Remember, remember the 5th of November and a classic British Parkin recipe

Choices, choices, choices – it’s Bonfire Night and I’m not sure what to write about and how to illustrate my post.

Do I chat about  the origins of Bonfire Night with the story of Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder plot putting us firmly in the historical context of the 17th century?

Or I could take you back to my childhood memories of cold dank autumnal evenings – hatted and be-scarfed with straw as an extra lining in my wellies and the small town bonfire?

Perhaps a firework party at home and bobbing for apples, keeping the fireworks in a sealed tin and whirling and writing in the air with Sparklers would paint the picture I’m looking for?

And then there are memories of my bonfire parties in London and lighting up the sky.. In my 20s and early 30s and with a gang of friends letting off display size fireworks in a tiny North london garden and of my guests all huddled at the back of the garden around the abandoned Anderson Shelter  (built during World War Two  as a home bomb shelter) and the neighbours peering out of the window only managing to move their heads out of the way in the nick of time?

Or later up the road in another garden and the time I was persuaded to set light to the old kitchen and nearly setting light to the mature and oh so tall trees, the pans of mulled wine (yes you read plural – one cooking and one ready to drink)?

Or maybe I should tell you about the Bonfire Societies here in Hastings, East Sussex and in neighbouring Kent; of their costumed parades through towns, of torches held aloft through twisting turning ancient streets, of barrels of lit tar being rolled in Lewes?

You see there are so many choices, happy days and happy memories.

The food is equally difficult, should I make jaw aching and teeth pulling treacle toffee, or sticky-sweet toffee apples, maybe something savoury like jacket potatoes with crispy skins and soft creamy fluffy flesh, I’ve already mentioned the mulled wine…..

What won was Parkin, I’d been asked a while ago if I could make a ginger cake and just hadn’t got round to making one. Parkin would be perfect – gingery, spicy dark and rich with the aroma of Black Treacle. A Bonfire night classic. And I have a recipe – my mum’s, written in her highly distinguishable hand.

A bit of background reading and double checking of quantities led me to find out that Parkin is a cake from the North of England (my old stomping ground), in particular Yorkshire, although Lancashire and other counties also chime in with their versions. It’s a gingerbread style cake made with a mix of flour and oats, substantial and flavoursome. The warming spices give it a kick, perfect for a cold-dank autumnal night.

So why don’t you join us Brits for Bonfire Night, and make some Parkin – and I’m reliably informed it get’s better the longer you keep it. So that’s the challenge, eat it when slightly warm from the oven or a week later when the ginger and spices have worked their magic.

The other big ingredient that gives Parkin its distinctive flavour is Black Treacle, if you can’t find it molasses works as a good substitute.

Classic Parkin Recipe

Ingredients –

  • 4oz / 115g unsalted butter
  • 3 tbls Black Treacle
  • 2 tbls Golden Syrup
  • 6oz / Demerara (dark) sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 5oz / 140g flour
  • 5oz / 140g oats
  • 1 tsp ground mixed spice
  • 1 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 2 eggs beaten
  • 2 tblsp milk

Instructions –

  • Turn the oven on to Gas 3 or 160
  • Grease / butter an 8 inch tin tray – square or rectangular is best. Make sure it is very well greased
  • Weigh out the dry foods – flour and oats, and add the spices and baking powder, and mix together well
  • In a large pan on a low heat add the butter, sugar, Treacle and Syrup and gently heat the mixture up so that the butter is melted and the sugar dissolved. Remove from the heat
  • Add the milk and stir it in
  • Add the dry foods (flour and oats mix) and gently mix with a wooden spoon so that the flour and oats are well coated
  • Now add the beaten eggs and stir them in
  • Pour the mixture into the well greased tin and cook for an hour and a half
  • The edges may start getting a bit burnt, of you like you can add a piece of greaseproof paper to the top towards the end of cooking, but I like mine slightly crispy at the edges
  • Remove from the oven and cool for half an hour in the tin
  • Take a knife and run it’s edge around the tin to loosen the cake, and remove it from the tin and leave to cool on a wire rack.
  • Cut into squares and store in an airtight tin for up to a week.

Now where are the Sparklers………


  • I’ve always admired the gunpowder holiday my friend and obviously (besides the history) your recipe is officially a big part of why 🙂

    Choc Chip Uru

  • Yummy! I love ginger cake, and am planning on making some soon too. I think my recipe came from the famous Lyles treacle tin about a hundred years ago! The old favourites are the best! Have a happy Bonfire Night!

  • I love parkin and may have hit on a solution for the dilemma of whether to eat it straight away or keep it to get better – make double the amount and do both! Have a great bonfire night Claire!

  • Even though I am American, I have a Guy Fawkes memory of my own! Several years ago I was in London for about 5 days, on my own, no family with me. I took a ride on the Eye, and got stuck at the top. There were two other people in the car with me, a lovely couple from somewhere north of London. It was still daylight, but they told me that they come every year to ride the Eye at night because the view of all the fireworks in every direction in breathtaking. As we sat there for what seemed like a very long time, I imagined that view in the dark and the fireworks, and I’m guessing that would be a fun thing to see!

