Halloween traditions, rituals, games and recipes to try

In the final part of her four part series on apples, which are currently in season, KATE RYAN reflects on the fruit’s association with Halloween and the rituals and games surrounding it. And she shares some recipes too
Halloween traditions, rituals, games and recipes to try

A boy plays Snap Apple, just one of the traditional games associated with apples, around Halloween.

APPLES, along with potatoes, cabbages, turnips, and hazelnuts, are the taste of an Irish Halloween, Samhain.

Equally embraced for game playing as for eating, it’s perhaps no surprise that in times past October 31 was also referred to as ‘Snap Apple Night’.

There are close to 70 different varieties of apple native to Ireland, not including wild ones. Better known as crab apples, these tiny puckeringly tart fruits are picked in autumn and put to good use as the base of fruit jellies and jams, because of their naturally high levels of pectin for setting.

I remember the fun of apple bobbing, even into my adult years. It’s impossible to take yourself seriously while dunking the head into a vat of water, blindly trying to bite into a floating apple. Often, I’d throw in a lemon – for added jeopardy!

Referring to Halloween as Snap Apple Night comes from the other popular pastime of trying to take a bite of an apple strung from the ceiling - a game that is almost impossible to win!

There are also ritual games associated with marriage, such as peeling the skin from the apple in an unbroken strand then throwing it over the shoulder. If it lands in the shape of a letter, it foretells the name of a future husband.

Or a young lady who sits in front of a mirror at midnight combing her hair whilst eating an apple, will see the image of her future husband appear in the mirror over her shoulder. I don’t know about you, but that sounds terrifying!

The shenanigans associated with Samhain, the old Celtic festival celebrating liminal time when the veil between this world and the Otherworld is at its thinnest, and easiest for humans and spirits alike to pass between and inhabit each other’s realm, are all about fun and merriment.

Rather than spend the night scared and frightened of ghosts, ghouls, and spirits, as Hollywood would have us believe, we welcome it. 

We party with the spirits, throw off polite behaviours, make wishes, and cast spells. It’s our time to celebrate the final days of harvest when food, and life, is at its most abundant before we retreat for the long winter ahead.

The association of apples as a symbol of fertility is more biblical than Celtic, which equates the apple with the Otherworld – a distinctly ‘unchristian’ idea. The festival of Samhain coincides with the old belief that apples should not be picked after November 1, for fear the Púca would poison them by spitting on those still on the tree.

Still, today, August to October is the harvest season for all apples: eating, cooking, dessert, and cider apples. After this, only apples that have been harvested and stored, wrapped in newspaper or straw, and kept in a cool, dark place should be eaten.

Of course, this tradition flies in the face of the expectation of year-round apples, especially those imported from abroad. With ever greater proof that eating foods grown seasonally and locally has less impact on global issues, such as climate change or unnecessary food miles, should we maybe heed the Púca’s apple mischief once more?

Of course, the best thing to do with apples is to eat them! As delicious, eaten as a sweet dish or a savoury dish, turned into juice or cider; jam or chutney; frozen or dried; cooked into a sweet pie or cooked with sage and thick, sticky sausages. An apple a day will keep the doctor, and Púca, away; foretell marriage, symbolise fertility, and provide an evening’s amusement with games and laughter. Is there anything the humble apple cannot do? I very much doubt it!

Over the past four weeks, it has been an education talking to apple growers and producers of delicious hand-crafted drinks made from apples, and I have been experimenting with what to make with them.

So, now it’s your turn – enjoy!

Mulled Apple Juice. Picture: Stock
Mulled Apple Juice. Picture: Stock

Future Orchard Mulled Apple Juice

To make this more for adults, add a dash of brandy or swap the apple juice for cider.


750ml Future Orchard Apple Juice

Zest of half an orange

Grating of nutmeg 3 cloves

Half stick of cinnamon

1 tbsp runny honey


  • Place a saucepan over a low heat, add apple juice, lemon zest and spices. Warm gently. Just before serving, add honey and swirl to dissolve. Decant into cups. Wrap chilly hands around the cup and sip!

Future Orchard Apple Jurice.  Pictures: Elaine Garde
Future Orchard Apple Jurice.  Pictures: Elaine Garde


This is my version of a Negroni using Killahora Orchards Pom’O and Future Orchards Apple Juice.

Ingredients (makes two cocktail servings)

50ml Vodka 25ml Killahora Orchards Pom’O

50ml Future Orchards Apple Juice

2 drops bitters

1 tsp Highbank Orchard organic apple syrup


  • Half-fill a glass tumbler with ice. Pour over each of the ingredients, stir to combine

Nohoval Apple Wines.
Nohoval Apple Wines.

Nohoval Apple Wine Tawny


This recipe from Nohoval Apple Wine founder, Géraldine Emerson, has been adapted from Nigella Lawson.

Ingredients (makes four servings)

8 tbsp of Tawny

2 tbsp of Longueville House Brandy

¼ tsp of ground cinnamon

4 tbsp of caster sugar

Juice of a lemon

300ml cream

4 cinnamon sticks for decoration


Mix in a bowl the Tawny, Longueville House Brandy, ground cinnamon, sugar and lemon juice until the sugar is fully

  • dissolved.
  • In a separate bowl, whisk the cream to a soft peak consistency.
  • Gradually incorporate the Tawny mix into the cream and mix until you have a lovely fluffy cream.
  • Spoon into four glasses, and garnish with a cinnamon stick in each.

Caraway seed cake. Picture: Stock
Caraway seed cake. Picture: Stock

Ice Wine, Apple and Caraway Seed Cake

This is a twist on an old classic seasonal apple cake popular in Cork.


6 eating apples (for making 150g fresh apple puree)

3 tbsp whole caraway seeds, toasted

180g soft unsalted butter

150g white caster sugar

3 medium eggs

225g all-purpose flour

3 tsp baking powder

50ml of Nohoval Arctic Wine or Killahora Orchards Ice Wine

Royal icing sugar


  • To make the apple puree, peel, core, and quarter six apples in a saucepan with a dash of water. Cover and cook until broken down into pulp. Spoon out into a bowl, set aside to cool. Any puree you don’t use for the cake will be lovely used for breakfast in porridge or with yogurt.
  • Set the oven temperature to 170 degrees Celsius, fan. Grease a 1lb loaf tin.
  • In a dry frying pan over a medium high heat, toast the caraway seeds lightly. Set aside to cool.
  • Put butter and sugar into a large bowl, beat together until light and fluffy. An electric whisk makes this easier!
  • Add and whisk the eggs in one by one until fully combined.
  • Sift in the flour and baking powder, add half the caraway seeds, and fold the mixture together.
  • Add the wine and apple puree, beat together to form a light batter.
  • Pour into the loaf tin and bake for 1 hour. Test with a skewer, if it comes out clean the cake is cooked. Take out the oven and allow to cool completely.
  • Mix up some royal icing with another drop of apple liqueur to create the consistency of a frosting.
  • Pour over and let drizzle down the sides of the cake a little. Garnish the cake with remaining caraway seeds and chocolate dipped apple sticks.

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