulls eggs on sheer cliff faces.. This was a risky business. You did’nt want the Feast of the Dead to be all about you and the crabs.


Written records begin in Ireland in the 5th century of the Common Era with the arrival of Christianity. Samhain predates Christianity with its roots going back to the arrival of the Celts in Ireland around the 5th century BCE. Fire was an important part of Samhain used in rituals for protection and cleansing. But bonfires can be traced back even further in Irish mythology. Nowadays, the tradition of lighting bonfires at Hallow’een is not so prevalent as it once was.


Thanks for reading. Eat like a peasant.


Just about says it all.


The Haunted Pumpkin ………….out soon in hard-cover.

Further Tips on Traditional Irish Brown Soda Bread.


In my previous two postings on traditional Irish brown soda bread, I neglected to include these thoughts. The recipe I shared is a classic recipe. It is simple, so simple the temptation is there to add a little bit of this and a little bit of that. My suggestion is to try my classic recipe as it is. Practise that and master it. Then, when you are comfortable with the procedure after a few tries,then maybe add something. For example, I added a half cup of oats. It really does’nt need to much of anything really. That’s why it is a classic, pure and simple.


Okay, here is where things can get a little sticky. I’ve just barely mixed the ingredients. You can see how wet it is. If you look closely, you can also see that the bowl is also wet. The bread dough will stick to the bowl and that’s the problem. How to extract it from the bowl in a cohesive mass onto a cutting board.


I have floured the edges of the bowl. With the help of a rubber spatula, I can lift up the side of the bread, slide some flour underneath gently and try to cover the base of the bowl with flour. I have to do this lifting action just enough to be able to cause the bread not to stick. Now, the dough you are looking at is the part that is going to the bottom or underpart of the bread when it hits the oven. Now to extract and remove. Turn the bowl over and the dough should come off a little easier.


If you get this far, your golden. I used my hands to form and bring together the loaf


The flour is very important. If you cannot find Odlum’s flour imported from Ireland, go with what you got. For me, most flours in markets in the US are milled too fine. And consequently, the “crumb” of the bread is too fine. It affects the texture of the bread .


I am fortunate enough to be able to purchase Odlum’s flour in my neighborhood. A 2 kilo bag (4.4 pounds) costs $6.50. A loaf of bread or 4 farls will cost a little over two bucks. I make it three times a week.


One thing to remember…….the bread will never come out exactly the same in appearance or taste.


Eat like a peasant. Thanks for reading.