Ghoulish Cocktails & Bonfire Sparklers
Although Covid-19 has put put paid to a lot of the conventional activities of Hallowe'en, Mischief Night and 5th November, we still have plenty scope for making fun at home. Indeed, home is the best place to rediscover the joyful spirit of those celebrations, as they were family celebrations before they became bigger ones. If you have children, this might be a great time to introduce them to the cultural roots behind the festivals.
Hallowe'en in the UK has its origins in the Celtic festival of Samhain, a "thin time," when the world of the living and that of the dead were brought close together. Among the festivities were simple games, playing tricks & practical jokes, and dressing up. Like many Pagan festivals, the beliefs and activities of Samhain were given a Christian gloss by the fifth and sixth century missionaries as a way of explaining and promoting their faith. The "thin time" sits comfortably with the theology behind All Saints' and All Souls' feasts at the beginning of November. For untold generations, then, this has been a time to remember the dead, to tell tales of their proximity, to celebrate their closeness to us. All Saints' Day is a major festival for Catholic Christians, one that has been anticipated with evening and night-time vigils, and the events of these few days have become mingled into one winter folk festival that has many activities and traditions. My grandsons usually enjoy Trick or Treat, an American tradition that has its roots in Scotland. Scottish settlers brought with them the idea of 'guising:' going out in fancy dress to beg treats from neighbours and play tricks on the ungenerous. English readers will remember asking neighbours for "a penny for the guy" in the days before Bonfire Night, too. All these traditions are related.
Several years ago, I went through my Mum's recipe book to steal all the best recipes I loved in my childhood. Here's her treacle toffee for you:
- 8oz of black treacle
- 8oz of granulated sugar
- 4oz of butter
- 1 teaspoon of vinegar
Line a baking tray or Swiss roll tin with parchment or silicone paper and grease it well.
Let the mixture boil vigorously for 15 minutes. My Mum never had a sugar thermometer, so some years the toffee set firmer and others it remained very soft. To be sure, use a sugar thermometer: it needs to reach 140C. As soon as it reaches that temperature, pour the mixture out into the prepared tray. Be very careful with this hot liquid: it will burn very badly if it gets on your skin.
Leave the tray in a cool place for about 20 minutes, then cut even sections in it with an oiled knife. When it is completely cold, you should be able to break it along those cuts, to make nice, even pieces.
Store in an airtight container, separating the pieces with more parchment or silicone paper. Make sure you keep the toffee in a dry place. If any moisture gets to it, it will soften and stick together.
Next time: Winter Darkness - dark fruits, dark wines, dark beers