Darina Allen: Eat, drink, and be scary this Halloween

Darina Allen: Eat, drink, and be scary this Halloween

Trick or Treat is one of the most exciting and fun celebrations of the entire year.  I love how kids all over the country spend hours in happy anticipation, plotting and planning their costumes, disguises, scary tricks and wizardry. And I can’t bear how their enthusiasm will need to be dampened this year. 

Poor little dotes — robbed of their innocent fun because of Covid-19 restrictions. I keep wondering what the kids make of all this. Amazingly some seem to just take it in their stride — perhaps they think this is all normal. Others are super anxious depending on how much they overhear from adults, radio, TV...hard to avoid it.

Well, how about a Monster Halloween Cooking Session with spooky music and lots of ghost stories and games? We definitely have to have a barmbrack — soak the fruit in strong Barry’s Tea a day or two before and don’t forget to hide the Halloween charms in the fruity batter: 

  • If you find a ring in your slice, you’ll be married within the year.
  • The Stick — a bad sign, an unhappy marriage.
  • A Rag — bad news too, your destiny is for a life of poverty.
  • A Coin — a promise of riches.

These can also be hidden in a big bowl of colcannon, a traditional Irish Halloween dish — a little needs to be left on the window sill to appease the fairies and chase away the spirits or you could also be in deep trouble.

As children, we had a variety of Halloween games: many involved divination and being blindfolded.

Apple Bobbing was a favourite, and then there were the Three Saucers, arranged in a line — one contained water, one clay and the third held a ring. I seem to remember being spun around three times while blindfolded, then reaching out with my hands to touch a saucer. Water meant you were about to embark on an overseas journey, clay meant you would soon go to your grave and yet again the ring indicated that matrimony was nigh. 

But now for fun in the kitchen:

‘Dragons eggs’ are easy and fun to do. Hard boil eggs for 10 minutes. Peel them and drop into beetroot pickle juice, they turn a scary purply colour.

Any number of spooky, scary shapes and concoctions can be made with children of all ages from a meringue mixture, that we call Púca. How about making these willowy ghosts…

Devil’s brains made of popcorn will also be a hit, as will this Cobweb Cake.

Buy a giant pumpkin, preferably with a stumpy stem, the kids will have hours of fun scooping out the seeds and flesh. Seeds can be roasted and tossed in extra virgin olive oil and maybe a sprinkling of chilli flakes to nibble as a snack. The flesh can then be used to make a delicious pumpkin soup to serve in the pumpkin shell.

Maybe light a few bonfires in the garden and organise a spooky feast. Have a safe and happy Halloween.

Wizard’s Soup in a Pumpkin Shell

Serves 6

1 cup onion, chopped

1 cup potato, chopped

3 cups of pumpkin, chopped

2 tsp thyme leaves, optional

5 cups of chicken or veg stock, or stock and milk mixed

Flaky sea salt and lots of freshly-ground black pepper

A pinch of chilli flakes if you fancy

Roasted pumpkin seeds (see recipe)

    Served in a hollowed-out pumpkin

    One can use water, chicken or vegetable stock and season simply with salt and freshly-ground pepper. Complementary fresh herbs or spices may also be added.

    Choose a large pumpkin. Carefully remove the lid, preferably with the stump attached. First, scoop out all the seeds and filaments. Separate the seeds and toast as below. Scoop out the flesh, being careful not to damage the shell. Chop the flesh and use to make the pumpkin soup.

    Melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. When it foams, add potatoes, onions and pumpkin and turn them until well coated. Sprinkle with salt and freshly-ground pepper. Cover and sweat on a gentle heat for 10 minutes. Add the boiling stock. Boil until soft and liquidise. Do not overcook or the pumpkin will lose its flavour. Adjust seasoning. Pour the boiling soup into the pumpkin shell. Cover with the lid and serve hot with some toasted pumpkin seeds on top.

    Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

    Roast pumpkin seeds with salt or sugar and add them to breakfast cereals, breads, or simply nibble to your heart’s content. Alternatively, dry the seed and save for next year’s crop.

    Pumpkin seeds

    Sea salt

    Preheat the oven to 120ºC/250ºF/gas mark 1⁄2.

    Remove the seeds from the flesh and rinse under cold water. Lay a single layer on a baking tray and sprinkle with a generous amount of sea salt.

    Dry roast in the oven for 30–40 minutes, by which time the seeds should be nice and crunchy.

    Halloween Colcannon

    Colcannon is another traditional mashed potato dish like Champ, but with kale or cabbage instead of spring onions. It was traditionally eaten at Halloween and shared with the fairies to keep evil spirits away. For another variation try mashed parsnips, a delightful addition.

    Serves about 4-6

    450g (1lb) Savoy, spring cabbage or kale (kale is the most traditional)

    1.3kg (3lb) 'old' potatoes, e.g. Golden Wonders or Kerr’s Pinks

    about 225ml (8fl oz) milk

    salt and freshly-ground pepper

    50g (2oz) butter

    Scrub the potatoes and put them in a saucepan of cold water Add a good pinch of salt and bring to the boil. When the potatoes are half-cooked after about 15 minutes, strain off two-thirds of the water Replace the lid on the saucepan and put onto a gentle heat, leaving the potatoes to steam until they are cooked.

