Today is All Hallows’ Eve, Hallowe’en, the first night in the ancient new year’s festival that Celtic language speaking people called Samhaine. We hardly remember that it was once a sacred festival, celebrating endings and beginnings, nor that it was “converted” by the Catholic Church into a day for honoring the dead. It’s possible that Samhaine originally honored the dead as well, since many peoples in northern Europe tended to see birth and death, the end of one year and the start of the next, the darkness overtaking day and growth subsiding into rest and decay, all as part of the same cyclic story.
By the time the Church felt a need to redirect attention, Samhaine was fully a day of the dead. In fact, the Church first tried to move the day to honor your recent dead to sometime in late spring, but the popular festival carried right on in late autumn. So the Church relented but stipulated that the day would honor the saints and other holy folks — the hallowed dead. This, too, was largely ignored. Finally Pope Gregory (of chanting and calendar fame among other things) gave the peasants what they wanted — a day to celebrate and remember their deceased family and friends — but he set All Hallows’ Day, Hallowmass, to the day before the pagan day of the dead. All the saints were honored on 1 November, All Saints Day, then all the other souls were feted on 2 November, All Souls Day. Which had the odd effect of creating a nearly three-day festival honoring the spirit world at the end of the growing season — which is very likely what Samhaine was originally. (All the ancient festivals seem to have been at least three-day affairs, and if longer, then there was usually a core of three days that was most sacred.)
For a number of reasons (see tomorrow’s post!) this hallowed eve became associated with ambulatory begging, with people handing out sweets to children. Initially, these treats were called soul cakes. Children trouped about singing and dancing to earn cakes or coins that were seen as treats for the dead. The coins were often given to the Church, but the cakes were eaten by the youngsters, the thought being that when the innocent young ate the cakes, the recent dead could enjoy the treat as well. In any case, through a rather convoluted history, we still give out sweets to kids on All Hallows’ Eve.
I’ve never yet convinced my trick-or-treaters to sing for their sweeties — not for lack of trying — nor do I think any of them would know what a soul cake was. But I bake my own version all the same. This recipe started happening in my house over three decades ago. Maybe four. I know Son#1 was quite young when I first took the Betty Crocker recipe for pumpkin cookies and turned it into a cornucopia in a cookie. I started calling them “pumpkin dump-truck cookies” when Son#2 was in grade school and the name stuck… though sometimes it’s dump-ster, not –truck…
Today I made mountains of them, which is the usual, because this recipe is one that I turn to in order to use up roasted pumpkin and winter squash, which always happens in pumpkin and winter squash proportions. So, a lot! I’ve given you a recipe that will make about two dozen cookies but only uses one cup of squash mash. When I have squash mash to use up, it’s almost always four to six cups. So I make at least quadruple this recipe. Mountains.
I’ve been known to freeze those cookies that make it past the Day of the Dead and trot them back out for Thanksgiving. They work just as well as snacks for youngsters awaiting the big holiday meal. And while I’d not go so far as to call them healthy, as cookies go they do pack in the nutrition alongside the sugar and fat. Every cookie is loaded with fruit and nuts and, of course, roasted squash which is something like a super-food for winter, with all kinds of vitamins and minerals in a yummy sweet, but not sugary, vegetable. Very good for the body, as well as the soul.
So, I give you Pumpkin Dump-truck Cookies — my version of soul cakes.
Pumpkin Dump-truck Cookies for Halloween
1 egg, beaten well 1/2 cup butter, melted 1 cup roasted winter squash, any kind, mashed well 1 cup sugar (sub up to 1/4th maple sugar for pure magic!) 1 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour 1 tsp baking powder 1/2 tsp baking soda 1 tsp cinnamon 1/2 tsp mace 1/2 tsp nutmeg a scant 1/4 tsp cloves
1/2 cup bittersweet chocolate chips 1/2 cup butterscotch chips 1 cup dried cranberries 1 cup raisins (mix golden and regular) 3/4 cup chopped and toasted pecans 1/2 cup cored and finely diced apple a dry, tart variety works best
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or silicone mats (this is a sticky recipe!). Preheat oven to 375°F.
In a large bowl, beat the eggs until frothy.
Add the pumpkin and combine well.
Add the melted butter in a thin stream, a little at a time to ensure that the hot butter doesn’t cook the egg. Combine very well.
Add the vanilla and the sugar and beat until smooth. Set aside.
In another bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and all the dry spices. Make sure the spices are well-dispersed. (Nothing worse than a lump of clove powder in your cookie.)
Add all the chips, nuts, and fruit and toss to coat everything in flour. This being the “dump” part of the recipe, you are free to put in whatever you like in whatever quantity you want. I’ve used dried cherries, currants and blueberries. I’ve had walnuts and hazelnuts and almonds in my cookies. And once or twice I’ve put in mini-marshmallows and M&M’s. (Not my favorite, but the kids loved it!) The one constant is the butterscotch chips. These pair perfectly with pumpkin and all the spices. And they make the house smell like heaven.
Add the dry ingredients to the wet. If you are making a double batch (or more!), add the dry stuff incrementally, stirring well in between each addition. Otherwise, it’s rather difficult to get all the flour mixed into this stiff and sticky dough.
Drop spoonfuls of dough on your prepared cookie sheet. These don’t spread much, so you can space them out with only a half inch or so in between.
Bake 15-17 minutes in a 375°F oven.
If you are making many batches, use two cookie sheets. And unless you have a convection oven, bake them for 20 minutes, switching the sheets at 10 minutes so both get to cook evenly in the heat of the top of the oven.
Cool on a wire rack.
Or just eat them as they come out of the oven. (Because one must test for quality, you know… )
These keep in a cookie jar or some other loosely sealed contained up to one week.
They freeze well, if you can’t get them all eaten in that time. Stack them in quart freezer bags and use them within a year. (Like that’s a problem… ) They’ll need a bit of warming in the oven after defrosting.
These don’t do well in the fridge. I really don’t know why, but they seem to be very good at absorbing fridge flavors. Plus they get sort of mushy. Hence the need to warm them after freezing.
If you live in a place where you know the kiddies coming to your door, these are always favorite treats. I’ll be handing them out to the hungry college kids. (Don’t know what that meal plan pays for… these kids are always starving!)
©Elizabeth Anker 2022