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  • Writer's pictureChristine Dorman

Food and Fun for a Celtic Halloween

Updated: Oct 12, 2019

Now that the decorations are organized for your Celtic All Hallows’ Eve party (if they’re not, click here for ideas), it’s time for FOOD and FUN! This post will offer suggestions for Samhain-like activities, but first your guests will need to fuel up. Here are some Samhain-themed dishes, munchies, and liquid refreshments.

The Samhain celebration took place around a communal bonfire.
The Samhain celebration took place around a communal bonfire.

The center of this most significant Celtic festival was a communal bonfire. It had a number of symbolic reasons for being there, but it had a practical purpose too. A sacrifice had to be offered and it had to be a burnt offering. At this celebration / sacred ritual, the Celts offered up something highly prized in their culture. Forget the stories you’ve heard about the Celts and human sacrifice. At this feast, they sacrificed cattle. So the main dish at a Samhain gathering was roast beef!

If roast beef is a little too tame for you, consider serving the beef in a Jack-o-Lantern Meat Pie. Just chop up onion and bell pepper (orange would be great for a splash of Halloween color). Heat a bit of oil in a pan and sauté the veggies until they’re soft. Add ground beef and season it to taste (I recommend onion powder, garlic powder, celery seed, basil, salt, pepper, and a touch of allspice). While the meat is browning, take a Pillsbury Ready-Made pie crust and lay it out on a lightly floured surface. Carve a Jack-o-Lantern face in it by using a sharp knife to cut out eyes, a nose, and a mouth. If you need inspiration or a guide for the design, there are numerous online templates, for example, on the website Pumpkin Lady. Preheat the oven to the temperature listed on the Pillsbury box for a one-crust pie. When the meat is browned through, pour the meat and veggie mixture (including the juice) into a round 9” pie tin. Bake it per the directions on the pie crust box or until the crust is a golden brown. Note: I purposefully did not give amounts for the ingredients. If you’re not comfortable riffing it, there are many meat pie recipes online. For example, has a 4 ½ star meat pie recipe. It’s a two-crust pie, but that’s okay since two crusts come in the ready-made box. Just line the pie tin with one crust, pour in the meat mixture, and follow the recipe from there!

Here are three more beef entrée ideas. Woman’s Day online has “30 Halloween Dinners to Die For including Jack-o-Lantern Stuffed Peppers (orange, of course) and Ghost Pizza Bagels. Just add ground meat to the pizza to make it a beef dish (or leave it as a cheese pizza for vegetarian guests). Food Network's website offers a recipe for Ground Meat Ghoul-ash by Rachael Ray.

Of course, for your vegetarian guests, and just for variety, not all of the food needs to be beef-centered. Roast veggies (especially squashes) could be used for the bonfire theme. And there are more aspects to Samhain than just bonfires and roasted beef.

Ghosts are a key ingredient to a Celtic Halloween, but they don't have to be represented by cupcakes.  Try Spooky Shepherd's Pie or this Haunted Graveyard Cocktail instead.
Ghosts are a key ingredient to a Celtic Halloween, but they don't have to be represented by cupcakes. Try Spooky Shepherd's Pie or this Haunted Graveyard Cocktail instead.

Ghosts are a main ingredient in the Samhain celebration. Recipes for ghost-decorated food are abundant online (especially in the cupcake and cookie department). But ghosts can show up in entrees and snacks as well. The concept for Ghost Bagel Pizzas mentioned above easily can transition to a full-sized pizza. Or try Spooky Shephe’s Pie for a hearty Fall dish. For lunch or snack food, try Ghost Sandwiches or Ghost Toasts. Both are easy to make. You will need a large ghost-shaped cookie cutter (which can be purchased from dollar-type stores). For the sandwiches, use a white sandwich bread (sourdough, oatmeal, or rye would be good options if you want more flavor than regular white bread offers). Cut the bread into ghost shapes and fill with whatever you’d like, from turkey to ham and cheese to chicken or tuna salad. The possibilities are limited only by your imagination. Sliced black or green olives make great eyes! If you’re not a stickler for having white ghosts, try pumpernickel bread filled with cream cheese. The Ghost Toasts are even easier. Just cut pita bread into the ghost shapes and toast under the broiler. Serve these with your favorite dip. The website Best Recipe Box has a recipe for Jack-o-Lantern Cheesy Taco Dip, if you want to keep all the food Halloween-centered.

Of course desserts are just made to be haunted. There are tons of ideas for these online. Here are two from Food Network’s website: Ghostly Cupcakes and Pull Apart Graveyard Cupcakes. A graveyard dessert I’ve made quite often for Halloween is Jello Pudding Haunted Graveyard. It simple to make, fun to decorate, and really yummy! The recipe can be found here on Kraft’s My Food and Family website.

Samhain is a time for gathering the crops into the house in preparation for the long winter, so fruits, vegetables, and grains very much belong at this party. A raw veggie platter and fruits would provide a fresh harvest feel. Grains can be represented by breads and/ or crackers. And what are crackers without a spread or dip? Dry. So here’s one possibility: Spooky Spinach in a Bread Cauldron from Woman’s Day.

Apples played a significant role during the Samhain celebration (read more about it in the post on Samhain coming to the blog at the end of October). So apple anything is necessary to a Celtic-themed Halloween party. Go any way you want with them: spicy applesauce, apple cake, baked apples, good old raw apples. You can’t go wrong. Apples can even enhance your entrée. Try Cider-Roasted Pork Tenderloins and / or Apple Cider and Apple Basmati Rice, just two of a slew of apple-based dishes from Food Network’s list of Apple Cider Recipes.

Included in that list is the intriguing Poison Apple Punch. It’s decorated with apple slices and gummy worms and alcohol is optional.

