Samhain: Celebrate the end of Harvest, folklore and wandering spirits of a traditional Scottish Halloween.

Among the bonny winding banks,
Where Doon rins, wimplin’ clear,
Where Bruce ance ruled the martial ranks,
And shook his Carrick spear,
Some merry, friendly, country-folks,
Together did convene,
To burn their nits, and pou their stocks,
And haud their Halloween
Fu’ blithe that night.

-Robert Burns

Ah, Halloween. A time for moody lighting, sweet treats and eerie tales. Whilst this spooky holiday has gained immense popularity in the United States, where elaborate house decorations and well thought out costumes reign supreme, Halloween’s origins can actually be traced back to 8th century Celtic times. A great deal of the traditions we associate with Halloween today, or as it was previously known, All-Hallows eve, have their roots in the ancient Irish and Scottish Gaelic festival Samhain (pronounced “Sah-win”). This religious pagan celebration commenced on the evening of the 31st till the 1st November, marking the end of harvest and the transition into winter- the darker half of the year. It was considered to be a liminal time when supernatural beings from the otherworld could cross the boundary into the mortal realm more easily. Whilst we adore the gorgeous sights and tranquillity that surrounds us here in Scotland, during this ancient pagan holiday, before electricity was invented, the country-side could be a very dark and spooky place to reside indeed.

Towering bonfires would be lit, whether this was to provide protection or guide the way for spirits is uncertain but nowadays these ritualistic blazes have been swapped out for tealight candles – much safer. Masks and costumes weren’t worn just to give your friends and neighbours a fright, but to disguise oneself from wandering ghosts and ghouls. As the festival of Samhain symbolised the end of harvest and all its abundance as well as incorporating spiritualistic rituals, it’s no surprise that food, particularly seasonal produce played a fundamental role in the festivities. Not only would offerings be left out for supernatural entities but feasts and family gatherings were customary, with fruits and vegetables used as fortune-telling props within games and folklore. Here at Loch Leven’s Larder and Channel Farm, we certainly appreciate the enchanting quality of locally grown, seasonal produce. However, during traditional Scottish Halloween celebrations, it seems these vegetables possessed a much more profound and transformative significance that extended well beyond creating a delicious winter stew. Read on to discover more about Gaelic Samhain traditions and the fascinating ways they incorporated our favourite vegetables into their superstitious customs.

Kale Pulling

How does that saying go? Love is in the…earth? Believe it or not, it was common Scottish tradition during the Samhain festival for young, eligible men and women to spend the evening of the 31st October uprooting Kale stalks as part of a fortune-telling ritual, to decipher the characteristics of their future spouse. This tradition was steeped in folklore and superstition, with Celts believing the size, shape and taste of the kale stalk they pulled held clues to the attributes and disposition of their future love. Whether they were tall and healthy, short and stubby, wrinkly, bitter or sweet. Even the amount of dirt stuck to the vegetable could indicate their status and wealth. Whilst this Halloween festivity appears to have been overtaken by less muddy and hands on activities such as trick-or-treating, we still believe our Channel Farm kale has a transformative quality to it, particularly in cooking. However, you’ll have to navigate your romantic life on your own I’m afraid.

NUT BURNING

The superstitious match-making doesn’t end there. Young couples could also be seen on Halloween night throwing nuts onto open fires to determine the future of their partnership. Who’d have thought this liminal time between the end of harvest and beginning of winter was such a popular opportunity to question your relationship. If their nuts quietly smouldered, the couple would have a peaceful and smooth union. If they crackled and popped amongst the flames, the relationship was doomed. Can’t argue with that, eh. Robert Burn’s famous poem ‘Halloween’, written in 1785, was one of his longest works and described the common folk practices and supernatural happenings of a Scottish Halloween night, including these fortune-telling traditions.

Among the bonny winding banks,
Where Doon rins, wimplin’ clear,
Where Bruce ance ruled the martial ranks,
And shook his Carrick spear,
Some merry, friendly, country-folks,
Together did convene,
To burn their nits, and pou their stocks,
And haud their Halloween
Fu’ blithe that night.

