Remember, remember the fifth of November; Gunpowder, treason and plot;
I see no reason for gunpowder treason; To ever be forgot!
Today is my favorite holiday. It didn’t used to be, but it has been ever since I’ve lived in the US. When I first moved here, I rather naively thought everyone celebrated the thwarting of Guy Fawkes’ famous attempt to blow up Parliament, intending to assassinate King James in the process, and restore Catholic rule in England. You can imagine my disappointment when November 5th rolled around and I realized that this was, in fact, a very English event.
It’s not that I don’t appreciate the holidays I’ve gained since moving here. Indeed, there are enough fireworks on July 4th to hold someone over for the entire year, and who wouldn’t want an extra feast a mere month before Christmas?
But there’s something wonderfully sinister about “Guy Fawkes Night” (also simply referred to as ”Bonfire Night”). I have to admit that I’d never really thought about how sinister until an American friend exclaimed, “But don’t you guys burn effigies?!” To which I could only reply, “Well, yes…in fact we do.”
But it’s just so much fun! I’ll always remember the week leading up to Bonfire Night at school: the emergence of the Horrible Histories books and the ensuing arguments about what being hung, drawn and quartered really entails. The prizes for the best class “Guy”, eternally fated to a fiery death on the bonfire come nightfall. The wildlife officers reminding us to check our wood-piles for unfortunate hedgehogs before setting them alight.
And then there are the fireworks, intended to signify what Parliament would have looked like if Mr Fawkes had succeeded. Fizzers! Bangers! Whoppers! Spinners (known as Catherine wheels which is also a rather morbid reference)! There are often rivalries as to who can bring the biggest, the loudest, the screechiest. Those requiring a safe distance of 40 ft are regularly set off in tiny English back gardens, to the sound of joyful “Oooos” and “Aaaas” of friends and family, gathering around the bonfire for warmth, munching on pie ‘n’ mushy peas, toffee apples, and parkin. All the while, kids excitedly write their names in the air with sparklers.
The food associated with Bonfire Night is hearty and warming, designed to keep you going for a good few hours out in the cold. One particular speciality is associated directly with Yorkshire, and my hometown of Leeds in particular: the aforementioned parkin. Imagine gingerbread, but made with oatmeal, black treacle and the burnt sugary undertones of golden syrup, wrapped tightly for a few days before being eaten so as to allow the flavors to develop and mature. No one would dream of eating fresh parkin.
Parkin is guaranteed to sustain you through even the coldest Bonfire Night celebrations (like the ones I remember in my grandparent’s garden, pictured below). Even better, any leftovers last for ages!
Adapted from a recipe by BBC GoodFood
Preheat the oven to 140°C/280°F/Gas Mark 1. Grease and line a 8 inch square cake tin.
In a pan, melt 4 oz butter with 4 oz soft dark brown sugar, 2 oz black treacle, and 7 oz golden syrup. Use a gentle heat and don’t let the mixture get too hot or bubble.
Once melted, remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly.
In a large mixing bowl, sift 4 oz all purpose flour, 1/2 tsp baking powder, and a pinch of salt. Add 8 oz medium oatmeal, 2 tsp ground ginger, and 1 tsp pumpkin spice.
Make a well in the center and gradually pour in the melted butter mixture and fold together.
Beat two eggs with 1 tbsp milk and add to the mixture. Stir to combine.
Pour into the baking tin and bake for 1 hour. Parkin can become dry easily so keep an eye on it. I baked mine for 1 hour 15 mins and I think it was a little too long.
Remove from the oven and let sit for 20 mins. Then turn out onto a cooling rack.
When cool, wrap tightly in parchment paper and leave in a cake tin for at least one day (and up to a week!) so the flavors become richer and deeper, and so it develops a moist, sticky texture. Yum!