All Hallows Eve and Pandora’s Box

by Anna

Halloween is upon us again and quite honestly I have really been looking forward to carving my pumpkin and making soup out of the orange flesh. Should I remark that I am nearly 30?

When I was younger, Halloween – as it is celebrated today – did not exist. I grew up in Germany and during my childhood years in the late 80s and early 90s I remember celebrating the common harvest festival or thanksgiving, though not to be compared with the American celebration. Long before “trick-or-treating”, I used to go round houses on St Martin’s Day (11 November) with a little home-made lantern, singing traditional songs and hoping to get a few pennies or sweets in return. Once, my lantern, equipped with a real candle, as you did back then, caught fire and left the lantern in a pile of ash and me in tears. Oh, bitter-sweet childhood.  Also, there is All Saints’ Day on November 1st, which is kind of the same tradition of remembering the dead, referring to All Hallows Eve.

It wasn’t until a few years later, then a riveting teenager, that I was very much into the history of witches and pagan customs and decided to have a fun night in with friends where we all dressed up and had a ball of a time. Of course I transformed myself into a witch. Way better than all the witches’ costumes around these days! This is my personal first instigated memory of Halloween.

Of course we heard more and more about it in American TV shows and I suspect that was the way how it finally encapsulated the rest of mainland Europe. Pandora’s Box had been opened and spilled it’s content all over the world. It is interesting though to learn that it actually originated in Ireland, where it is linked to the Celtic festival of Samhain, which comes from the Old Irish for “summer’s end” and is thought to have pagan roots. Ironically, it was “shipped over” to America with the many Irish settlers in the 19th century that set up base there and soon morphed into a yearly nationwide children’s event. From America it made its way back over to Europe, strangely starting with France (not so sure why, since the French usually don’t approve much of foreign customs) and from there spreading out to Germany and the rest of the world.

Personally, I’m not really bothered by all the hype, particularly the marketing side of it. But, following the tradition of giving thanks for the harvest at the end of the year and together with the mystic belief to ward off evil spirits, I thoroughly enjoy my own little ritual of carving and soup making.

Though the first time I tried pumpkin soup, I was repulsed! The bland flavour and slimy texture really didn’t do it for me at all. I needed a few more years to mature and carve my own very first pumpkin until the realisation set in that it is such a waste to just throw away all the remains. So off I went in search of a suitable, non-slimy and flavourful recipe for pumpkin soup.

Nowadays I don’t need the instructions anymore, I just do the following:

1. Take the biggest pot you have and fry a chopped onion in a little oil until soft.
2. Add 3 chopped cloves of garlic and fry for a couple of minutes.
3, Chop all carved pumpkin flesh into small pieces and add to the onions.
4. Add chopped potatoes equal to the amount of a third of the pumpkin flesh.
3. Fill the pot with water until all pumpkin flesh and potatoes are well covered.
4. Season with salt, pepper and 2 or 3 bay leaves.
5. Bring to the boil and simmer until all the pumpkin flesh and potatoes are soft, about 30 to 40 minutes.
6. Puree the ingredients and simmer for another 5 to 10 minutes.
7. Take off the heat and add one or two teaspoons of mustard. Careful not to use too much!
8. Season to taste and enjoy with some crusty bread.

And after another few years of maturation I proceeded to use the pumpkin seeds as well. I rinse them under running water to get rid of as much stickiness as possible, place them onto a grease proof paper, coat them in oil and sprinkle with salt and dry them in the oven at about 130 Celsius for 20 to 30 minutes or longer if they are still too wet. It’s a great nibble for dark and cold evenings.

Happy Halloween!