A soul! A soul! A soul cake! Please, good Missus, a soul cake. An apple, a pear, a plum, a cherry, Any good thing to make us all merry: One for Peter; two for Paul; Three for Him who made us all.
— A Traditional Chant for All Souls Night
It’s that time of year when days grow short and nights long, dark, and cold, and a sense of mischief fills the air as ghouls, demons, and witches rile the living fearfully. Costumed people roam home-to-home seeking coveted sweets, while homeowners welcome frightful trick-or-treaters with mouthwatering treats. Halloween, “All Hallows’ Eve,” or Hallowtide, begin on the night of October 31 and ends on November 2 when all souls are commemorated. Halloween is a holiday rooted in the ancient, pre-Christian Celtic festival of Samhain in 1745 when Celts (Ireland, the United Kingdom, and northern France) believed the dead returned to earth. The night was celebrated with bonfires and costumes to ward off ghosts of the risen dead. In Mexico and Latin America, All Saints and Día de Los Muertos (All Souls Day), is celebrated much the same as Samhain with bonfires, parades, and costumed people dressed as saints, angels, and devils.
The American Halloween tradition of trick-or-treating has its roots in an English tradition known as ‘going a-souling,’ and replaced a practice of leaving food (soul cakes) and wine for roving spirits. During the All Souls’ Day parade in England, ‘soulers’ (children and poor citizens) would roam home-to-home singing and begging for food. Instead of candy, they would receive pastries called soul cakes in return for a promise to pray for the beneficent family’s dead relatives and friends. Soul cakes are often called ‘souls’ because they were made to honor the dead during Hallowtide. Typically, these small cakes are filled with an array of sweet spices (allspice, nutmeg, cinnamon, etc.), raisins and various fruity fillings. The dough is carved with a cross (alms) in the Christian tradition.
Today, in America, trick-a-treaters’ receive tons of candy in assorted wrappers instead of ale, warm soul cakes, and a penny. Though the tradition of going a-souling has morphed into a holiday filled with sweets, soul cakes are still popular and come in various assortments. You can buy them at bakeries as plan shortbread, or fruit-filled torts. Or you can fill your home with spicy aromas on All Hallow’s Eve with a simple recipe below. Using your own fillers, you can create a tasty traditional dessert to celebrate the holiday.
Traditional Soul Cake Recipe
This Soul Cake recipe is from the Cheshire region which borders North Wales. It’s a basic recipe that can be modified with various fillings.
Makes twenty four large, three and a half inch cakes
Two 1/2 cups of sifted all-purpose flour
Three /4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup butter (or vegan butter)
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoons of nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1/4 teaspoon salt
One egg, beaten (or vegan egg)
Two teaspoon of apple cider
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
- Whisk the flour, sugar, cinnamon, allspice, and salt together in a large mixing bowl.
- Add diced butter and mix until a crumbly consistency.
- Add beaten egg and white wine vinegar. Mix until it forms into a firm ball.
- Cover the bowl and chill for twenty minutes.
- Lightly flour a clean, flat surface and roll the dough out to 1/4-inch thickness.
- Using a cookie cutter, cut into large round circles.
- Use the end of a wooden spoon to press a cross shape into the cakes.
- Place on baking sheets lined with parchment paper.
- Add raisins to the top of the cakes if desired.
- With excess dough follow the same steps above to make more cakes
Bake until lightly brown for twelve – fifteen minutes. Soul cakes can be eaten warm or at room temperature.
This is great with tea or any warm drink.
Tags: Halloween, Hallowtide, All Hallow’s Eve, All Saints Day, All Souls Day, Soul Cakes, Samhain, ‘Going a-souling’ Soul Cake Recipe