    • A brilliant story! And no doubt a memorable moment 🙂 I can imagine it would be a superb place to see the fireworks, friends always used to head to high ground, to watch the fireworks, but going on the London Eye would beat that hands down!

  • Oh Claire I loved this post – your memories are so similar to mine as I went from childhood, to teenage years then living on my own! Have been trying to explain the history of tonight to Big Man and he thinks it´s hysterical that we have such a big celebration to remember the “almost” blowing up of Parliament! Love Parkin…and I agree, the longer you leave the better it gets 🙂

    • If Big Man wants to see a Sussex Bonfire night , the procession etc, then I think there is one in Icklesham tonight, and one in Rye on the 10th, if you haven’t seen one before I’d definitely recommend it! It’s the Lewes one tonight – but that get’s mobbed, I mean mobbed so I wouldn’t recommend going if you don’t like crowds.
      and pleased to share the meories – happy days 🙂

  • I’m quite excited for this authentic recipe. I love to “identify” with classic British recipes. I try to replicate classic family recipes that my grandmother made, although we don’t have the recipes. She made something very similar to this, but I never had a name for it. I am familiar with the story of Guy Fawkes, but I don’t recall having heard of the tradition of Bonfire Nights! It sounds like a lot of fun to me! 🙂 Thank you for the delicious recipe, Claire!

    • Of course now I remember you saying previously about your grandmother. I’m wondering what else she cooked and where she originally came from as that would make a difference too – like Lancashire Hot Pot, or Bara Brith from Wales etc, etc – lots of local or regional dishes still survive but there are even more common dishes too! I hope you get to try the recipe out Debra
      I’m sure you’d love Bonfire Night, especially the procession in Hastings with the llit torches and the bonfire on the beach 🙂

    • I think Treacle is a very Birtish thing, and I’ve been told that Molasses is the nearest equivalent. I just went onto the BBC food website and they give the following
      “This is the British term for uncrystallised dark syrup, known as dark or blackstrap molasses elsewhere. It is the almost-black residue gathered from the late stages of the sugar refining process after the sugar has been removed, and is less sweet than other types of treacle. It has a thick, viscous consistency, and is rich in vitamins, minerals and iron. It gives a distinctively dark colour, burnt caramel flavour and moisture to baked dishes.”
      Hope it helps 🙂

    • I’ve made a couple of batches of the cake, and decided that reducing the amount of flour and oats gives it a bit more moisture (so instead of 5oz I’d reduce it to 4 oz each of flour and oats).
      As to the mulled wine, I’m not sure I’ve ever followed a recipe….. maybe that’s where I went wrong / right 🙂

  • The years I lived in Brighton – most bonfires night me and my friends went to Lewis – spectacular!!!
    Love ginger … hate Treacle, but in a cake like yours … I think I will enjoy it very much. Just want a piece right now.

    • I love it that you went to Lewes, it’s crazy but wonderful ! We have a smaller version here in Hastings, much smaller and less crazy but still wonderful !

      • Hastings … been there so many times .. not for bonfire. Hasting is a bit funny place – still have marks from the war .. and the seafront is all over the place really.

        It is now nearly 15 years since I lived 6 years in Brighton. Miss Brighton … a lot still. Yes, the world is small – I was station in Newhaven for Stena Line during me years in Brighton.

  • What a perfect Bonfire Night post! There’s nothing nicer than eating a jacket potatoe, as you’ve described, whilst trying to keep warm 🙂
    I’ve never made Parkin so thanks for sharing your Mum’s recipe x

  • OK. Is this going to be on the quiz? When I subscribed to your blog, nothing was said about British History quizes. If there’s to be a quiz, I’ll need more information about this Fawkes fella; a shopping list for the Parkin recipe; and a list of 3 suggested grocers for each of the ingredients.
    On the other hand, if there shan’t be a quiz, I want to congratulate you on a fascinating post and what appears to be a tasty cake.

  • I really enjoyed this post, Claire, you didn’t need to go into the historical side because I think your personal stories captured the spirit of the day better than anything else could have. It conjured up images of evenings long ago and it felt like I was there enjoying them too! What an unusual cake and name for a cake, we have nothing similar here.. and that black treacle looks so pretty in it’s tins!!

    • I love the tins Smidge! They have barely changed the logos or the colours since they were first produced. Oh and they just seem VERY Birtish to me somehow….

  • I also have an old family recipe for Parkin but haven’t made it for years. thank you for the reminder. I’ll have a go now. Comparing your Mum’s recipe wih mine will be an interesting exercise! 🙂

    • I had a look at a couple of othe rversions, my mum’s had more flour and oats in than others, so if you want a moister cake then I’d reduce the flour/oats. Happy cooking !

  • I’m very fond of recipes that transcend generations. More often than not they are excellent and spiced with tasty food memories. A charming cake with the warming spices of fall!

  • I hadn’t heard of the bonfires, Claire, or Parkin, so it is nice to learn something new! The Parkin sounds lovely – I’m going to give that a try. What wonderful memories you hold! Lovely to read about them.

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