The ancient Celts knew that October 30th and 31st was when the gateway between the world of the living and the realm of the dead was open and spirits of all kinds roamed freely. They marked the time with fires of recognition and sacrifice in order to limit any mayhem that might ensue from this mingling.
One way of recognition came in the form of giving away something of value and worth to you. For the peasants of the Middle Ages, this was vegetables, and especially, the cabbage and the turnip. Living in the worst of impoverished conditions aside from the food they either grew or gleaned they still gave away the blessed vegetables to everyone, even the land-owning aristocracy. Their generosity was noted by the spirits of those vegetables who walked with them on this day every year.
However the aristocrats who had very different ideas of what was of value and worth were disgusted by the piles of wilted cabbages and roots left at their door that they clearly saw as some kind of futile uprising or creative insult. The next year they decided to return the gesture and gathered their own rotting vegetables and barraged the little houses of the peasants with them and rode away. Wondering what all that racket was, the peasant families stepped outside to piles and piles of cabbages and turnips scattered everywhere. They were delighted! What a blessing of abundance surely motivated by the spirit of the cabbage and turnip.
Their feelings were reinforced when they were soon visited by the spirit of the cabbage and turnip, who instructed the peasants to plant the two vegetables back in the ground for a second year, but together in the same bed, and from those seeds that were produced they will be blessed with a new vegetable to reign and signify this very special day- a child who can sustain the farmer while inadvertently striking fear in the ruling class- the Rutabaga!
With this new, strange and wonderful vegetable they were further taught how to carve the face of those who they admire into its side. The peasant families, humble as they were, saw this as a way to share their gratitude to the wealthy, cabbage-generous aristocrats. All were happy: peasant, turnip, and cabbage.
On the next night of October 30th the excited peasants placed their rutabagas carved with the faces of their ruling countrymen, some illuminated with candles inside, on their stoops to greet them when they arrived with their veggie gifts.
When the aristocrats did arrive, armed with an extra load of stinky cabbages due to the particularly wet autumn, they were busy discussing who had the pleasure of vandalizing whose house when they suddenly looked on in horror at the most hideous carved faces, terrifyingly illuminated as if by the fires of hell itself, and rode home in a terror, never actually recognizing that it was their own faces that terrified them.
And so as time passed and things evolve as they do, the peasants of the Middle Ages, who were originally referred to as Villanus, meaning- inhabitant of a farm, was eventually transformed by the hands of that ruling class, possibly due to the misunderstood rutabaga gesture, into what we know of today is an evil person, or a villain. That is true. And furthermore, the incident of the cabbages eventually turned into what Scotland refers to as Cabbage Night, or as we better know it- Mischief Night.
A tradition of carving rutabagas (which changed to be used as a device to scare away any evil spirits, or perhaps "inhabitants of a farm" for some people) took hold, and regardless of its use, the rutabaga was easily delighted with these acts of recognition. However as the people of Europe immigrated to North America, the rutabaga became supplanted by the continent's native pumpkin and became all but forgotten.
But beware, over the span of October 30th and 31st, the spirit of the rutabaga still roams with carved eyes of mischief in search of its rightful throne the in hearts of humans on the day given to it long ago. As a humble recommendation to you as we approach the end of this month and the day the spirits walk among the us, is to remember the rutabaga!
For the sake of a safe Halloween here is a recipe for fermented rutabaga- great for scaring away evil, celebrating abundance, and remembering lessons from strange stories.
This story is a patchwork of truths sowed together with many inventions.
1. The business about the Celts is true.
2. Giving gifts of vegetables is probably not.
3. Mischief Night is referred to as Cabbage Night in certain places, but the given origin story here is rubbish.
4. The rutabaga is believed to be the child of wild cabbage and a turnip.
5. The word "villanus" did in fact evolve from roughly "the inhabitant of a country dwelling" (or a peasant from the Middle Ages as in this story) to someone who is evil, a change that is attributed to the upper class looking down at the lower classes over many years.
6. Turnips, rutabagas. and beets were the original face-carving vegetables, many believe its purpose was to scare away evil spirits.
7. Woe to those who forget the rutabaga!
Happy Halloween & Fermenting!