We are smack in the middle of apple season in Ireland…
And Halloween is just a few days away…
In our Irish home that can mean only one thing…it’s Apple Cake time!
Oh yes…Ireland+Halloween+Apples = Apple Cake in our Irish home and today’s gorgeous recipe comes from the Allen family…Rachel+Darina+Myrtle Allen. This recipe has been in their family for generations and it is delicious to the very core! (Sorry…I could’t help myself!)
For a change, I deconstructed the Allen recipe and turned it into these adorable single-servings for our brekkie this morning. They would be absolutely lovely served, hot out of the oven, with a scoop of vanilla ice cream immediately following dinner.
While I prepped and baked this morning, I couldn’t help but wonder how many Irish people remember that Ireland+Halloween+Apples have been closely linked for centuries. Probably not too many anymore.
In my mother-and-father-in-law’s time, everyone knew: they hadn’t yet succumbed to the ways of other places. In our time, however, we have been snookered into looking at the world globally and taking on board the commercialism of our celebrations…this means Halloween-a-la-America in many places around the world.
But I digress…
A few years ago, while researching my second book, Irish love & Wedding Customs, I came across a collection of handwritten manuscripts from the last century at the U.C.D. Folklore Library. On the pages were story after story about how apples were used on Halloween in celebratory games and for marriage divination.
Weeks later, I came across a painting called Snap Apple Night. It was painted by Cork-born artist Daniel Maclise in 1832. It is said Maclise was inspired to create the painting after attending a Halloween barn party in Blarney, County Cork.
Look closely at the painting…do you see the young couple sitting on the floor in front of the fire? The young man has his arm possessively around the dark-haired girl’s waist and just near her left hand is a bright green apple. To the right of the two love birds are a group of young men and women bobbing for apples. And, to the left of dead-centre, a man is trying to take a bite of an apple hanging from a string…he’s playing Snap Apple.
The people in the painting are “trick or treating” in an incredibly voluptuous way…a uniquely Irish way…a way we’ve lost sight of. (Sigh.) Can’t you just feel the tension of the lust and love and happiness between the people in Maclise’s painting? Fantastic…don’t you think?
Another Ireland+Halloween+Apples tradition from long ago, one not shown in Snap Apple Night, is a game of marriage divination whereby a person would peel an apple carefully in order to get one long piece of the skin. Then they would throw the skin over their shoulder and check to see what letter it formed on the ground. The letter was meant to signify the first initial of a future spouse.
I adore the old Irish ways and it is such fun to share the traditions and memories of long ago with my children. Much like the Allen girls handing down of a favourite family recipe, I hope that through my cooking and writing, I am handing down something from the past to the current and, one day, the future generations of our family. From our Irish home to you and yours wherever you call home…we wish you Oíche Shamhna Shona Daoibh (Happy Halloween)!
Irish Apple Cake
22g white flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
125g caster sugar
1 (organic) egg, lightly beaten
about 50-125ml milk
1-2 cooking apples, peeled, cored and chopped into bit sized pieces (Note: I suggest using 3-4 apples)
2-3 cloves, optional (Note: if serving in ramekins you will need 1 clove per ramekin)
1. Preheat the oven t0 180C/350F.
2. Sieve the flour and baking powder into a bowl.
3. Rub in the butter with your fingertips until it resembles the texture of breadcrumbs.
4. Add 75g of the caster sugar.
5. Make a well in the centre and add the egg and enough milk to form a soft dough.
6. Divide dough in two. Put one half into an ovenproof plate and press it out with floured fingers to cover the base.
7. Add the apples and the cloves.
8. Sprinkle over some or all over the remaining sugar, depending on the sweetness of the apples.
9. Roll out the remaining dough and put on top of the apples – easier said than done as this “pastry dough” is more like scone dough. (Note: my dough was too sticky to roll out so I just flattened it with my hands and then put it on top of the apples in the ramekins.)
10. Press the sides together, cut a slit through the lid, egg wash and bake for about 40 minutes or until cooked through and nicely browned on top.
11. Dredge with caster sugar and serve warm with Barbados sugar and softly whipped cream.
Additional Notes, Related Articles & Credits:
* From Living Library blog: “Lady Wilde, in her book Ancient Legends, Mystic Charms & Superstitions of Ireland wrote: “It is said by time-wise women and fairy doctors that the roots of the elder tree, and the roots of an apple tree that bears red apples, if boiled together and drunk fasting, will expel any evil living thing or spirit that may have taken up abode in the body of a man.”
* From The Order of Bards, Ovates & Druids: “In a Medieval Irish story Connla the Fair, an Irish prince, fell in love with a beautiful Faerie woman, who arrived on the Irish shore in a crystal boat. She offered him an apple from the world of Faerie; he took the fatal bite, and was hers forever. They set sail for her magical island where the trees bore both fruit and blossom, and winter never came. There they ate an ever replenishing stock of apples, which kept them young forever. An Otherworldly apple tree magically makes music which can dispel ‘all want or woe or weariness of the soul’. In Irish lore, the God Óengus offered three miraculous apple trees from the magical woods, Bruig na Bóinde (New Grange), as a wedding gift for one of the Milesians. One was full in bloom, one shedding its blossoms, and one in fruit. The deliberate felling of an apple tree was punishable by death in ancient law).
* The secret steamy history of Halloween apples over at NPR.og.