I'm writing this as the gloom descends on a Hallowe'en afternoon. I've always been fascinated by Hallowe'en: as a child in England, it was barely celebrated, apart from a few cartoons on the BBC and a spooky tale or so read out aloud at nursery school. I've been reading up on Hallowe'en and according to the Oxford Dictionary of Folklore, it's quite possible that all that pagan stuff about Celtic fire festivals and the like is a fantasy, invented by Sir James Frazer in the "Golden Bough", and that Hallowe'en's origins are, indeed, Christian and Scottish, where it was known as "Nutcrack Night". During the 19th century, Hallowe'en was associated with fortune telling and love divination: young girls would learn who their future husbands would be.
My grandmother taught me how to carve lanterns, but from turnips- rather than pumpkins. Recently, under American influence, Hallowee'en has become much more popular in England. We've just barricaded our front door and battened down the shutters in preparation for the annual onslaught: London street urchins hammering on the door and rattling the letterbox: "'ere, mister! we know you're there!"
Hallowe'en food should be spicy (especially with the Mexican Day of the Dead just around the corner) and I gather that in the American Deep South, devilled eggs are traditionally served. But I'm not keen on the idea of serving up stuffed chicken's eggs as a canapé. They're too large, and I think would be a bit clumsy, and even slightly Gothic. So I've adapted the idea, but using tiny quail's eggs, instead. This works much better and they were utterly delicious. We scoffed a plate of them this morning.
Place your quails eggs in a pan of cold water, and bring to the boil. Turn off the heat, put back the lid, and let them stand in the hot water for four minutes. Plunge the cooked eggs into a pan of cold water. To shell them, gently roll the eggs on a hard surface, so that the shells crack. You will find that the quail's eggs have a tougher membrane than chicken's eggs, and once you've carefully removed it, you'll find the shell easier to remove. But it's delicate work.
Slice the cooked eggs in half, and spoon out the cooked yolk and place in a mixing bowl. Add a light mayonnaise, a few dashes of Tabasco, a dollop of Dijon mustard, cayenne pepper and celery salt for seasoning. Whisk up the ingredients together until smooth. Using a piping bag, pipe the devilled mixture back into the quails egg halves.
Arrange on a plate, and sprinkle with finely chopped chives.