Halloween Edition: Pumpkin and Chilli Soup

I realise my fledgling food blog career would be rendered redundant if I didn’t commemorate the seasons! And as today is All Hallow’s Eve…

I’m not a big Halloween person, but I do love autumnal/fall food, especially that symbolic fruit of the season itself, the pumpkin. I’m a basic American bitch at heart, lapping up anything ‘pumpkin spice’ flavoured – lattes, the pie at Thanksgiving, I’ve made pumpkin bread, pumpkin swirl blondies and pumpkin spice cookies already…there’s no stopping me. I’m hooked.

OK,  I confess this soup has actually been made with a Coquina Squash, but you can use the proper jack-o-lantern type (or use your carved one – seriously don’t waste it! We waste a shocking amount of pumpkins every year on November the 1st) if you want to. But use whichever winter squash takes your fancy – onion, acorn, kabocha, turk’s head, the humble butternut.

Sorry the photo’s not great! Forgot until almost too late to snap it.

Pumpkin And Chilli Soup


1 smallish pumpkin/butternut squash


Salt and pepper

1 onion

1 tart apple (I used a foraged one but a Granny Smith is ideal)

1 tsp dried sage

Pinch chilli flakes

500ml Vegetable stock

  1. Halve and deseed pumpkin. Brush with oil and season with salt and pepper. Place cut side down on a foil-covered baking tray and roast in a preheated oven at 200 degrees C for 45 minutes to an hour, until tender. When cool enough to handle, peel off the skins.
  2. Chop apple (I leave the skin on) and dice onion. Heat 1tbsp oil in a pan on low-medium heat and sauté, sprinkling with dried sage and chilli flakes (to taste) before covering and sweat for 8 or so minutes, or until soft.
  3. Either: puree the pumpkin (I did because I needed some for the cookies as well), or just scoop out cooked flesh and add to pan along with the stock. Simmer for 10-15 minutes just to allow flavours to combine. Stir occasionally to break up any large pieces of pumpkin.
  4. Blend until smooth or if you like your soups chunky, leave as is and serve. If it’s too thick, slacken with some milk (or if you want to be really luxurious, cream!).
  5. Ladle into bowls and serve hot, preferably with some good crusty bread.

No Parkin allowed: Yorkshire and Lancashire Parkin

Ahhh…..fall. Autumn. When the nights begin to draw in, Halloween and Bonfire Night loom and we all prepare ourselves for toffee apples, ‘special edition’ food products covered in witches, spiders and dyed orange to look like pumpkins and the onslaught of kids in Spiderman masks to knock our doors for a fun size Mars bar or two.

Yes, it’s another cake recipe, but I am putting it up today because this is one best made a week ahead of use.

Parkin is a regional thing. It is unique to the North and rarely found south of Birmingham, like Henderson’s Relish. I first heard about it on a sadly-discontinued podcast called Crimes Against Food hosted by Mia Steele and Gloria Lindh, two hilarious young female foodies from Leeds. But maybe it being such a kept secret of Oop North works in its favour?

So what is it? I hear you ask.

Well, parkin is, in basic terms, a variant of gingerbread. It is traditionally eaten on Bonfire Night, and its key ingredient is oatmeal. Not porridge oats, but oatmeal. The kind used to make gruel.

I see it as a cross between gingerbread and a brownie in terms of texture, as it is made in square or oblong tins and is either chewy and squidgy or slightly more cake-like in form. It is one of those lovely British classics – everyone’s mam or nan has their own recipe, handed down through the family and no two recipes are the same. However, to be called Yorkshire Parkin, it must contain oatmeal and black treacle. You can use golden syrup if you find the almost bitter liquorice intensity of treacle too overpowering, but then you will be making Lancashire Parkin…there is a difference and it’s best not to open a can of worms!

Based on endless trawling the net for that one recipe that stood out for me and coming across so many wonderful ones, I have taken a bold plunge and decided to devise my own, rather like Felicity Cloake of the Guardian’s ‘How To make The Perfect’ series without the spade work of testing various recipes…I just wouldn’t have been able to get rid of the test mules and it seemed a waste. Also, let me say right now I have no Northern roots – I am firmly entrenched in the Midlands!  But I took with me common elements of recipes I read online.

It’s all in old-money Imperial measures so handy for any American cooks too – I have also submitted my recipe to All Recipes. It does make a huge amount but can be halved. Another note is that I have made the one in the photos using Waitrose’s ‘Signature Spice’ blend in place of the mixed spice just because it’s a new thing for this holiday season and I’;m sucker for that!

Yes, there is lard there, horror of horrors. You can use margarine or butter and I have in previous years, but original cooks would have used lard and I decided on it for the true old-school taste/feel. Dripping would be good too.

Now this is important;  you CAN eat it on the day but it is traditional to wrap up and store in a cool dry place for AT LEAST a week before cutting and eating. It may seem hard and overbaked when it’s cooled, but in storage, it softens considerably, getting squidgier, chewier and the flavours mellow – so a week before Bonfire Night is the ideal day to bake it. And if there’s some left, keep it – it just gets even better. Parkin a week old is at its best. it was designed to be taken to work by men who worked in the milltowns and factories of the North as it kept so well. Also, I’ve had two-week-plus-old gingerbread and it’s ten times better than it was a day or two after making.

