Have you bought your sparklers yet? – Parkin (Part 1)

blackheath fireworks 2

I don’t hold with this Bonfire Night vs Halloween false debate that seems to spring up every year. Celebrate both, I say, and Divali and St Luke’s Day and anything else that turns up on the calendar around now. We live on a windy, dark and damp island stuck in the North Atlantic, and we all need as many opportunities to go out and meet people as possible so that we don’t spend all of October-March eating reheated beef stew and peering balefully out of windows.

As long as you do celebrate it, mind. Waving sparklers and watching fireworks are life-enhancing things, and I thought until last year that that was an uncontroversial point of view but we’ll come to that later.

So today, we’re talking about parkin, a traditional Bonfire Night thing. I was going to say delicacy, but as we’ll see there’s not much delicate about it:

Recipe first and then digressions later. This is not a Mary Bradley recipe and we’ll come to why not below.



    450g plain flour
    1.5 tsp bicarbonate of soda
    1 tsp ginger
    1 tsp cinnamon
    225g butter
    225g brown sugar
    1 tin of treacle
    4 eggs
    8 tbsp milk

    You’ll also need a greased 22cm square baking tin


(Bored already? why not cheer yourself up by spotting the missing ingredient in this picture)


Set your oven to 180C.

Find a large saucepan, set it over a low-medium heat, and melt the treacle, butter and sugar together in the pan. Stir until the sugar seems to have dissolved and all is mixed together.


Take the pan off the heat. Sift the dry ingredients into the treacle mix and stir in.


Once everything is mixed in – careful, my experience with this mixture is that the flour tends to stay in little globs unless you give it a right old go when stirring – mix in the eggs, one by one.


Finally, stir in the milk.

You should end up with something that looks like this:


(my camera phone sulks a bit when asked to focus on formless brown things)

Bake for 45-50 mins, test with a skewer. When ready, leave to cool in the tin for a while before putting on a cooling rack.


It looks like this. I have been baking this for years and it always looks like this. It doesn’t matter, because you’re going to cut it up into little slices before you serve it.

Serve next to a bonfire, watching fireworks. Don’t try to wave a sparkler with your free hand while eating unless you are significantly better at multi-tasking than I am.

What does it taste like?

Treacly, very slightly gingery, dark. When I made this last year I intended to remember to increase the amount of spice slightly. Obviously expecting me to hold this sort of mental note in my head for a year was idiotic, but it’s still probably a good idea.

So this one isn’t from Mary Bradley’s notebook?

No. The reason I eat parkin every year is because when I was growing up in Hong Kong, my mum was determined that people should be acquainted with the way Bonfire Night was celebrated in her youth. Lancashire hot pot with red cabbage, baked potatoes, parkin, but no fireworks or sparklers because they were illegal. Sadly though, she’d moved to the Far East without bringing a parkin recipe with her. So she and her sister snuck into a bookshop and noted this recipe down from what she thinks was an Australian cookbook. Lord knows where she found the treacle; perhaps one of her Army wife friends smuggled her into the NAAFI. So this is a traditional Hong Kong-Australian-Lancastrian parkin.

But. Mary Bradley’s notebook contains 6 [SIX] parkin recipes, so I thought I might give one of those a go later in the week, closer to the actual day. I’ll report back once I’ve given it a go.

[One for the parkin aficionados] What do you mean by calling this parkin, you fraudster? There’s no oatmeal in it.

Mm. Strong feelings are sometimes aroused by parkin. This is entirely understandable. The wikipedia article I link to above contains the Yorkshire propaganda that a ‘proper’ parkin contains oatmeal. The Lancastrians I have asked remember eating it without.

In the spirit of Trans-Pennine reconciliation and peace, the recipe I’ll do from Mary’s notebook will be one of the ones with oatmeal. So come back later if you feel that strongly about it.

Bonfire Night, controversial? Whatever can you mean?

Well, it would be bad of me not to recognise that some people do have problems with the Anti-Catholic history of Bonfire Night. I will say that I have never seen any part of the celebration where this is overt, but then I don’t live in Lewes.

I used to be in the habit of taking parkin into the office every year around November 5th. Last year, I sent out my mail announcing that I’d put some out next to my desk and had a reply-all mail in response from an Irish co-worker saying sarcastically ‘Happy Burn the Irishman Day!!!!’. Guy Fawkes wasn’t Irish, I generally feel in life that I shouldn’t tell the recipients of offence whether to be offended or not, I love night-time fires and fireworks, and don’t believe that the vast majority of Catholics in the country feel targeted by Bonfire Night. So, in summary, I’m confused and so was he. I do feel that we should cling on to those bits of our culture that we have in common, while welcoming new additions to our shared culture from elsewhere. I suppose if I had to abandon Bonfire Night I could make treacly gingerbread whenever I wanted to, but do I really have to?


2 thoughts on “Have you bought your sparklers yet? – Parkin (Part 1)

  1. Pingback: CONTROVERSY! (and confusion) – Parkin Part 2 | Nikki flippin' Coates

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