May Eve is the evening before May Day (April 30). Legend has it that on this night a certain type of sorcery transpires in which female evildoers called pishogues (pronounced “pish- ohh-g”) come round and do their best to make people’s lives miserable in the Irish countryside. A pishogue would do things such as surreptitiously place eggs, bread, meats, and other foods on someone’s land, and doing so would somehow take the riches from that farm and transfer them to the pishogue’s estate.
Now, these pishogues were real people—neighbors, churchgoers—and everyone knew who they were. Real people were known to be sort of possessed and forced into doing dreadful acts. This pishoguery put the fear of God into people, and villagers began sprinkling holy water on their homes, livestock, farmyards, and machinery to ward off this evil on May Eve.
No May Eve would be complete without a story involving the ubiquitous “love potion.” Yes, coaxioriums were popular on this evening as well. Allegedly, if a woman made an advance on a man and was rejected, she would slip him a potion and he’d come around.
My absolute favorite bits of holiday folklore are stories of women who had the power to turn into hares. They would morph into wild hares and get into all kinds of mischief, then return home and have a cup of tea as if nothing had happened. Often, someone would come across a lady’s dress and shoes lying near a hedge, and they would take no notice, assuming that she had likely changed into a hare and was just out gallivanting in the field.
While this all seems far-fetched, many of these accounts have credible witnesses and are steeped in traditions that have withstood the test of time. Here in our village of Kilcolman, we sprinkle holy water to be safe and all I can say is, what’s good for the gander . . .
Each May Eve, I plan a special little tea party in the garden for whoever will come. These easy-to-make tea cakes are a fun take on traditional chocolate-covered marshmallow tea cakes. If you are short on time, you can substitute any packaged round tea biscuit or cookie for the base.
Mad May Eve Teacakes
Makes about 30 teacakes
For the Biscuit Base
1 cup (100 g) whole-wheat flour
½ cup (50 g) all-purpose flour
Pinch of salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ cup (50 g) golden superfine sugar
4 tablespoons (50 g) unsalted butter, cold
2 to 3 tablespoons whole milk
For the Marshmallow
3 large free-range egg whites
¾ cup (150 g) golden superfine sugar
6 teaspoons golden syrup (or light corn syrup)
Pinch of salt
Seeds from ½ vanilla bean
½ cup raspberry or blackberry jam (or marmalade)
For the Chocolate Coating
1 cup (150 g) milk chocolate, chopped (or chips)
⅓ cup (75 g) dark chocolate, chopped (or chips)
2 teaspoons vegetable oil (or coconut oil, if you prefer)
Make the Biscuit Base
Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C).
In a large mixing bowl, sift together the flours, salt, baking powder, and sugar. Rub in the butter with your fingers until the mixture resembles coarse bread crumbs. Add the milk, and stir everything together to form a smooth ball. You may need a little more or less milk—the dough should be smooth and pliable but not sticky.
Pat the dough into a flat oval then dust the work surface with flour. Roll the dough to approximately ⅛ inch thick. Using a 2½-inch round cookie cutter, cut out small rounds. Place on parchment paper, and chill in the fridge for 10 minutes; this should stop them from shrinking when baking.
Bake the biscuits for 15 minutes or until crisp. You don’t want a soft texture; a crisp base is needed for the teacake.
Make the Marshmallow Filling
Place the egg whites, sugar, golden syrup, salt, and vanilla seeds in a large, heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water (make sure the bottom of the bowl doesn’t touch the water). While it is heating, beat the mixture with an electric hand mixer for 6 to 8 minutes until it is smooth, silky, and double in volume. The trick is to have a good, stiff marshmallow texture so that it holds when piped, without overcooking. A thick whipped cream consistency is ideal.
Spoon the marshmallow into a piping bag.
Spread each biscuit with ¼ to ½ teaspoon jam, then pipe a 1-inch dollop of marshmallow on top. Leave the biscuits to set at room temperature for 2 hours.
Make the Chocolate Coating
When ready to assemble, line a couple of trays with a silicone mat or parchment paper. Melt the chocolates and oil in a heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water. Set aside to cool slightly.
To coat the cookies, dip each one in the chocolate, then hold upside down to allow the excess to drip off. Very quickly turn right-side up and place on the prepared trays. Leave all the teacakes to set at room temperature about 1 hour.
Serve with glasses of milk or cups of hot tea.
Scullery Notes: These teacakes keep best at room temperature in an airtight container for one week. If you put them in the refrigerator, the chocolate will discolor.
Photos by Imen McDonnell. Styling by Sonia Chaverri Mulford.