It’s that time of the year when ghouls and witches get together (no, not the usual Friday night in the pub…) to celebrate all things Halloween! Also known as All Hallows Eve, and in Scotland, Samhain, which is the name of the Gaelic festival that marks the end of harvest season and the start of Winter – the Celtic New Year. Traditionally, Samhain is celebrated from sunset on the 31st October until sunset on 1st November – a time that signals the ‘dark’ half of the year beginning. It’s a time to be thankful for (hopefully) a plentiful harvest, and prepare for Winter. It’s also around the time of the Roman festival which honours Pamona, the goddess of fruit trees, normally symbolised as an apple.
Certainly at Thistly Cross, based in East Lothian on the East coast of Scotland we’ve noticed the seasonal change. The leaves are turning all kinds of yellow and orange, the nights are closing in and the harvest is starting to diminish (but we still want your late apples if you have any spare, so please do bring them down to our friends at Belhaven Fruit Farm and exchange them for cider or apple juice!)
Across the world, Halloween is a time to indulge in all kinds of spooky delights – we carve out turnips (and more latterly, pumpkins) into faces and light candles inside, we ‘dook’ for apples floating in water, and we dress up as all manner of terrifying deathly beings and ‘trick or treat’ for a sweet reward. All are linked to Pagan traditions surrounding the ancient festival, witchcraft and magic… the 31st October is the one night of the year when the curtain between our world and the spirit world is said to be at its thinnest, so the ghosts of the deceased can mingle with the living. Ancient superstitions warn that visiting ghosts can disguise themselves in human form at this time, and knock on your door requesting food or money. But beware, if you turn them away empty-handed, you risk being cursed or even worse, haunted! Historically in Scotland, apples and other food were buried at the sides of roads for those lost souls who couldn’t find their way home on the scariest night of the year, and apples were a popular gift to leave on doorsteps to feed and please the newly risen. It’s no accident these harvest fruits feature so prominently in Halloween and Samhain traditions – they’re not just delicious to eat and drink!
East Lothian has long links with ancient traditions including witchcraft, as witnessed by some of the relics dotted around the area. One of the most famous is in a place called Spott, around 3 miles from Thistly HQ, which saw the last witch executions in East Lothian. One of the accused, known as the Rigwoody Witch, was said to have been burnt to death at The Witches Stone here. In fact, Witch-hunting lasted longer in East Lothian than almost anywhere else in Scotland, and between 1593 and 1705, the Dunbar area brought more than 70 suspected witches and warlocks to trial. The name of Thistly Cross itself originates from an area on the farm called Thistly Bank where witches were burned at the stake. Another famous local case in 1589 saw witches from Prestonpans, Tranent and North Berwick accused of attempts to kill King James VI of Scotland.
But October isn’t all dark and mystical history and tradition, Autumn is the perfect time to consider moving on from Summery flavours and start enjoying those particularly well-suited to the cooler weather like our Whisky Cask and Real Ginger. And it’s also when we mash and press most of our apple harvest, including your donated fruit, into new batches of apple-juice to begin their Thistly journey, ready for 2016. It’s cider season folks!
Merry Samhain and Happy Halloween from all at Thistly Cross!
- Medium to large glass of hard cider (around a small bottle or half a 500ml bottle of Thistly Cross Cider; our Whisky Cask, Real Ginger or Original work well)
- 1 teaspoon honey or brown sugar (to taste)
- cinnamon stick
- lemon or orange peel
- couple tablespoons of your favourite Scotch whisky (to taste)
- 1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice (to taste)
Heat the cider, honey (or sugar), cinnamon and lemon peel in a saucepan over medium heat; depending on the particular cider and whisky you choose you may need less or more added sweetness so start slowly – you can always add more as you go along! Stir for a few minutes until the honey has loosened (or sugar dissolved) and mixed in. Turn off heat, add the whisky and lemon juice, and stir gently to combine. Serve in a cup or glass (heatproof!) and garnish with cinnamon stick and citrus peel.
A simple, easy half in half of our Real Strawberry Cider with prosecco or sparkling wine. This is the perfect party drink; great for Autumnal afternoons or Wintry evenings, it’s light, refreshing and easily adaptable to whatever you have to hand. Add some slices of fresh fruit and sugar-encrusted berries for colour and fragrance, or pop in grape or lychee ‘eyeball’. For an extra spooky touch, trail kir or strawberry/blackcurrant syrup into and around the glass.
First, choose your cider – we like something light and easy-drinking like a Thistly Cross Traditional; not too alcoholic at 4.4%, with fresh, appley flavours. Then, choose which fruit or botanical you’d like to ‘muddle’ in (that’s a posh word for ‘artfully mash’ really) – we like something with a little tartness like blueberries or raspberries. Gently muddle your chosen fruit in the glass (squash the little juicy blighters but don’t completely obliterate them!) then pour in your cider. If you get weird about ‘bits’ then a sieve is your best friend, but we rather like the punch-like texture of real fruit mixing with the alcohol. This mix is particularly good in large jugs for a party or event as the fruit gives your cider a different hue, as well as a berrylicious tang. If you want to get totally arty, then freeze some berries into your ice-cubes and add to the mix before serving. Regarding botanicals, a few muddled mint leaves are delicious with Real Strawberry Cider. Experiment with other herbs and spices: lavender, basil, cinnamon, nutmeg, etc for a warmer, spicier finish.