    Meanwhile, if using cabbage, remove the dark outer leaves, wash the remainder, cut it into quarters, remove the core and cut finely across the grain. Boil in a little boiling water or bacon cooking water until soft. Drain and season with salt, freshly-ground pepper, and a little butter.

    When the potatoes are just cooked, put the milk and the finely-chopped shallots into a saucepan and bring to the boil. Pull the peel off the potatoes and discard. Mash the potatoes quickly, while they are still warm, and beat in enough boiling milk to make a fluffy purée. (If you have a large quantity, put the potatoes in the bowl of a food mixer and beat with the spade.) Then stir in the cooked cabbage and taste for seasoning. For perfection, serve immediately in a hot dish with a lump of butter melting in the centre.

    Colcannon may be prepared ahead up to this point and reheated later in a moderate oven 180ºC/350ºF/gas mark 4, for 20–25 minutes. Cover while reheating so it doesn’t get too crusty on top.

    Dragon’s Eggs

    Makes 8

    Pickled beetroot juice (see recipe)

    8 eggs, hard-boiled

    Homemade mayo


    First cook the eggs. Bring a deep saucepan of water to the boil. Lower the eggs carefully into the boiling water: 10 minutes from the time the water returns to the boil will be adequate. Drop into a bowl of cold water and run under tap with completely cold water. Peel, fill into sterilized Kilner or preserving jars and cover with beetroot pickle juice (see below). Allow to macerate for 2-3 days before using.

    Serve with mayonnaise on a bed of watercress.

    Note: the beetroot pickle dyes the egg white a scary purple colour

    Halloween Pickled Beetroot

    Serves 5-6

    1lb (450g) cooked beetroot (see below)

    8oz (225g/1 cup) sugar

    16fl oz (475ml/2 cups) water

    1 onion, peeled and thinly sliced (optional)

    8fl oz (225ml/1 cup) white wine vinegar

    Dissolve the sugar in water, bringing it to the boil. Add the sliced onion and simmer for 3-4 minutes. Add the vinegar, pour over the peeled, sliced (diced or cut into wedges) beet and leave to cool.

    Note: The onion can be omitted if desired.

    Leave 2 inches (5cm) of leaf stalks on top and the whole root on the beet. Hold it under a running tap and wash off the mud with the palms of your hands, so that you don't damage the skin; otherwise the beetroot will 'bleed' during cooking. Cover with cold water and add a little salt and sugar. Cover the pot, bring to the boil and simmer on top, or in an oven, for 1-2 hours depending on size. Beetroot are usually cooked if the skin rubs off easily and if they dent when pressed with a finger. If in doubt, test with a skewer or the tip of a knife.

    Dracula’s Cheesy Brains

    Flavour popcorn with grated Parmesan or Cheddar, mustard and cayenne pepper, then shape into ‘brains’ and serve at Halloween as part of a spooky spread.

    Enough for 12 ish

    1 ½ tablespoons (2 American tablespoons) vegetable oil, plus extra for shaping.

    125g (4 1/2 oz) popcorn

    400g (14oz) finely grated Parmesan and Cheddar cheese

    Few pinches cayenne pepper

    Heat the oil in a large saucepan (or do in two batches). Tip in the popcorn, cover and shake the pan to coat the kernels. Cook over a medium heat until the corn stops popping — about 4-5 minutes, shaking the pan every so often. Take off heat and sprinkle with a little salt.

    Mix finely grated Parmesan, Cheddar cheese and a pinch of cayenne pepper. Toss over the popcorn and mix well until completely coated.

    These can be made a few hours before serving.

    Spooky Meringue Púcas

    A Púca means ghost or spirit in Gaelic — primarily a creature of Celtic folklore — so easy and fun to make.

    Serves 4-6

    2 egg whites

    110g (4oz/1/2 cup) caster sugar

    You will need a piping bag with a plain ‘éclair nozzle’.

    Beat whites until stiff but not yet dry. Fold in half the sugar. Beat again until the mixture will stand in a firm dry peak. Fold the remaining sugar in carefully. Fill into the piping bag. Cover a couple of baking sheets with parchment paper. Pipe a small blob of the meringue onto the paper pulling the piping bag upwards quickly to create a willowy point.

    Bake in a very low oven, 100ºC/200ºF/Gas Mark 1/4 for 4 hours approx. Allow to cool completely.

    Meanwhile, melt some chocolate and fill into a paper piping bag. Decorate the meringues by piping little dots for eyes and a little oval for a scary mouth. Arrange on an appropriate plate, maybe on a bed of edible soil (see recipe below) with wood sorrel dotted here and there.

    Serve with a bowl of softly-whipped cream.

    Chocolate Soil… sounds scary but it tastes delicious

    100g (3 1/2oz) caster sugar

    2 tablespoons water

    75g (3oz) dark chocolate chopped or grated into small chunks

    In a saucepan on a medium to high heat place the sugar and water, give it a stir but try not get any water crystals on the side. The sugar will melt and start to boil and bubble. You want the mixture to reach to 135°C. If you don’t have a thermometer, it's when mixture starts to turn a golden brown.

