Admittedly, I’ve been a little lax with this blog in the last week – if was of course half-term and the days were spent juggling outings, appointments and ‘I’m bored’ – however I did notice (and possibly for the first time) Vast quantities of Christmas products in shops alongside Halloween things.
When I was a child in the 80’s Halloween was very much on its own, it followed back-to-school which rather depressingly always fell in July and preceded Bonfire Night which, aside from fireworks and sparklers wasn’t really the big event (and foodie push) that it is today.
Bonfire Night was never heralded by large adverts of rosy-faced children in knitted hats clutching rare breed hotdogs in brioche rolls with a side of ‘lighter style’ slaw – there weren’t any glamorous articles advising how to entertain with enamel mugs of hot chocolate or mulled wine, wrapped in rough linen with a cinnamon stick tied to the side with rustic twine. But it was a special occasion in so much as I was allowed a ‘mad cow burger’ with a floppy, melted piece of ‘fake’ cheese and lashings of overly sweet ketchup – with a can of Top Deck shandy on the side.
Historically, there have always been dishes associated with Halloween and Bonfire Night – Halloween cakes made to ward of the devil were often part of country culture and were made until the middle of the twentieth century. Bonfire Night with its Guy and fireworks required something easily left unattended so jacket potatoes were often eaten, having been abandoned to the wood or coal fired oven whilst the family watched the fireworks and then served simply with good butter and salt – to be eaten with a spoon – sometimes a luxurious glug of cream was poured into a hole made in the top.
Today we are encouraged to used these events as a foodie platform – inviting some friends over to have supper after the display – providing a simple, autumnal, locally produced meal which showcases the ‘Best of British’ in a slow-cooked form (in case the display runs over) and can be served in pretty bowls with a torn chunk of artisanal bread, warmed of course.
Yet, sometimes the best recipes are the most simple and it’s hard to go wrong with a good stew with local meat – here in Wales we make Cawl, a Welsh lamb stew which was served with wedges of cheese (caws) and bread (bara).
Cawl is a glorious dish which can be made with pretty much any seasons vegetable, the fattier the meat the better and if mutton is obtainable – go for it. It has so much depth of flavour and can be left happily for hours whilst you go about your business. The most simple Cawl comprises meat, potatoes, onion and carrot, maybe a bit of turnip or swede and lots of seasoning. This should please all meat eating guests. Follow with some warm gingerbread, very traditional on Bonfire Night (especially the heavier Parkin with its oatmeally solidity) and a glass of ginger wine. For children, toasting marshmallows is a must – there is something wonderfully decadent about the hot, crisp and gooey mallow, so hot that it almost burns the lips as it passes through.
Mulled cider is perfect to offer guests and paper cups are fine – handmade pottery cider beakers, although they look splendid, do not fare well with darkness and children. I combine 2 litres of good, still local cider with 1 litre of cloudy Apple juice, 1/2 tsp cinnamon, a good grating of nutmeg, a couple of tablespoons of clear honey, a thumb of ginger bruised and, finally, I stud some small apples with a couple of cloves and float them in the pan. Warm without boiling and serve.