Monday, 24 October 2011

Local Loves: Bonfire Foods and Plenty of Parkin

November 5th is bonfire night. A night when British people celebrate... well bonfires or fireworks. At some point Guy Fawkes managed to attach himself to it but really it was always more about the fire.

Where I'm from, a town called Heywood in north Manchester, bonfire night has plenty of special rituals attached. At least when I was a kid and such things happened by magic. There would be a big local firework display complete with fairground and bonfire and we'd sometimes get together with my cousin Mikey and his family for a few fireworks round and their place or we'd go to the cricket club to see their small display.

Food too is important. No firework display would be complete without black peas, a very local dish of dried peas soaked and boiled into a mush and served with salt and vinegar. Admittedly it's never been one of my favourites but the adults in my family savoured every mouthful. You could make them yourself, I remember my Mum's big batches, or buy them. Newsagents that didn't normally sell food would stay open late to take advantage of the foot traffic coming back form the bonfire selling small cup fulls. Almost everywhere that sold sandwiches and pies for lunch would add black peas to the menu for a couple of autumnal weeks.

Of course being a kid a cup of black peas didn't much appeal to me. My favourite bonfire treat was, and is, treacle toffee. It's a hard toffee flavoured with treacle. It has a rich, dark, heady taste. I guess it's an acquired taste, I've tried to get some Southern men of my acquaintance to try it and they wince and decline. I think it's brilliant.
For the bonfire in your belly
The taste of treacle toffee watered down, mixed with cake and ginger for the fabulous Yorkshire Parkin. So when I tried it for the first time it was a revelation. Rich, dense and beautiful. It keeps fabulously, indeed it's better aged when the flavours mellow and sink into each other. It's a dense, beautiful warming cake perfect for autumn. And if you make one this week you can have it ready for 5th. If you can wait that long.

I don't have a family Parkin like I don't have a family Yorkshire Pudding. I'm not from Yorkshire. I'm an admirer of Yorkshire food, and I lived there for three years but my family is from the other side of the Pennines. I'm not sure why it is that people think I know all of Yorkshire's secrets, although I expect it is the same phenomenon that makes people think to Norwich is in The North, but I don't. So instead I've had to tinker with the recipe from Cakes, something I've been working on since February, taking a break for summer.


6 tablespoons of vegetable oil
100g golden syrup
100g treacle
75ml of non-dairy milk
125g of light brown sugar

225g plain flour
125g oats
2 tablespoons of cornflour
3 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
a pinch of salt

Preheat the oven to 180C and line a square baking tin.

In a saucepan heat the oil, golden syrup, treacle, milk and sugar. Do this very gently, on a low heat, stirring fairly often until the mixture comes together, looking wonderfully glossy.

While that is happening mix the dry ingredients together.

Once the stuff in the saucepan in ready pour it into the dry ingredients and mix until well combined.

Pour into your prepared tin, spreading evenly. Cover the tin with kitchen foil and bake for 35 minutes.

Remove the foil and return to the oven for 20 minutes, or until a skewer pushed in the middle comes out clean.

Cool in the tin and store in an airtight container.

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