The spooky season is upon us once again! Whether you get super excited for Halloween or aren’t too keen on celebrating with ghosts and ghouls, Halloween is here to hold back the inevitable tide of Christmas songs, decorations and adverts, so we can all enjoy something about Halloween!
As you probably know, Halloween marks the end of the harvest season and brings with it so many activities, like pumpkin carving, trick-or-treating, and dressing up in scary costumes – these are great fun for all ages, but all these fun, silly dress-up games have deep roots in tradition. Some people used to believe that Halloween was a time of year when the boundary between worlds was thinner than usual, and so a lot of these traditions were designed to ward off ghosts and evil spirits.
Trick-or-treating originated in the Middle Ages, when people would go door-to-door in costume, performing short scenes or parts of plays in exchange for food or drink. This was meant to bring the household good fortune in the coming year. The gifts of sweets, candy, nuts or fruit were meant to symbolise offerings to fairies, good spirits and other supernatural legends to ensure good luck for the coming winter.
Carving a pumpkin is a great Halloween pastime, and harks back to an old Irish legend about a man called Stingy Jack who cheated and annoyed the devil to the point where he was literally not allowed into hell (wow, he must be a real pill!), and the devil himself cursed him to walk the earth forever, carrying a coal in a hollowed out turnip to light his way. People would carve scary faces into turnips and gourds to scare Stingy Jack away along with any other wandering evil (or just really annoying) spirits.
Dressing up in costume for Halloween is another custom that has roots in ancient traditions – in 16th century Scotland and Ireland, people would dress up for trick-or-treating in scary costumes, so as to imitate the spirits, fairies and other supernatural beings said to roam the earth on this day. The idea was that people could walk about unseen by ghouls and ghosts if they were dressed like them, so they wouldn’t get spooked.
One of our favourite things about this season is the availability of pumpkins – as well as making your Jack-o’-lantern, you can also use the pumpkin flesh to cook with in sweet and savoury dishes! You can roast the seeds too for a tasty and nutritious snack. If you don’t like the taste of pumpkin, you can always leave it in a rural wooded area so that squirrels and birds can enjoy it.
If you want to cook with pumpkin but aren’t sure what to make, check out this recipe for pumpkin cheesecake muffins! You can make it with either canned pumpkin or fresh, and top the muffins with pumpkin seeds, chopped nuts or anything you fancy. It looks like a lot of ingredients but this recipe is super easy and everything comes together quite quickly with no fuss. Perfect for a Halloween party, work fuddle, or for a delicious treat any time!
Pumpkin Cheesecake Muffins
1 can of pumpkin puree, or 450g of fresh pumpkin roasted until soft
60ml vegetable oil
2 large eggs
200g caster sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
188g plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
Note: pumpkin spice mix contains all of the above spices, so you can use 2 teaspoons of that instead
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
200g cream cheese, at room temperature
1 large egg yolk
1/8 teaspoon vanilla extract
Toppings -chopped nuts, toasted pumpkin seeds, cinnamon (optional)
Preheat your oven to 180C/350F or gas mark 4.
Mix the pumpkin, oil, and sugar together, either by hand or with a mixer on low.
Note: if you are using fresh roasted pumpkin, mash it with a fork or use a food processor to get rid of any big bits. Not sure how to roast your pumpkin? Slice it up into 2.5cm chunks, cover with foil and roast it in the oven for about half an hour on 200c/400F/gas mark 6.
Add in the eggs, one at a time, combining thoroughly after each egg. Add the vanilla extract and stir in.
Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and spices.
Slowly add flour mixture to liquids, combining thoroughly and scraping the sides of the bowl with a spatula until well combined.
Now to make the filling! Mix together the cream cheese, sugar, egg yolk and vanilla until well combined.
Grease your muffin tins or line with paper muffin cases.
Drop in spoonfuls of pumpkin mixture into each muffin cup or case until mostly full, and add smaller spoonfuls of cream cheese mixture on top. Swirl it around with a skewer to blend the filling and the muffin mix just a tiny bit.
Optional: top with crushed nuts, roasted pumpkin seeds or a sprinkle of cinnamon.
Bake for 20-30 minutes for standard sized muffins, 20-25 mins for mini muffins, or 30-40 minutes for jumbo muffins. Turn the tray around halfway through baking time to ensure your muffins are cooked evenly. Stick a metal knife or skewer in the cakey part of a muffin to ensure it is done – the skewer should come out virtually clean.
Store in the fridge overnight or for up to about 5 days – although let’s be honest, they won’t hang around for that long!