“Soul! Soul! for an apple or two!
If you have no apples, pears will do.
If you have no pears, money will do.
If you have no money, God bless you!”

This and other variations of the souling song was the fore runner of the trick or treat antics currently practiced at Halloween. The poor children of the parish would go around to their better off neighbours, usually in disguise and sing for the little soul cakes that people made in readiness for their spectral visitors.

The church and other charities would bestow the cakes on the needy often with soul papers containing prayers for the deceased. The beneficiary would be expected to sing rhymes, psalms and hymns before being given the treats which they were told would free a soul from purgatory.

The cakes were distributed on All Souls Day which falls on the 2nd November and unlike the present day Halloween, the custom was contrived by the Christian church in an effort to wipe out the Celtic custom of Samhain which falls on the 31st October. The fact that it only partially succeed is evidenced in the intertwining of and confusion surrounding the two festivals.

The cakes themselves took many forms, some flat and round like biscuits others much thicker and more like buns. Some were spiced and contained fruit others much plainer. All contained milk and eggs.

Whether you feel inclined to rescue a soul from purgatory or not the cakes are quite tasty. Not sure your ghoulish visitors will appreciate a fruit bun instead of a bag of fizzy cola bottles so don’t be surprised if you find yourself in line for a bit of trickery!

Soul Cakes – The Recipe
This recipe makes 14 biscuit type cakes. They can be decorated with icing sugar if you want to go the extra mile.

• 340g plain flour
• 170g sugar
• 170g butter
• 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
• 1/2 tsp ground mixed spice
• 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
• 1 beaten egg
• 2 tsp of white wine vinegar

Preheat the oven to 200C and grease 2 flat baking trays
Thoroughly mix all the dry ingredients into a mixing bowl
Rub in the diced butter until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs.
Add in the beaten egg and white wine vinegar and mix with a wooden spoon until a firm dough is made.
Cover and put in the fridge for 20 minutes.
Roll out the dough to about 8 mm thick and cut into rounds with a pastry cutter.
Place on greased baking tray and bake in the oven for 15 to 20 minutes at 200C until slightly coloured.
Delicious warm or cold!


About SueK

Author, freelance writer and small scale farmer.
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