Anyway, after all my pontificating, here’s the recipe

Yorkshire Parkin



8oz lard (or butter/margarine)

8oz dark brown sugar

8oz black treacle (For Lancashire Parkin, use golden syrup, or you could do half of each if you wanted)

8oz medium oatmeal

8oz self-raising flour

2 eggs

2 tsp ground ginger

1/2 tsp mixed spice

  1. Preheat oven to 150 degrees centigrade/300 fahrenheit.
  2. Grease a disposable foil roasting tin (for less washing up), or you could grease and line a traybake/roasting tin or 8×8 brownie pan.
  3. Melt fat, sugar and treacle together.
  4. Mix all dry ingredients together.
  5. Add fat and sugar mix to dry ingredients and combine. Don’t over-mix. Beat the eggs and add in, again being careful not to over do it.
  6. Pour the fairly liquid mixture into the tin (it should spread easy without any requirements to smooth the top) and bake for 45 minutes to an hour (ovens do vary) or until a tester comes out clean.
  7. Leave to cool in the tin almost completely (it hardens a lot as it cools but don’t worry) and then turn out onto a wire rack to finish.
  8. Wrap and store for at least 1 week before cutting.



Rotweinkuchen (German Red Wine Cake)

I have made this a few times now. I can’t recall how I found out about this curious German bake but I’m so glad I did. Like many regional specialities regardless of country, there is often, in foodie circles, this celestial hope for the One Great Authentic Recipe, but the truth is, there is as many recipes for this as there are Teutonic cooks. Nigella Lawson stated that cooking is alive, like language and this is very true. I cannot take credit for this recipe, which comes from the Cafe Seilbahn, in Rüdesheim am Rhein.  I have translated it and adapted it slightly (I’ve changed the flour and baking powder to self-raising, and replaced the butter in the original with margarine as I prefer it in cakes, but you can of course, use these instead!)

Red wine cake can take many forms – loaf, bundt or layer, but they all share some conventions – red vino in the batter along with cocoa powder. The addition of the wine helps to create a light yet  gloriously damp, moist cake. The pinkish-golden batter does bake to a rather dull brown but the flavour more than makes up for it. It’s hard to describe the taste – dark, spicy, aromatic and bewitching. This is definitely a grown-up cake. The kind of flavour it has I think makes it ideal for the winter months, especially Christmas.

My research found that these cakes tend to be garnished 3 ways – chocolate coated, simply dusted with icing sugar, or topped with a simple red wine icing. I have gone for the latter as I rather like contrast of the vivid lilac against the soft, tender chestnut-toned cake.

My only insistence is pick a wine you would enjoy drinking. Any red would do, no need to break the bank. Full-bodied are preferable, so for example a cabernet or rioja. I’m not a big red wine drinker so my wine knowledge is limited, sorry!

If you don’t have a stand mixer, you can easily make this cake using the all-in-one method. I have done it both ways now and had great results. The beauty of recipes like this are that they can be taken so many routes – this would make some fabulously mature cupcakes for those of that inclination, for example; you could use dark brown sugar instead of plain caster to really bring out the darker flavours (though I feel the bland sweetness of white sugar allows the fruity aromatic wine to really come to the fore, and the intense treacliness of dark brown would maybe mask the wine flavour a bit especially with the spicy warmth of the cocoa and cinnamon but light brown or golden could work); mix dark chocolate chips into the batter…or, in the festive season, use mulled wine…..as Laura Vitale says, the world’s your pickle, my friend!

Anyway, enough waffle, here’s the recipe.

Many thanks to Kevin at the Crafty Larder for the beautiful photo! I took him some of the last batch I made.



For the cake:

200g margarine
200g caster sugar
3 eggs
1 tsp cinnamon
1 TBSP cocoa
250g self-raising flour
150ml red wine

For the frosting:

Icing sugar
Few more drops red wine

  1. Preheat oven to 175 degrees celsius/160 fan/350 Fahrenheit.
  2. Add cocoa and cinnamon to flour and lightly whisk to combine and break up any lumps.
  3. Cream margarine and sugar until light and fluffy.
  4. Add eggs 1 by 1, with a tablespoon of the dry ingredients each time to prevent curdling.
  5. Beat in flour mix, and then slowly pour in the wine. It’s important to gradually add it as it may split the mixture! I make it in a stand mixer.
  6. Pour into either a greased and line 900g/2lb loaf tin or a traybake tin and bake for 55 minutes (will take less time in a tray) or until a tester inserted in the centre comes out clean.
  7. Cool in the tin for a few minutes and then finish cooling on a wire rack. It’s a very damp cake so feel free to cool completely in the tin if you’re worried about breaking it!
  8. When cake is fully cooled, mix icing sugar with more red wine until you have a thick, pale purple frosting, just thick enough to spread. I haven’t given exact measurements as I tend to do this by eye. Of course, you could also merely dust with icing sugar, or as the Seilbahn café do,  melt 150g chocolate and thinly coat the cake, garnishing a-la Jackson Pollock with melted white chocolate (50g). Leave frosting to set.


Hi! Welcome to The Cooking Petrolhead!

As the name suggest, I have two passions in life, cars and good food, both of which will be covered here, though to be honest this is much more a food blog than a subpar attempt at automotive journalism. I intend to share with you recipes galore, perhaps reviews of Cambridge eateries, musings upon food trends or food issues, and maybe one or two automotive-themed rambles. I also compete in hillclimbs and sprints so that may be a factor here.

Hope you enjoy your time here.