'Such as in thick depriving darknesses,
Proper reflections of the error be,
And images of self-confusednesses,
Which hurt imaginations only see;'
From Sonnet 100 by Fulke Greville (1554-1628)
The three days from 31 October to 2 November are associated in both Pagan and Christian mythologies with the remembrance of the dead and the spirit world they supposedly inhabit. Tomorrow is All Saints Day or All Hallows as it is sometimes called and the 2nd November is All Souls Day. In the far west of Cornwall the nearest Saturday to Halloween was celebrated as Allantide. We’ve heard from Miss Courtney before – this is what she has to say about Allantide.
'The shops in Penzance would display Allan apples, which were highly polished large apples. On the day itself, these apples were given as gifts to each member of the family as a token of good luck. Older girls would place these apples under their pillows and hope to dream of the person whom they would one day marry. A local game is also recorded where two pieces of wood were nailed together in the shape of a cross. It was then suspended with four candles on each outcrop of the cross shape. Allan apples would then be suspended under the cross. The goal of the game was to catch the apples in your mouth, with hot wax being the penalty for slowness or inaccuracy'.
M. A. Courtney ‘Cornish Feasts and Folklore’ (1890)
Ron Hutton in ‘Stations of the Sun – A History of the Ritual Year in Britain’ is convinced that in pre-Christian times as the pastoral year came to an end, there was a festival to mark this turning point - it might even have been celebrated as the pre-christian new year. Samhain bookends the celebration of Beltane that we saw in May, unfortunately the evidence for Samhain is rather more sketchy.
However there is definitely a numinous undertone of darkness at this time of year. The summer has ended and harvest is over. The byres may be full, but the dark months are ahead. As we shall see later, to the Anglo Saxons, November was ‘blod-monath - blood month’ the traditional month for the slaughter of animals. Leaves too are falling – death is literally in the air.
Another Samhain clue is to do with the lighting of ‘jack o' lanterns’. Long before the US adopted the habit of celebrating Halloween with pumpkin lanterns, such lanterns were made in Scotland out of large swedes and were called ‘samhnag.’ The lights inside were lit to ward off evil spirits because it was believed this is the time when the membrane between the physical world and the spirit world becomes porous.
There are also long established Celtic traditions of dressing up as malevolent spirits. In earlier times this involved young men painting their faces black or white and making mischief in the streets – the origin of ‘trick or treating’, indeed when I was growing up in Yorkshire, Halloween was still called ‘Mischief Night’.
So something with Cornish apples for Allantide. Here’s a really scrummy apple cake. If you peel the apples throw the peel over your shoulder and it will form the initial of the man you will marry. Don’t do this if you are already married – it may form the wrong letter.....
Spiced Apple Cake
4 dessert apples - mine were from an unnamed Cornish tree.
A spice mix made to your taste - I made one of 1 clove, 1 tsp coriander, good grate of nutmeg and 1 tsp cinnamon
A syrup made from the juice of one orange, 60g butter, 70g soft brown sugar and half a teasp of the spice mix
A Cake Mix
250g self raising flour and the rest of the spice mix
splash of milk.
Oven 180c 9" spring form cake tin lined with one piece of foil - no holes! - butter and flour it well.
Make the syrup and then cool it. Core the apples (you can peel them - just see how tough the skins are) Thinly slice them around their equator.
Pour a couple of tablespoons of the syrup into the tin and then lay the apples neatly on top in several layers. Pour over the rest of the syrup.
Make the cake mix in the usual way, creaming the butter and sugar, adding the eggs and flour, add a splash of milk to make a good dropping batter. Pour over the apples, make a slight well in the middle so the cake cooks flat on the top.
Cook for an hour at 180c. Leave to cool in the tin.
Turn out and serve with creme fraiche.
'Meg fain wad to the barn hae gaen,
To win three wechts o' naething;
But for to meet the deil her lane,
She pat but little faith in:
She gies the herd a pickle nits,
And two red-cheekit apples,
To watch, while for the barn she sets,
In hopes to see Tam Kipples
That very nicht.'
From 'Halloween by' Robert Burns (1759-1796)