As Halloween is only a couple of days away, I thought I would be fun to make some simple spiced biscuits in the shape of ghosts!Halloween is one of the oldest holidays celebrated today, dating back over 2000 years. It’s origins lie in All Hallows’ Eve, an evening festivity held the day before All Hallows’ Day on November 1st. All Hallows’ Day is perhaps more commonly known as All Saints’ Day, a day when traditionally a feast was held to celebrate the saints. It falls on this day because November 1st actually marks to beginning of the Celtic calendar, and Christian holidays were often created to convert or replace pagan beliefs. All Saints’ Day was moved to November 1st by Pop Gregory IV in the 8th century; prior to this commemorations of the saints were held by different churches on different dates, mostly in the spring.
The Celtic New Year was called Samhain, and as well as being a 3-day harvest festival marking the end of summer and the beginning of winter, was also a festival to honour the dead. On this day, it was thought that the borders between the worlds of the living and the dead were at their thinnest and that spirits were free to roam the land of the living. Thus people would build bonfires and disguise themselves, wearing costumes to ward off these spirits.
By the 9th century the influence of Christianity had spread into Celtic lands. In 1000 A.D. the Christian Church placed All Souls’ Day (dedicated to remembering and honouring the dead) on November 2nd, half-way through Samhain. The older Samhain traditions of the ‘otherworldly’ remained and All Souls’ Day was celebrated with bonfires and dressing up in costumes.
The use of bonfires became especially prominent in the medieval and early modern periods, and came to be used to guide Christian souls in purgatory, as well as warding off witchcraft and the plague. Food also played an important part in the medieval Halloween festivities, and a tradition called “souling” developed in which children would sing and say prayers for the souls of the dead on people’s doorsteps in exchange for “soul” cakes. The cakes represented a soul being released from purgatory.
After the English Civil War in the 17th century, the government banned most autumnal festivals and hence, Halloween lessened in importance. However, in America by the 1800s it was gaining in popularity (helped by the flood of immigrants from Ireland and Scotland into the country) and developed its own American traditions.
Here in Britain, Halloween has traditionally been celebrated by games such as bobbing for apples and carving vegetables such as turnips and swedes. The use of pumpkins is a modern innovation imported from America, as is the tradition of trick-and-treat! The name Jack-o-lantern is said to originate from a folktale about a blacksmith named Jack who outsmarted the devil and wandered the earth as an undead soul. Trick-or-treating resembles the old tradition of souling, but it was in America in the 1920s when trick-or-treating in its modern form became popular.
These biscuits are really easy to make, and can of course be cut into whatever shapes you like.
Halloween Ghost Biscuits
- 150g flour
- 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp mixed spice
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon
- 50g butter
- 40g brown sugar
- 1 egg
- 1 tbsp honey
For the icing:
- Icing sugar
- chocolate drops to decorate
- Preheat oven to 180c and grease two baking trays
- Combine the flour, baking powder, mixed spice and cinnamon in a bowl
- Rub in the butter and then add the sugar
- Beat together the egg and honey and then add to the rest of the mixture
- Bring the mixture together to form a dough
- Roll out with a floured rolling pin to about 1/2cm thickness and cut out shapes. To get the ghost shape I used the top half of an easter egg cutter and cut a wavy line at the bottom
- Place onto the baking trays and bake for about 15 minutes
- Remove from the tray and cool on a wire cooling rack
- Make some glacé icing by mixing the icing sugar (sifted to avoid lumps) with water until it reaches the desired thickness (make sure it isn’t too runny or it will run off the biscuits!)
- Spread the icing on top of the biscuits and place two chocolate drops on the biscuits to make eyes