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From Ghosts and Shadows to Winter Appetite
Via A Feast for All Hallows & Skulls on the Line
Dearest Gentle Reader,
“October was always the least dependable of months... full of ghosts and shadows.”
I bet you thought I had forgotten you! I haven’t I promise, I have just given myself too much to do for the podcast because it is Autumn and I got overexcited. It turns out that I can’t create three episodes in a month and then also have time to write to you properly once a week. I had to use Joy Fielding’s quote as the opening of this letter just because it encompassed my mood so exactly.
One of my episodes is a Feast Menu for All Hallows with food symbolism, food folklore and even recipes that you can download. It may have been overly ambitious in the time I had, but I enjoyed it so much.
If you’re not a podcast person and still fancy it, I have created a blog post with the written version on my website. If anyone would like the download link for the free pdf of the recipes, just comment below and I will get the link to you. I have put a little taster (haha) below to tempt your tastebuds and even if All Hallows Eve isn’t your thing, these would be perfect for any autumnal celebration like Bonfire Night or just individual dishes in a bowl to eat in pyjamas in front of the telly, wrapped in what is nominally the cat’s fleece.
Our first course is either a gorgeously velvety Pumpkin Soup with Mushrooms & Blue Cheese crumbles served with warm cornbread & whipped chipotle butter for a devilish kick or temptingly crisp Spiced Carrot Fritters with a refreshing herb & pomegranate dip. I adore both of these options and would cheerfully have either as a main meal. The soup is so comforting but the toppings give it a fantastic boost of flavour and the fritters are perfect to enjoy with a Friday night in front of the telly, all crisp, craggy edges, soft spiced middle and salt licked off your fingers. The only problem with the cornbread & whipped spicy butter is stopping eating it early enough to leave space for other dishes.
The second course is either an earthy Baked sausages & Lentils with heavenly buttery Colcannon and Roasted Carrots and Beetroot with chilli, honey and thyme or a rich, gently spiced Pumpkin, Potato & Spinach Curry with Buttered Lentil Oven Rice accompanied by vampire defying garlic yoghurt, chutneys and flatbreads. The lentils and sausages are one of my favourite weekend dishes, all warm earthy goodness with tight skinned sausages and a special piquancy from the finishing capers and lemon juice.
You can just eat this on its own with big hunks torn off a baguette and some hot mustard on the side but if you can manage to make the Colcannon you won’t regret it. The buttery mashed potato, cut through with the dark green leaves is also good enough to eat on its own but it enhances the sausages and lentils to such an extent, that slightly humble ingredients become a celebration dish. The Roasted Carrots and Beetroots go with so many dishes, but the beautiful bright colours and sweet savouriness are the perfect finishing side here. They are also delicious with the buttered lentil oven rice to make a side into a main dish.
The Pumpkin Curry is rich from the coconut milk but the spices and the intense, irony greenness of the spinach lift it and give it vitality. The potatoes are a lovely surprise as they soak up all the fantastic flavours and enable you, if eating with the rice and flatbreads, to indulge in a rare treat: triple carbs! The buttery lentil rice oven rice is a triumph over lack of effort, you do so little and it gives back so much. This is another comfort food favourite that I can eat in a big bowl with just the garlic yoghurt & chutneys splodged all over the top: steaming tasty rice with ice cold yoghurt, perfect.
Our final course is obviously pudding and it is designed to be both mix and match and portable should you wish your guests to take it home, take outside to eat around a halloween fire or even just nibble over the best bit of an evening when you are convinced you are too full but still have ridiculous amounts of talking left to do. Our rule of three pudding is sticky, gingery Parkin, meltingly delicious honey fudge and last but not least sinfully dark chocolate tiffin. I don’t think I’ll need to tempt you to try this but I’ll just mention the intense gingeriness, the crisp bite of bittersweet dark chocolate and the intensely sweet creaminess of these perfect autumn confections.
I hope you enjoyed this little out-take and if you are one of my lovely readers who also listen to the podcast, thank you for your patience in allowing me to overwhelm you with my food prose.
I didn’t provide a story for the podcast as I have a collection of slightly scary stories for next week but I think you, Gentle Reader, deserve one for putting up with recycled material:
This is the tale of Dickie of Tunstead:
It was hundreds of years ago, ‘in the wars against the French’ they say, that Ned Dickson of Tunstead left his farm to go to fight. When he didn’t come back, folk supposed he’d been killed; and there was one at least who was very glad that Dickson had never returned from the wars. This was his cousin and his next of kin. When it seemed certain that ‘Dickie’ was never likely to come back, the cousin married a wife, and asserted his claim to Dickson’s estate. As there was no one to tell h8m no, he moved in with his strong-minded lady, and set up farming in Dickson’s place.
