Parkin, the thick, sticky gingerbread cake made of oatmeal, spices, treacle and butter, is traditionally eaten on November 5th, Bonfire Night. It dates back many centuries, and is not confined to Yorkshire, but to all parts of the north of England and Scotland, where oatmeal was the staple grain.
I well remember as a child in Lancashire eating parkin round the bonfire after the fireworks, along with potatoes baked in the ashes with wonderfully blackened skin followed by Callard & Bowser’s treacle toffee.
Originally called perkin, it would have been baked on a hearthstone as more of a biscuit than a cake, but by the mid 19th century when ovens had replaced hearthstones, parkin had evolved into the thick, spicy, cake we know today.
Food historian Laura Mason, author of ‘Traditional Foods in Britain’ writes that
the use of spices suggests it was a cake made for feast days and holidays: ‘Those moments in the year which justify extravagant ingredients’.
Traditionally parkin is cut into squares and according to Dorothy Hartley in her ‘Food in England’ is best stored in a wooden box – not a tin – as the parkin is best kept a week before use and gets a pleasant, moist texture’.
Lottie Shaw makes ‘Seriously Good Yorkshire Parkin’ at the family bakery in Elland. It’s available from good food shops in the north of England and by mail order. But it’s very simple, cheap and delicious to make your own. Make sure you don’t overcook it and keep it a week wrapped in greaseproof paper when it well develop a lovely moist, sticky texture.
225g medium oatmeal
110g self-raising flour
a pinch of salt
200g golden syrup
25g black treacle
110g soft brown sugar
2 level teaspoons ground ginger
1 large egg, beaten
1 tablespoon milk
Preheat oven to gas mark 1, 140ºC
Lightly grease a 20cm square cake tin with a removable base.
Put the butter, sugar, syrup and treacle into a pan and place over a gentle heat until the butter has melted. Don’t let it boil.
Measure the oatmeal, flour, ginger and a pinch of salt into a mixing bowl and stir in the warmed syrup mixture until thoroughly combined.
Add the beaten egg and then the milk and stir well.
Pour the mixture into the prepared tin. Bake in the centre of the oven for 1.5-2 hours. Keep an eye on it so that it does not overcook and become too dry.
Cool the parkin in the tin for 30 minutes, then turn out to cool.
When it’s cold wrap in greaseproof paper and store in a tin (or a wooden box) for a week when it will have developed into a lovely, soft sticky cake.