Get your blueberries eaten now.  After Samhain, the Puca spits on them.
Get your blueberries eaten now. After Samhain, the Puca spits on them.!

Blueberries are another important fruit to bring to the party. Have them any way you’d like, in pies or muffins, crumbles or parfaits. Just have them now while you can. According to Celtic folklore, blueberries shouldn’t be eaten after Samhain. Why? Because after that, the Pooka spits on them!

Pumpkins? As you know, especially if you’re a regular reader of this blog, pumpkins are not a part of Samhain. Jack-o-Lanterns do come from a Celtic folklore story, but it involves a carved turnip, not a squash. When Irish and Scottish immigrants came to the U. S., though, they brought the story with them and began carving pumpkins for Jack-o-Lanterns. Feel perfectly free, therefore, to include the wonderful autumnal squash on your menu. It’s not just for desserts either. Roasted or mashed pumpkin makes a wonderful side dish. Pumpkin Soup (numerous recipes online) is a delicious taste of autumn. And, if you don’t like pumpkin, Jack-o-Lanterns can be created from alternative foods. For example, recipes for Pumpkin Cheese Balls can be found on both the Woman’s Day and Food Network websites. There Is even a Jack-o-Lantern Burger on Taste of Home’s website here.

An important element of the Samhain celebration was to welcome the ancestors back. That’s right. The Celts actually invited ghosts into their homes on Samhain. The fireplace was kept lit all night so the ghosts could warm themselves. Also, food was left out for them in case they were hungry after their journey back from the Otherworld. Often this food was cake. Here are a few cakes to make for the ancestors (and anyone else who might come to your Celtic Halloween). The Woman’s Day article “33 Easy and Spooky Halloween Cakes That’ll Sweeten Up Your Party” offers ideas such as Midnight Pumpkin Layer Cake, Salted Caramel Apple Snickers Cake, and Chocolate Pumpkin Cake with Meringue Ghosts. Food Network’s website has other options, including Chocolate Carrot Cake and Black Magic Cake.

Be sure to have cakes for the ancestors,like this Salted Caramel Apple Snickers Cake from Woman's Day.
Be sure to have cakes for the ancestors,like this Salted Caramel Apple Snickers Cake from Woman's Day.

Of course, what’s a party without liquid refreshment? In addition to the Poison Apple Pinch mentioned above, refresh your guests with Dragon’s Blood Punch or Bubbling Cauldron Punch. Recipes for these and other drinks for All Hallows’ Eve can be found on Food Network’s website and can be made with or without alcohol. If you’re having a Celtic Halloween celebration for adults and want to bring spirits to the party (other than those of the ancestors), check out Country Living’s “45 Easy Cocktails That’ll Delight Your Costume Party Guests.” There you’ll find recipes for Haunted Graveyard (with a spooky smoking rosemary garnish), a Washington Appletini, and Blood Orange Blackberry Rum.

So what can you do at a Celtic Halloween party besides just eat and drink? Plenty, but here are just a few suggestions. Samhain was a communal celebration. Everyone gathered together, shared in the activities, the rituals, and the food. But they also gave to the community. Each family or individual brought some of their harvest with them offered it up to be shared communally. So, while a Celtic Halloween celebration doesn’t have to be pot luck, invite your family and friends to bring something (food or drink) to be shared. Inviting the ancestors, as mentioned earlier, was a part of Samhain, so have an activity that honors this. You certainly don’t have to invite ghosts to the party (unless you’re comfortable doing so) but, if it’s a family celebration, each guests (or a couple volunteers) could share stories about some relatives who’ve passed on. This could be serious, funny, poignant, or all three, depending on how you want to do it. For example, I could tell the story of how my mother, as a young child in the hospital with polio, found out that her eldest brother had died. She said she dreamt that he came to sit beside her on a bench but he was a skeleton. When her mother next visited her, my mother asked if Howard had died and her mother, who had been trying to keep it from her, admitted that he had. He was ten. Or I could talk about my great-grandmother, Catherine Fallon, and her sister, Julia, who told my mom stories of their childhood in Ireland, of watching the lights of the faeries on the hill or of the ghosts they encountered on their way to and from the outhouse at night. Also guests could come dressed as their favorite (deceased) relative and share why they chose that person.

Of course, ghost stories would be quite appropriate at a Samhain celebration as would any fortune-telling activities. So read tea leaves, tarot cards, and / or palms. If you’ve lost your crystal ball, no worries. Just fill a bowl with water then pour a little oil on the water, and gaze into it.

Divination was a part of Samhain activities, so get out your cards, tea leaves, crystal balls, and other fortune-telling tools.
Divination was a part of Samhain activities, so get out your cards, tea leaves, crystal balls, and other fortune-telling tools.

If those games are too spooky for you, how about good old bobbing for apples? I’m not saying that the Celts invented the game, but they did play a game called apple-dooking at Samhain, so…. Or play Dodge the Puca. All right, I just made that one up. There is no such game. But there could be! Have someone dress up as the Puca (who is a shape-shifter, so there is a lot of room for creativity). Then play a game similar to tag or hide and seek. The Puca is on the loose on Samhain, sneaks up on travelers, and throws them into ditches. So anyone tagged or found by the Puca would be eliminated. It would be fun to have someone who has a charm of some kind (a basil leaf, a willow stick, even a blueberry) who could could stealthily track the Puca and eliminate him or her before everyone else is out. Whatever you at the party, the important things are to have fun and to honor the Celtic roots of All Hallows’ Eve.

Thanks as always for reading! If you enjoyed it, please like and share. Be sure to let me know in the comments below what you think and what you'd like to read about in future posts.

Next week: Celtic Spirituality and Thin Places

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