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
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 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp mixed spice
- Preheat oven to 150 degrees centigrade/300 fahrenheit.
- 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.
- Melt fat, sugar and treacle together.
- Mix all dry ingredients together.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Wrap and store for at least 1 week before cutting.