Flowers, Folklore, and Food for a Celtic Autumn
Updated: Oct 11
I love October! It’s my favorite month of the year, and autumn is my favorite season. After all, what’s not to love? There are the trees, their leaves set ablaze in glorious red, yellow, and orange. There’s the chill in the air, and some days are downright blustery (which energizes me). In the U.S., there are pumpkins and Jack-o-lanterns everywhere as well as scarecrows, Indian corn, ghosts, and the occasional witch. It’s a time for wearing cozy sweaters and snuggling under blankets. Finally, for Americans, it’s time for the smell and taste of pumpkin spices: cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, ginger, and clove. Oops! Sorry. I know that last one is controversial. But again, how can you not love October? For me, it is the epitome of autumn and, on the Celtic calendar, it is autumn’s last hurrah. On Samhain (Oct. 31st—Nov. 1st), winter begins.
So, this week’s blog is a celebration of the season—with a Celtic twist. It’s a look at the flowers blooming now in the Celtic lands as well as some of the best trees for Fall color. Since autumn, and October in particular, are about the harvest, I will discuss the fruits and vegetables that are ready to pick this time of year in the UK and Ireland. I’ve compiled a list of great dishes for autumn from Ireland, Scotland, and Wales along with links to recipes. And, naturally, I’ll mention a little Celtic folklore along the way. Are you ready? Here it goes.
When I researched which flowers bloomed in Ireland and Scotland in the autumn, the most frequently mentioned flowers were chrysanthemums (aka mums). Mums start blooming in September and continue until hit by frost. They come in a variety of colors, but especially appropriate for the season are the yellow and orange blooms. There is also a mum that is a deep red-orange and the combination of the three colors in a garden or a bouquet is reminiscent of Fall leaves. Australians consider this flower a symbol of love.
Autumn crocus is another beautiful Fall-bloomer. It comes in a few varieties, most with purple-colored blooms that range from violet to lilac to mauve. If you decide to plant this crocus in your garden, be careful, especially if children or dogs have access to your plants. All parts of the crocus can be toxic if ingested.
In autumn, the flowers of the gorse bush (aka furze in Scotland) are lit with golden blossoms, brightening the landscape. These cheerful flowers have a scent that is coconut-like. In Celtic folklore, gorse is associated with protection.
While these flowers come into their glory in the autumn in Ireland and Scotland, they are not specifically connected to either place. Here are a few plants more connected to these Celtic areas.
The Scottish bluebell begins blooming in spring and lasts into the autumn months. Its purplish-blue flowers are shaped like bells. In Celtic folklore, bluebells are one of the favorite flowers of the faeries and are said to call them to processions.
The Scottish Flame Flower is a climbing plant. Its petals are deep red. During autumn, the flowers will give way to berries that are sapphire blue.
Scotch Heather comes in a few varieties that blossom in the autumn. Sister Anne’s pinkish flowers pair beautifully with the gray blooms of the Velvet Fascination type. There are a couple others to choose from as well. They come in pink, white, or cream.
Basil Thyme has deep purple flowers in autumn. The plant is a culinary herb that can be used as a thyme substitute. It is a member of the nettle family. Nettle soup is an Irish favorite this time of year but make it with Stinging Nettle rather than this cousin. In Celtic folklore, nettle is quite helpful. It dispels fear, strengthens and protects you, and helps you deal with crises.
Roses are still clinging to the vine, although they are about done for the year, so pluck them while you still can. In Ireland, the Rose of Sharon is blooming at this time of year, but don’t be fooled by the name. The plant is not actually a rose. It’s a member of the hibiscus family.
The Rowan tree, however, is a member of the rose family. Its leaves make a gorgeous autumn display, turning a bright yellow, red, or deep burgundy. In the Fall, berries of bright red or orange appear. They are edible and, when mixed with apples, make delicious preserves.
Other trees in Ireland and Scotland that make a beautiful Fall display are Alder, Beech, and Sycamore (a member of the maple family).
Fruits and Veg
Get your berries now before they’re gone. Some summer fruits, such as strawberries, are still available—but they’ll be dying soon. Snatch them up now to freeze them or use them for preserves. In addition to strawberries, now’s the time to stock up on blackberries, raspberries, gooseberries, bramble berries, and blueberries. You definitely need to get the bramble berries and blueberries before the end of this month. Celtic folklore warns that, after Samhain, the Puca (a mischievous, shapeshifting faerie) spits on them.
Apples are available all year round nowadays, but they are the fruit most associated with autumn. Grab a bushel and make seasonal favorites like pork, apples, and red cabbage, caramel apples, and apple cider. If you’re able to peel the entire apple in one go, drop the peel into water and watch it form the first letter of your true love’s name.
On the vegetable side of things, now’s the time for root veggies: carrots, celery (and its lesser used but highly nutritious root, celeriac), potatoes, beetroot, leeks, and green onions. Some above ground vegetables can be harvested in the autumn too. Among them are aubergines (eggplant), courgettes (zucchini), cabbage, and kale.
Celtic Dishes for the Fall Season
Now that the harvest is in, it’s time to eat! Here are delicious traditional dishes from Ireland, Scotland, and Wales that are perfect for autumn’s chilly nights (or any other time really). Just click the name to go to the recipe website.
Coddle: a traditional stew that has as its foundation onions, potatoes, bacon, parsley, and anything else you want to throw in the pot. Irish soda bread would be a perfect accompaniment and the recipe’s on the same website.
Colcannon: a hearty serving of potatoes, cabbage, and ham. Can you get more Irish?
Scones and Blackberry Jam: Need I say more?
Irish Oatmeal Pumpkin Porridge: I can hear some Irish readers wincing, but I got the dish from the www.irelandbeforeyoudie.com website which is based in Ireland and run by Irish people, so blame them for this blatant Americanization of good old Irish oatmeal. But give it a try. There’s a reason—and a good one—why we Americans love pumpkin.
Mince and Tatties: I grew up on this, although my mother called it Shepherd’s Pie (it’s not). It’s simple but delicious. I don’t have a recipe to give you for this one, but just cook ground beef in a skillet (season as you like) and pour it over good buttered mashed potatoes. Top with a gravy, if you want. Other vegetables are optional.
Cullen Skink: I know the name sounds odd but it’s simply creamy potato and leek stew with haddock. Clicking the name will bring you to the British recipe. If you prefer recipes with American measurements, click here.
Rumbledethumps: Come on. Admit it. The name intrigued you. It’s a vegetarian casserole with veggies and cheese, and how can that be bad?
Cock-a-Leekie Soup: Warm comfort for a chilly night.
Cawl: a traditional Welsh stew made with lamb and vegetables.
Glamorgan Sausages: Despite its name, it’s vegetarian. It’s made from Wales’ national vegetable—leeks—and Caerphilly cheese (a nutty Welsh cheese) coated in breadcrumbs and pan fried. Note: I wanted to use an authentic Welsh recipe, so it has some ingredients that are measured in grams. These can easily be converted to ounces by using an online conversion calculator. Click here for one.
Angelsey Eggs: Not just for breakfast, this traditional dish joins boiled eggs with mashed potatoes, cheese, and cream. Enjoy!
Welsh Onion Cake: Just five ingredients but oh so yummy (and filling).
Potato and Leek Soup: As mentioned above, leeks are the national vegetable so how could I not include this hot, original version of vichyssoise?
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Slan go foil!