TURNIP CARVING

Whether you’re a Halloween fanatic or not, chances are you’ve heard of the timeless tradition of pumpkin carving. This age-old practice has stood the test of time and still remains a beloved activity for friends and families today. Plus, it’s a great craft to keep the kids entertained for hours, so long as you don’t mind a bit of mess or your house smelling of pumpkin for the next 3 days.

Pumpkin carving wasn’t originally just a means for decorating your windows and doorsteps, it was used to ward off evil spirits. Interestingly, during the early 19th century, the Celts didn’t turn to pumpkins for this purpose but instead…drum roll please, used turnips, or neeps as the Scots affectionately call them. Now, if you’ve ever cooked with turnips before, you’re probably thinking how painstaking it must have been to hollow out and carve this root vegetable – and you’d be right. The choice of turnip was down to accessibility, usually plentiful after the recent harvest. It wasn’t until the first Scottish and Irish immigrants travelled to North America, where they discovered pumpkins to be much larger and more convenient to carve, that these surpassed in popularity. Our Channel Farm pumpkins are an absolute triumph this year and will make the perfect canvas for your lanterns! Although, there’s far more to pumpkins then just carving spooky designs. Once you’ve scooped out all your seeds and innards, pop these aside and save them for cooking or baking with later. Here are just a few delicious and creative ways to get the most out of your pumpkin leftovers:

  • Roasted pumpkin seeds
  • Pumpkin Puree
  • Pumpkin stock
  • Compost

GUISING

Another traditional practice used to protect the Celts against malevolent beings was the tradition of Guising. During the ancient Pagan festivals, when spirits were believed to drift across the border between this world and the next, the Celts would disguise themselves to blend in with these ghosts. Masks were donned, costumes crafted and children would make their way through the neighbourhood, receiving fruits and nuts for protection. In the past, songs and dances were common in exchange for gifts. Nowadays, handing out fruit instead of sweets will earn you a pretty sour response.

HAUD YER HAUNS

It seems the Scots loved a challenging game, particularly ones involving no hands and a sweet treat. Among these traditions, one that has endured the test of time is the game “Dookin for apples”, an ancient Celtic pastime. It remains a popular and amusing game at Halloween parties to this day. Players are tasked with the seemingly simple yet entertaining challenge of retrieving floating apples from a basin of water using only their mouths or by spearing them with a fork clenched between their teeth.

Another messy yet tasty traditional Scottish Halloween game involved treacle scones, a blindfold, string and once again, no hands. A line of string would be hung above the players heads, adorned with sticky hanging treacle scones which participants would race each other to eat. Nowadays, these scones have been replaced with donuts as these are much easier to tie string around. Why not immerse yourself in the rich Celtic traditions and try one of our treacle scones in the Larder this month, specially made by our in-house pastry chefs? Don’t worry, we’ll be serving these treats on a plate with a lovely cup of tea, not on a string.

BANNED FOODS

Finally, and perhaps the spookiest Scottish Halloween notion of all was the banning of sausage rolls. You heard right, a clause within the Witchcraft Act of 1735 pronounced the consumption of pork or pastries on Halloween forbidden. The Witchcraft Act abolished the hunting and execution of accused witches in Great Britain and made claiming to possess powers a criminal offence. Due to pork’s loose connection with witchcraft, with pork bones being used in spells etc, sausage rolls on Halloween were officially off the menu. Thankfully, this clause was repealed in the early 1950s, meaning we can indulge in as many delicious Loch Leven’s Larder home-made sausage rolls as we please. But those ancient tales of pastry-less times still send a shiver down our spines. We can’t picture October without the savoury, smoky flavours of our home-made Pork and Veggie sausage rolls, they are simply to die for.

 Hosting a spooky gathering this season? Why not serve our savoury pastries and any snacks of your choosing alongside Cottage Delight’s Roast Pepper dipping sauce for a bloody and theatrical finish.

Embrace the Scottish Halloween celebrations this year by visiting Loch Leven’s Larder and exploring our seasonal assortment of home decorations. Discover exquisitely crafted pumpkin ornaments, eerie wall decor, and aromatic, cozy candles. Immerse yourself in age-old traditions and indulge in freshly baked scones for a delightful treat. Grab pumpkins and turnips for carving, nuts for burning, and locally grown Channel Farm kale for culinary delights—or perhaps a touch of fortune-telling.

From all of us here at the Larder, we wish you a spooktacular All-Hallows-Eve.

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