Cabbages (see also KALE)—Cabbage is one of the most important FOOD items associated with Halloween, especially in Scotland. This folk rhyme even seems to make cabbage almost divine (“Haly” is an abbreviated form of “Hail Mary”) in regards to Halloween:
Haly on a cabbage stalk, and haly on a bean,
Haly on a cabbage stalk, to-morrow’s Hallowe’en.
In Scottish lore, pulling cabbages on Halloween is a method of FORTUNE-TELLING: If the cabbage head is white, a future mate will be older than the puller; if the head is green, the mate will be younger; if there’s a great deal of dirt clinging to the head, your luck will be likewise great; if the cabbage heart tastes bitter, you’ll have a difficult life. The cabbage is then hung over a doorway, and the first man to enter will bear the name of the girl’s future husband (or, in an American version, the first man to enter and be hit on the head by the falling cabbage would bear the name). In a slight variation, men would pull a cabbage and examine the shape of the stalk to determine the shape of their future wife (long and thin or short and stout, for example). In another version, a clean, light cabbage promised heaven, while a cabbage darkened by frost foretold hell.
One method involved seven cabbages, which were chosen and named for seven members of the party. The cabbages were then pulled and their stalks examined. A traditional rhyme explains:
One, two, three, and up to seven;
If all are white, all go to heaven;
If one is black as Murtagh’s evil,
He’ll soon be screechin’ wi’ the devil.
This divination is captured in the story of “Red Mike,” who was born on Halloween Eve. When the cabbage test was tried at a party where Mike was present, six stalks were found to be white, but Mike’s was dark, wormy and foul-smelling. When Mike cursed at the company, a priest showed him a crucifix, and he fled, finally vanishing through a bog into the ground.
In Massachusetts, if a girl steals a cabbage she will see her future husband as she pulls it up, or meet him on her way home (if these steps fail she must put the cabbage up over her door and see whom it falls on); a variant of this belief stated that the young lady must pass through a graveyard to obtain the cabbage. Another Massachusetts custom instructed a girl to walk outside BACKWARDs on Halloween at MIDNIGHT, in her night-dress, and pull a cabbage from the garden; she would then see her future husband over her shoulder.
Cabbage was also popular in PRANKING. Boys might push the pith from the stalk, fill the cavity with tow which they set on fire, and then blow yard-long jets of flame through keyholes (a practice known as “BURNING THE REEKIE MEHR”). One of the more amusing and inventive Halloween pranks involved tying strings to the cabbages in a farmer’s field, then making the cabbages apparently “walk” right out from under the astonished farmer’s gaze. Unharvested cabbages also became missiles hurled against doors on Halloween night.
In Scotland, where it was believed by small children that new babies came from the roots of the cabbage-stalk, it was a popular custom to pile the stalks against doors and windows on Halloween night in hopes that visiting FAIRIES would set free one more baby soul from the stalks to bless the household during the coming year.
In Wales, LEEKS were often used in place of cabbage.
Cabbage broth was also a popular Scottish Halloween dish, and cabbage is a part of the popular Halloween food COLCANNON. In Armagh, Halloween cabbage was fed to a potential mate; it was said that “the ceremony was as good as arranged” if the desired person could be persuaded to take a meal with cabbage as part of it.
The Halloween Encyclopedia Second Edition written by Lisa Morton © 2011 Lisa Morton. All rights reserved