02 November 2012

Feast of All Souls

"The Day of the Dead" by William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1859)
Going door to door, begging for cakes ("souling") was the precursor to children dressed as ghouls on Halloween and asking for candy.  The beggars would stop at a cottage and bargain for a soul cake, agreeing, in return, to pray for the souls of the recently departed in that household.  

A soul! a soul! a soul-cake!
Please good Missis, a soul-cake!
An apple, a pear, a plum, or a cherry,
Any good thing to make us all merry.

Soul Cakes were a raised dough filled with spices (nutmeg, allspice, cinnamon) and sometimes currants and marked with a cross on top to show they are Alms for the poor. They would be set out on graves on All Hallows Eve (October 31st) for the dead to consume.  (Along with a glass of wine!)  They would also be handed out to beggars and children on the Feast of All Saints (November 1st) and the Feast of All Souls (November 2nd). 

Soul, soul, an apple or two,
If you haven't an apple, a pear will do,

© Times-Picayune NOLA

One for Peter, two for Paul,
Three for the Man Who made us all.

In New Orleans, the Feast of All Saints and the Feast of All Souls is still a time to honor the dead and celebrate their lives.  The tombs in the "Cities of the Dead" are white washed, armloads of flowers (traditionally Chrysanthemums) are brought to gravesites, and milk (or something stronger!) is poured on the grave as an offering. 

New Orleans Cemetery on the Feast of All Souls © Owen Murphy
And at night, throughout some of the cemeteries,
there are hundreds of candles flickering on the graves. 

Soul Cakes (modern variation)
  • cup butter
  • 3 3/4 cups flour
  • cup sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • teaspoon cinnamon
  • teaspoon ginger
  • teaspoon allspice
  • eggs
  • teaspoons cider vinegar
  • tablespoons milk
  • powdered sugar, to sprinkle on top

Cut butter into flour. Blend in sugar and spices. Beat eggs, vinegar and milk together in another bowl. Add milk mixture to flour mixture and blend well. Roll dough to 1/4" thick and cut with 3" biscuit cutter. Place on parchment paper on a baking sheet and bake for 20 min. at 350 degrees. Douse with plenty of confectioner's sugar while still warm.   [Recipe from food.com] 


  1. Dear Haworth,
    This is simply a most touching beautiful post.
    I am so pleased that you wrote it.
    It explains the true meaning of Halloween.. which has been commercialized over the years.
    Today 2nd november, here the village people go to the cemetery to visit their dead ancestors and family gone by. You are lucky to be able to get crysanths during this time. I was lucky to buy two plants on hallow's eve.
    Beautiful photos and images.
    wishing you a happy weekend.
    val x

  2. Hello!
    What a beautiful post on All Hallows.
    My daughter lives in France and they always visit the family graves on 1st November, leaving flowers and tributes - a lovely tradition.
    I love your story of the Soul Cakes, we need to know more of what's behind these wonderful traditions.
    Thank you for leaving your comment on my blog.

    I'm now following you - I'm a bookish person too!!

    Shane ♥

  3. Thank you, Val and Shane! It is lovely to find out the meaning behind the things we do and take for granted. My family brings flowers to our gravesites throughout the year and we always observe All Saints and All Souls days by remembering the dead and praying for them.

  4. Have you heard Soul Cakes sung by Sting on his Christmas album? It's wonderful.

  5. I have not heard that, Jacqueline.. thank you for telling me about it!