Oiche Shamhna, or Halloween night as we now know it, was a perfect time to predict the future. With the boundaries between the worlds of the living and the dead so thin, there couldn’t be a better time for a little bit of magic. A lot of the ways to predict the future included using food. No wonder, as food and drink were so abundant at this time.
Cake – Barmbrack
The barmbrack is a tasty and traditional Halloween fortune-telling fruit cake made with dried fruits, spices, and tea. It goes very well with a cup of tea too! But great care must be taken when eating it, as somewhere inside there is hidden a ring. It is said that whoever finds the ring in the barmbrack will be married within the year. Barmbrack traditionally would have had more items than just a ring inside, there would be a coin for wealth, a thimble for spinsterhood, a stick for marriage problems, and a rag for poverty baked inside too. But these days there’s usually just a ring. It’s safer that way.
One way for a girl to predict who she would marry was for her to peel an apple, keeping the skin in one long piece, then throw the peel over her shoulder. The apple peel would take the shape of the initials of her future spouse.
When playing the popular game ‘Bobbing for Apples’, young women would carve their initials into apples before dropping the apples into water. If a man picked a young woman’s apple up between his teeth, he would be her future husband. As foretold by the apple.
A young person wondering what the future had in store for them would cut an apple in half to examine the seeds. If there were two visible seeds that meant early marriage, if three could be seen it indicated wealth in the future.
Apple seeds could be stuck to a young woman’s face to predict which suitor would be her future spouse. The seeds were to be named, and the last seed remaining on her face after the others had fallen was said to be the future husband.
Placing apple pieces or seeds under one’s pillow on Halloween night was said to invite prophetic dreams. Presumably dreams of future spouses, if we are staying on track with the ‘apples predicting romance’ thing.
And the last apple fortune-telling game. At midnight on Halloween, if a girl eats an apple in front of the mirror, her future spouse will appear in the mirror beside her. There are many variations of this ritual, for example, the girl should be brushing her hair, or the apple should be in a certain amount of pieces, but eating an apple in front of a mirror is the common denominator. I will be sure to never eat an apple in front of a mirror for fear that a strange man will appear, can you imagine how creepy that would be?
A girl would be blindfolded and sent into a field to pull up the first cabbage she could lay her hands on. This cabbage would foretell what sort of marriage she was to have. If she pulled a healthy cabbage, she would have a good and kind husband. If she pulled a rotten cabbage, she would have an unkind or cruel husband. The amount of earth attached to the roots of the cabbage directly related to the wealth her future husband would have, so if her cabbage had a big clod of muck hanging out of it, she was in luck! Unless the cabbage was also rotten, I suppose.
The cabbage was, and still is, used in a very delicious traditional Halloween dish called colcannon. This is a mixture of mashed potatoes, kale, and onion, with butter, salt, and pepper added. This dish is a fortune-telling wonder. It can tell the eater many things. For instance, if the eater almost chokes on a thimble that was hidden in their dinner, that means that they will never marry. If the eater puts a forkful of colcannon in their mouth and breaks a tooth on a coin, lucky them! There will be great riches in their future. But seriously, chew slowly and carefully on Halloween, it’s a dangerous time to eat.