Things were going well for the new occupier, when one day Ned Dickson turned up, hale and hearty though toughened by many years of campaigning and privation. He was anything but pleased, though in no way surprised, to find that his ownership of the farm had been usurped by his relative. After making his identity very dear, and his intention of resuming ownership and occupation clearer still, he went to bed, once more master of his inheritance.
The cousin and his wife had hidden their surprise and chagrin at his reappearance as best they might, but once Dickson had removed himself to bed, their anger, jealousy and avarice knew no bounds. They regarded the farm as their own, and Dickson as the impostor. Why had he stayed away so long? Surely, after so many years, they had as much right to the farm as he had? Where could they go to ensure that they got such rights? The longer they talked, the more they felt aggrieved; but at the same time, the longer they talked, the more certain they became that no claim of theirs would ever be listened to while Dickson was above ground.
It was the wife, strong and purposeful, who saw the only way out. Nobody else but themselves yet knew of ’Dickie’s’ return, for he had changed greatly since he went to the wars, and had come straight home to the farm. He must be murdered while still asleep, that very night, and his body buried before morning.
How the murder was done has never been told; but perhaps after death the body was dismembered for easier disposal, and buried in and about the farmyard where an old bone or two in years to come would barely cause a comment, should it be found. Then the couple relaxed into their normal way of life again. But not for long.
Coming into the house one evening, they were horrified to see the skull of Dickson grinning at them from a window seat at the top of the main staircase. Hastily they reburied it, deeper and safer than before, but it was to no avail. Dickson’s skull refused to remain under the earth. He had come home to take charge of his farm, and that he intended to do.
As often as the skull was buried, so often it reappeared, at various places within the house. The cousin and his wife, hag-ridden with fear and plagued with guilt, could not keep their minds on their business, and after enduring the terror as long as they could, decided to move out. Dickie had regained his own.
New people bought the farm, undeterred by tales of the skull that went with it. They soon found it grinning its sardonic grin at them from various spots (though it seemed to like the window seat best). They decided to give it decent burial, though warned by local people that it would be of no use, and that if they tried it, they would only have themselves to blame when things went wrong.
The crops failed, the pigs ate their young, the cows dried up and the sheep dropped their lambs too soon. Strange noises could also be heard throughout the farmhouse.
Worried by this strange course of ill-luck, they remembered the prophecy, and dug Dickie’s skull up again.
Lacking an idea of what to do with it, they threw the skull into Coombes reservoir, however this act caused all the fish in the reservoir to die so the skull was fished out and brought back to the farm yet again. This time, to make sure he kept a benevolent if grisly eye on his old home, they nailed the skull to a rafter; and peace and prosperity returned to the farm.
That’s not the end of the tale though. The land which belonged to Tunstead Farm became known as “Dickie’s Land” and the skull became the farm's Guardian and protected it with a vengeance, no local person would be stupid enough to trespass on its land. Unfortunately the Northwestern Railway Company were not made aware of the skull’s power when they decided to build a railway bridge upon land once owned by Tunstead Farm.
The curse of Dickie’s skull soon began to have an effect on the building work as foundations which had been built collapsed on more than one occasion, one section of the bridge collapsed overnight burying all the workmen’s tools. In the end the company decided to put an end to the spiralling costs of going head to head with the curse and decided to build higher up the line at Dane Hey.
So it seems skulls can defeat railways, but even the person who came up with the excuse ‘this train is delayed due to a delay’ hasn’t had the nerve to blame Dickie just yet.
There has been no time sadly for me to find you a vintage remedy and a recipe but I saw this and thought you might enjoy it instead
“I’ve always enjoyed autumn and winter cooking more than summer cooking. I like the way you gradually turn in on yourself as the weather cools. Life slows down and so does cooking. Cold-weather dishes undergo slow transformations: alchemy takes place as meat and root vegetables, through careful handling and gentle heat, become an unctuous stew, a dish far greater than the sum of its parts. The techniques employed in the kitchen fug the windows and seal you in, and you find you want different foods. You can’t argue with your body as it craves potatoes and pulses: the winter appetite is about survival.” - Diana Henry
I must now bring this letter to a close but please don’t hesitate to get in touch via the comments or via any of my social media profiles/my website . If you have enjoyed this and would like to read further such nonsense and have not yet subscribed, please don’t hesitate to subscribe for free at the button below. You’d be very welcome and it would be a joy to write to you.