    At this stage, you want to work fast and pour the chocolate mix into the pot while whisking. It will dry out and turn to 'soil' almost immediately. Magic. Cool on a nonstick baking tray. It keeps for ages.

    Scary Strawberry Ghosts

    Another simple recipe to make with the kids for their Halloween feast.

    Makes 20

    20 Large strawberries

    100g best-quality white chocolate

    100g dark chocolate

    Lay a sheet of parchment paper on a tray. Put the white chocolate into a small pyrex bowl over a saucepan of cold water. Bring to the boil and turn off the heat immediately (the water should not touch the base of the bowl). Allow to sit until the chocolate melts.

    Catch each strawberry by the calyx and dip in the melted chocolate until the fruit is almost fully submerged. Allow to develop a drip at the base, then lay each on its side on the parchment paper.

    Meanwhile, melt some dark chocolate also. Fill into a parchment piping bag and decorate each strawberry with eyes and a smile or a frown.

    Good to know: a toothpick dipped in the dark chocolate also works well to create the expressions. Enjoy!

    Spider Web Cake

    Lovely and delicious as it is, but even spookier if you top it with púcas and spiders!

    Serves 8

    175g (6oz) soft butter

    150g (5oz) caster sugar

    3 eggs, preferably free-range

    175g (6oz) self-raising flour

    Chocolate Icing

    175g (6oz) icing sugar

    50g (2oz) unsweetened cocoa powder

    75g (3oz) butter

    75ml (3fl oz) water

    75g (3oz) caster sugar

    Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4.

    Put the soft butter, caster sugar, eggs and self-raising flour into the bowl of a food processor. Whizz for a few seconds to amalgamate and turn into the prepared tin — make a dip in the centre so it rises evenly. Bake in the preheated oven for 25-30 minutes approx. or until golden brown and well risen.

    Cool in the tin for a few minutes, remove and cool on a wire rack.

    Next, make the chocolate icing. Sieve the icing sugar and cocoa powder into a mixing bowl. Measure the butter, water and sugar into a saucepan. Set over a low heat and stir until the sugar has dissolved and the butter is melted. Bring just to the boil, then draw off the heat and pour at once into the sifted ingredients. Beat with a wooden spoon until the mixture is smooth and glossy. It will thicken as it cools.

    Lemon Glacé Icing

    110g (4oz) icing sugar

    1-2 tablespoons freshly-squeezed lemon juice

    1 x 20.5cm (8 inch) sandwich tin buttered and floured. Line the base of the tin with parchment paper.

    Sieve the icing sugar into a bowl. Add enough lemon juice to make a softish icing.

    Pour the chocolate icing over the cake and allow to drip down over the side. Meanwhile, fill a paper piping bag with a fluid glacé icing. Fold over the top and snip off the point to make a writing pipe.

    Quickly, pipe a continuous circle from the centre to the outside. Then use a cocktail stick to draw the icing inwards and outwards to create a spider’s web.

    Decorate with spiders and púcas if available and serve on a Halloween plate or cake stand.


    Ballymaloe Cookery School Online…

    In keeping with the current need to Stay Home and Stay Safe Ballymaloe Cookery School invites you to join us virtually for a cookery demonstration from the comfort of your home. We are running a series of live streamed cookery demonstrations, next Wednesday. Why not sign up for Afternoon Tea and Cakes.


    Wild food of the week….

    Rosehips (Rosa canina): the hedgerows are dotted with ripe rose hips, packed with vitamin C. Roger Philips, author of Wild Food, claims they’ve got 20 times more than oranges and are often attributed with the ability to prevent urinary tract infections, as well as relieve dizziness and headaches. Rosehips are little red globes containing many seeds. They grow on the dog rose found in hedges, woodland and scrub all over Ireland, Northern Europe and in much of North America. Rosehips are sweetened by a touch of frost, but these days with global warming we might be left waiting.

    Rose Hip Syrup

    Serve with ice cream or use as the basis for a drink.

    Makes 1.2 litres

    2.7 litres (5 3⁄4 pints) water

    900g (2lb) fresh rosehips

    400g (14oz) granulated sugar

    Bring 1.8 litres (3 pints) of water to the boil. Meanwhile, chop or mince the rosehips and, just as soon as they are ready, add them to the water and bring it back to the boil. Remove from the heat and allow to infuse for 15 minutes. Strain through muslin. Put the pulp back into the saucepan, add another 600ml–1 litre (1–1 3⁄4 pints) of water and bring to the boil, infuse and strain as before.

    Pour all the juice into a clean, stainless-steel saucepan. Reduce uncovered until 850ml ( 1 1⁄2 pints) of liquid remains. Add in the sugar, stir to dissolve and allow to boil for just 5 minutes. Pour the syrup into sterilised bottles. Seal with screw-top caps.

    More in this section


    The best food, health, entertainment and lifestyle content from the Irish Examiner, direct to your inbox.

    Sign up
    Cookie Policy Privacy Policy FAQ Help Contact Us Terms and Conditions

    © Irish Examiner Ltd