Bonfire Night conjurs up childhood memories of fireworks and toffee apples, but for Carol it's all about the parkin
When I was a child growing up in Yorkshire, Bonfire Night was a time for special treats - treacle toffee ( also known as Bonfire Toffee), stickily sweet toffee apples, piping hot, slightly charred potatoes baked in the smouldering ashes of the bonfire and my own particular favourite - parkin.
In Yorkshire and Lancashire, Bonfire Night would be unthinkable without treacle toffee ( aka known as Bonfire Toffee), stickily sweet parkin - a type of dark, spicy, solid gingerbread made with oatmeal; in 19th century Leeds November 5th was even known as Parkin Day. Some of my friends in the south of England had never heard of this hearty satisfying cake and hadn't realised what they'd missed until they tasted it! Every year I make a large slab of parkin in a roasting tin, to enjoy while we watch the bursting fireworks in the night sky. November nights are cold, often freezing and a hot baked potato followed by a piece of moist sticky parkin and a steaming mug of something hot, are the perfect cold weather comfort foods.
Originally, parkin was a celebratory cake, eaten at winter festivals; a custom which probably originated with the pagan practice of eating special cakes to mark the first day of winter Its made with oatmeal (oats were the main cereal grown in the northern climate) which give parkin its dense texture; ground ginger (the cheapest spice in days gone by - although still a treat for most ordinary people) and black treacle (introduced into England in the 17th century and imported from the West Indies through the ports of Lancashire) although parkin was plainer than today as it was made with dripping rather than butter and early recipes didn't include eggs.
By the 18th century, as basic ingredients such as flour and sugar became cheaper they were also included - resulting in a lighter texture. Golden syrup, another later addition, adds a lovely flavour to the cake. It make a delicious dessert too, served with some stewed apples or plums and a dollop of whipped cream.
Yorkshire parkin recipes generally use more oatmeal than flour, while Lancashire recipes tend to have more flour than oatmeal and it was traditional for parkin to be slightly undercooked, so that the centre remained damp and sticky. There are several different kinds of parkin ('A Yorkshire Cookery Book' by M. Gaskell published in 1919 in my home town of Wakefield, gave 17 recipes for parkin) and its popularity continues in the north, where it's sold in bakers' shops throughout the region- in plenty of time to enjoy on Bonfire Night. Parkin should be kept in an airtight tin for at least three days before cutting, to allow it to soften and mellow and will keep well, stored in an airtight tin for up to two weeks.