An ancient Celtic festival, a goddess of gardens and fruits, and a mixture of many rituals over the centuries leaves us celebrating the macabre on the last day of October. Synonymous with pumpkins, Halloween is celebrated the world over, giving us all a chance to connect with our morbid, sinister sides. This Halloween, allow me to lead you through a dark, musty passageway to a table laden with food that celebrates the pumpkin!
On a dark, blustery 1 November, a harvest festival was celebrated by the Celts called Samhain. An ode to the change of seasons, it is said on this day, a portal opened to allow the dead to walk the earth once more. To appease their putrid bodies and troubled souls, the Celts gave offerings or 'treats' to keep them away.
Turnips or potatoes were carved out with ghoulish features and a candle placed next to them as an ominous tribute. In another part of the world, the ancient Romans worshipped Pomono, the goddess of gardens and fruits this time of the year and would lay out apples in her tribute.
These ancient rituals further down the centuries merged with religious customs as the Catholics celebrated All Saints Day on 1 November, for all saints who did not have a special day assigned to them, and thus 31 October was All Hallows eve!
By the mid-18th century, the Irish brought all their customs with them to the US and thus Halloween brewed into a thick cauldron of celebrating the macabre as we know it today. The pumpkin featured supreme as it replaced the Irish potatoes and turnips, proving a more formidable replacement as the ghoulish face in the front yard.
Sweet pumpkin pie
For I longed to see the goblins,
And the dainty-footed fairies,
And the gnomes, who dwell in caverns,
But come forth on Halloween.
Halloween by Arthur Peterson
1 pumpkin (about 2 kg), peeled, de-seeded and cut in small wedges
Pinch of nutmeg
½ tsp cinnamon
2 tbsp brown sugar (you may add more if you want)
10-12 sheets of filo
2-3 sticks cinnamon
1-2 leaves of basil
1 tsp of dried basil
¼ cup honey and half a lemon squeezed into this
1 cinnamon stick dipped into it for a few hours
Olive Oil ¼ cup
1 tbsp clarified butter or 'deshi' ghee
Boil the pumpkin pieces, then fry them with ghee while mashing them. Once they are mashed, add the cinnamon and nutmeg powder, cinnamon sticks and the sugar, then caramelise them, slightly browning them. Pre-heat the oven at 120 degree celsius for 10 minutes. Lay out a baking tray, grease it with the olive oil then lay out the filo sheets, three layers in the same direction, one top of the other and then on top of this, lather on ¾ of the pumpkin mash.
Make an extra filo layer on top of this brushing them with the olive oil, then lather the last bit of the pumpkin on top of this. Sprinkle the basil and some more nutmeg or sugar if you want on this layer. Make a final filo layer on top and generously brush it with the oil then stick it into the oven for about 10-15 minutes. Make sure the filo is cooked and the pumpkin might brown a bit more.
Serve it with an additional pouring of honey, spiced with cinnamon and lemon.
Pumpkin salada la Fearless Olive
The skies they were ashen and sober;
The leaves they were crispéd and sere-
The leaves they were withering and sere;
It was night in the lonesome October
Of my most immemorial year;
Ulalume by Edgar Allen Poe
1 pumpkin about 1-1½ kg
1 cup of brown lentils or moshur daal
¼ cup boiled kaon er chaal or you can use couscous
About 200g long yard beans or borboti, but you can use any beans here
1 medium sized onion finely sliced, 1 tsp garlic paste
1 tbsp nigella seeds or kalojira
Some chopped mint leaves and spring onions (the green parts)
2 hog plums or 'aamra', grated or freshly squeezed lemon to your taste
Olive oil about half cup
Salt to taste
Boil the pumpkins al dente, not completely soft as they need to retain their shape in the salad. Boil the daal separately with some salt, a drop of olive oil and all the garlic, till they are also al dente or not mashing up at the touch.
Sauté the beans with the onions in 1 tablespoon olive oil for about 2 minutes on high heat, with a bit of salt. Roast the nigella seeds till they pop. Mix all these in a bowl with the boiled kaon er chaal or couscous, grated 'aamra', olive oil and salt according to your taste. You may add some extra lemon. Add the mint and spring onions in the end for a final mix
This salad can be served as a side but it tastes best left in the fridge for about two hours. Mix well before serving.
Whole stuffed pumpkin
And has he companions to cheer him?"
"Aye, many," she said.
"The candles are lighted, the hearthstones are swept,
The fires glow red.
We shall welcome them out of the night-
Our home-coming dead."
Hallow-E'en, 1914 by Winifred M. Letts
1 large pumpkin about 2 kgs
2 cups long grained rice
250g Dhaka Poneer (preferably buy the one with kalojira or chilli flakes in them)
250g spinach leaves or water spinach (kolmi)
Whole milk (thickened) about 2 cups
½ cup sliced almonds, without skin and boiled
½ cup chopped spring onions
1 tsp mace or joitri, pinch of cumin powder, pinch of nutmeg
Coriander or dhaniya paste with crushed onions and kalojira
Salt to taste
Cut the pumpkin in a way that you can preserve the top part like a covering. Empty the insides. Separate the seeds from the pulp, dry them and salt them. Lay them out in a tray with salt and stick into the oven for up to 15 minutes till they crackle. Boil the rice with plenty of water and the pumpkin pulp. Separately, in the olive oil, fry the mace, onions, garlic for about 2 minutes then add the milk and cook for another 2 minutes, after adding nutmeg and cumin powder.
When the water in the rice is about to dry out, add this onion and mace mix and once the water separates from the oil, add the salt and pepper. Leave covered for about 5 minutes. The mixture should be moist enough to bend well in a mixer, but leave it watery. You might add some more milk or water. In a heated oven place the emptied shell of pumpkin.
Make sure it is emptied in a way that the pumpkin will not fall apart once cooked. Oil it well inside and outside and sprinkle the insides with some salt and pepper then leave in the oven for about 15 minutes. At this point add the rice mix with the spinach or water spinach leaves, sliced almonds and mix the poneer with this and leave in the oven for about 10 minutes. The pumpkin should remain intact and not give way.
Once out of the oven the pumpkin should act as a serving dish but should be soft enough to be eaten also. Sprinkle the dried and salted seeds on top and a dollop of the coriander paste and spring onions and squeeze some lemon juice also. Serve hot!