I know it’s not Hallowe’en until tomorrow, but I thought I might get ready early and make some traditional toffee apples. After all, apples are within my rationed fruit for this time of the year, and I have plenty of sugar left over. So even in the midst of war, there would be some cheer for the children. It turns out that the recipe is extremely easy (this would have made enough for 4 large apples); 1 cup sugar, 1/2 cup water, half a teaspoon of vinegar. Heat until the sugar has dissolved, then boil for about 20 minutes. When the mixture hardens when you drop a little into a bowl of cold water it’s done. Being very careful, dip the apples into the mixture and place on some greaseproof paper to set for about an hour.
But what of a traditional Hallowe’en (October 31st) or Guy Fawkes (November 5th) in wartime? An editorial in The Glasgow Herald of October 31st, 1945 (page 4) suggests that both customs disappeared during the war but had quickly resurfaced: One peacetime practise of Scottish youth has already established itself – guising. A colleague reports that on Monday night three urchins liberally bedaubed with soot, came to his door with the traditional chant of, “Please, sir, gie’s war Hallowe’en”. The black-out banished the ‘guisers’ – or galoshans -and it is pleasant to see that at least one old Scots custom has survived the war.
The full title was All Hallows Even(ing), the day before All Hallows’/All Saints’ Day in church, the night the dead were liable to come back to haunt you. So Hallowe’en was the time for dressing up (to disguise yourself to avoid the ghosts)and fancy dress parties. I’ve often wondered if guising, not guysing was the word originally used, but transformed itself into Guysing for Guy Fawkes’s 5th November.
At Hallowe’en parties there were usually a few sparklers, the sparking fireworks children loved to hold in their hands – though the sparks were hot if you didn’t hold the sparkler carefully. Children did go knocking on people’s doors – any doors, not just their neighbours’, and the usual request was, ‘Please, missis, gie’s oor Hallowe’en’. (for 5th Nov, the plea was ‘Penny for the guy, please’, but this usually happened in the street, not at the front door, and was more common in England).
For the Hallowe’en children, Mother always had apples and handfuls of nuts or sweets to hand out: ‘Don’t give them money, their parents are often waiting round the corner to take the cash to the nearest pub’. For these goodies the children were expected to perform in some way, maybe sing a song or recite a poem. We were taken aback once by a girl of about 7 or 8, hand-in-hand with a much smaller brother, who said, ‘I’ll sing and he’ll harmonise’ – difficult to keep one’s face straight till they’d performed and left!
Yes we all dooked for apples, both at home and at school where we’d been told to bring two apples – in the genteel fashion of kneeling over the back of a chair and dropping a fork from your mouth in the hope that the prongs would stick in one of the apples floating in a bowl or bucket of water – there were many failures if the bucket had a wide top! Less genteel was the practice of kneeling beside the bucket and grabbing an apple with your teeth.
I much preferred the other game when Mother dropped the ceiling pulleys halfway down, tied strings around them to ‘mouth height’ and tied on large triangular scones liberally doused with black treacle. These we tried to bite a chunk off with our hands behind our backs – great fun; the floor had to be washed afterwards, as did our hair, unless we did the dooking afterwards and washed out the treacle in the apple water.
The other treat was the Hallowe’en dumpling, which ranged from wealthy folks’ almost Christmas-rich puddings down to a plain one with a few sultanas, or even down to a potful of mashed potatoes – what was special were the tiny silver charms, wrapped in greaseproof paper, which had been mixed in before boiling or mashing – each ‘charm’ would tell your future: a little silver threepenny coin was the best, or there could be a baby, a horseshoe, a ring etc. During the war it was usually mashed potatoes!