Welcome Downton Abbey fans. Halloween is a day away, and the East coast of US and Canada coping with the effects of Hurricane Sandy. We have had high gusting winds and pouring rain in our area, but fortunately no damage. I pray you are taking the necessary precautions to keep you, your family and your community safe. If you are out of harm’s way but have no power, you should be fine with a well-stocked pantry. Just try to imagine you are living in the Edwardian era when there was no electricity.
UK fans will be viewing the Season 3 finale next Sunday, while Americans are looking forward to the Jan. 6 PBS launch. There really is something special about watching Downton on PBS Masterpiece.
You may find my Online Guide to Afternoon Tea helpful in understanding traditions and recipes to serve at your own tea party.
In honour of the holiday, today’s treat is Irish Barmbrack, traditionally served at Halloween.
Spreading the Word: Anyone can be a Downton Abbey Cook
A heartfelt thank you for sharing my passion for Downton Abbey, history and food. Connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and YouTube. And keep sending me your pics.
NEW Downton Abbey Pinterest Board: Downton Abbey UK has just launched the Eat Drink & Be Merry Pinterest Board with 35,000 followers. I am honoured to have been invited to be the Curator of the Board.
Downton Abbey Calendar Contest: Winners
This past week we held a contest, offering 2 copies of the new Downton Abbey 2013 Wall Calendar to fans who could tell me what the gift pictured here.
This scene from the Christmas episode is the featured photo for December. It is actually a publicity shot and does not appear on film. If you checked the footage, you would see the conversation taking place in the background while Violet opens her nutcracker. So the answer to my question is no, we will never know for sure what the gift was.
Winners: Rachel went the extra mile and checked the footage (she was the only one who was eligible to win), and Caitlin’s response was picked randomly for her unique guess of gift.
- Rachel Buchman from Atlanta, Georgia
- Caitlin Demmett from Bellmore, New York
Irish Origins of Halloween
I love how we can trace traditions back to their roots. Did you know that Halloween has ancient origins in Ireland? It was originally called Samhain, and the day marked the end of the harvest season for Celtic farmers. Irish immigrants brought their traditions to America and adapted to their new surroundings. Originally, turnips served as Jack o Lanterns, but pumpkins are so much easier to carve.
The Irish still celebrate Halloween with barmbrack.
Barmbrack means “speckled cake”. It is baked in either a loaf pan or cake pan depending on your family tradition. The brack foretells the future. Baked with charms, a piece is served to each member of the family, and your piece may contain a charm that will determine your fate:
- A coin: good things, hopefully, riches, on the way
- A ring: you’ll be married within the year
- A snippet of cloth: rags, poverty, bad luck in the year ahead
There are two ways to make barmbrack, as yeast or quick bread. This is the quick bread recipe with lots of dried fruit which makes a hearty fruit bread to disguise the charms.
Psychic Irish Barmbrack
- 2-3 cups chopped dried fruit (depending on how fruity you like it)
- 1 cup black tea
- 2 cups whole wheat flour
- 2 tsp. baking powder
- 1 large egg beaten
- 1 tsp. cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp. nutmeg
- 1/2 tsp. ginger
- 1/2 tsp. allspice
- 3/4 cup sugar (or plant based substitute, like Stevia)
- 3 small charms coin, ring, cloth
- Heat the fruit and tea in a sauce pan for 15 minutes and then let it cool. Retain the steeped tea to thin the dough if you need it.
- Preheat the oven to 350F and grease a large loaf pan or cake pan.
- Mix together with the rest of the ingredients (apart from the honey/golden syrup) and stir in the charms which you have wrapped in parchment paper. Mix until combined. If the dough seems too thick, add some milk or steeped tea.
- Bake for 60 minutes or until risen and firm to the touch.
- If you like a graze, melt honey or golden syrup and brush over the brack before you are ready to serve.
- Serve in slices to your family, but let them know there are charms inside to avoid any possible choking.