Halloween food traditions go back a long way – and didn’t always involve candy

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Halloween candy is a relatively new holiday staple – it didn’t become popular and widely distributed until the 1920s and 1930s, and didn’t become a major player until the 1950s. Here’s a look back at a few. treats, from apples to chestnuts, which people liked before candy.

Halloween is an opportunity for families to carve pumpkin lanterns. Now is the time for people of all ages to passionately debate the value of sweet corn. And, of course, this is the time for kids to go house to house as they feast on their favorite treats.

But Halloween candy is a relatively new holiday staple – only becoming popular and widely distributed in the 1920s and 1930s and not becoming a major player until the 1950s. So what treats were people enjoying? before that?

Ancient Halloween culinary traditions

Halloween is believed to derive from the pre-Christian holiday of Samhain, celebrated by the Celtic peoples. In Samhain, during which bonfires were lit, it was believed that the spirits of the dead had access to the next world. During Samhain, a common practice was mumming, in which troupes of amateur actors went from house to house and performed in exchange for food and drink.

Samhain was then assigned to the Christian holiday of All Saints’ Day – or All Hallows Day – celebrated on November 1. Fittingly, All Hallows Eve, or what later became Halloween, fell on October 31. Halloween traditions came to the United States via Irish immigrants. around the middle of the 19th century, in the midst of the Irish potato famine.

Early on, people continued the millennial tradition of baking soul cakes, small round cakes that resemble a shortbread cookie. These cakes were distributed to the “soulers”, who were mainly children and the poor. They sang and said prayers on behalf of the dead while going door to door.

At that time, Americans carved pumpkin lanterns from potatoes and turnips. The tradition, which began in Ireland and Scotland, was to carve spooky faces from these tubers and place them near windows or doors to scare away wandering evil spirits such as Stingy Jack, who allegedly invited the devil to take a glass with him.

Apples and nuts were major treats

While sweet apples are now a popular treat during the Halloween season, apples had a much more prophetic – and menacing – purpose almost 200 years ago. In the mid-19th century, many Halloween celebrations involved popping apples – a tub was filled with water and apples, and players were trying to grab one with their teeth. Young singles competed to be the first to bite into an apple, which meant they would be the next to be allowed to marry.

Some parts of the United States have had Snap Apple Night parties, a relatively risky tradition in which an apple was placed on one end of a stick or string with a lit candle attached to the other end. The participants tried to take a bite out of the apple as the stick spun, trying to avoid the hot wax from the candle.

Apple jumping was a popular activity a few decades later in 1914 at a big Halloween party in Kansas hosted by Elizabeth Krebs. Tired of seeing her garden destroyed by young people celebrating Halloween every year – as it was often common for pranksters to wreak havoc on people’s property during this time – Krebs helped pioneers participate in parades and costume contests. with the aim of providing less destructive outlets to mark the holidays. .

In another apple tradition, young women peeled the apples and threw the peels over their shoulders in the hope that the peels would form the pattern of their future husband’s initials.

Americans also gathered occasionally on Halloween for the Nut Crack Night festivities, during which people ate freshly harvested hazelnuts and chestnuts. In some cases, a young man would assign names to each nut – the one that burned the most in a fire could mean his future sweetheart. Another tradition involved a young couple putting two nuts on the fire and seeing if they broke up or stayed together, as described in Mary E. Blain’s 1912 book “Games for Hallow-e’en”.

Halloween candy takes center stage

Sweetcorn is perhaps one of the oldest Halloween candies still consumed today, dating back to the 1880s. It is believed to have been invented for the first time by George Renninger, a candy maker at the Wunderle Candy Company of Philadelphia. In 1900, the Goelitz Candy Co. began to manufacture it in large quantities. Sweet corn was designed to look like chicken feed, because by the time sweet corn first appeared, about half of Americans were working on farms.

Halloween candy became very popular around the turn of the 20th century. Hershey’s milk chocolate bar was first produced in 1900, followed by Hershey’s Kisses seven years later. Chocolate was previously considered a luxury item rarely consumed by the average American, but the Hershey Chocolate Factory in Pennsylvania has made it possible to mass-produce chocolate at significantly lower prices. A 1906 advertisement in the New York Times boasted of homemade buttercups, toffees and Waldorf chocolates for 25 cents a pound, or about $ 7 today.

Although candy makers produced candies such as the Milky Way Bar and Snickers Bar in the 1920s and early 1930s, candy was not yet the Halloween treat it is today. . Sugar became more affordable around this time, which made candy cheaper to produce, but the trick-or-treat often involved handing out cookies, fruit, nuts, and even toys and money.

Organized trick-or-treating developed in the 1930s in part in response to dangerous Halloween pranks during the Great Depression, but this was suddenly interrupted when World War II broke out. Sugar rationing meant only a few had access to candy, so people had to get creative with Halloween cooking traditions. In the 1950s, candy makers were promoting their delicious Halloween products, especially during the height of the baby boom.

Halloween candy takes off

In the 1970s that all changed. Packaged candy produced in a factory was considered one of the only products to distribute, as many parents feared their children’s candy might be adulterated. The fear of Halloween candy likely started with a 1970 New York Times editorial suggesting that strangers could use the trick or treatment as a means of poisoning children, citing two unconfirmed incidents in the upstate. from New York speculating that an apple might have a razor blade hidden inside. Sales of Halloween candy in 1982 fell 20% to 50%, and 40 US cities canceled Halloween entirely, according to Eater’s “Gastropod” podcast.

A number of child deaths during or after Halloween that were not believed to be linked to poisoned candy have sparked widespread panic, with some communities banning trick-or-treat outright. Despite this hysteria, a comprehensive 1985 study found not even a single confirmed incident of a child’s death or serious injury caused by Halloween candy, as CNN previously reported.

This year, the National Retail Federation predicted that consumers will spend a record $ 10.14 billion on Halloween, including $ 3 billion on candy. But as you munch on your KitKat bar this Halloween, remember that 150 years ago you might have eaten chestnuts and found a future spouse.


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