One of the chapters in my new book is all about the celebrations of Winter, like Diwali, Hanukkah and the Winter Solstice. I love any celebrations, and the fact that we can pack so many in within a small space of 3 or 4 months is remarkable. I think it reflects the fact that the weather can be so dreary, that we don’t spend hours outside, walking or playing and that we, as humans, feel the need to get together with others and make a celebration of it.
I know this is October and you can’t get away from the aisles of plastic tat everywhere ready for Hallowe’en (how I hate what we’ve done to that festival) but today’s recipe is actually leapfrogging Hallowe’en to showcase a cake that is popular in Lancashire for Bonfire Night.
Bonfire Night, Guy Fawkes’ Night, Fireworks Night. It doesn’t matter what you call it really, this is a weird British festival to still be celebrating 400 years on. A really good explanation of the events can be found on the BBC website page, Guy Fawkes. I used, as a child, to struggle with the religious significance of the event, and being raised a Catholic always thought it strange that the hide-bound, traditionalist Church I knew could have been the justification for a plot to overthrow the Authority at the time.
I don’t worry so much now about what Bonfire Night meant ‘back then’. I have teenage sons and they drag me back to the modern times. They make me ask questions like “what does Bonfire Night mean to us now?” And that’s an even trickier answer.
There are layers of meaning that become part of any celebrations we have. I suspect for some people the anti-catholic propaganda of the early years may still be a motivating factor, but for many the religion of the plotters is no longer a big thing.
The idea of overthrowing the establishment appeals to my anarchical sons, who love V for Vendetta and have made it a family must-see on 5th November. ‘If your Government oppress you, throw it out’ is an easy sentence to say, but harder to do in practise. As someone once said ironically, the last person to enter Parliament with honest intentions was Guy Fawkes. And his face mask has become a symbol for anti-capitalists, anarchists and those who want to complain about the society we find ourselves in. Is violence the answer? No, not really, if satire and self-knowledge work well. Isn’t it the ultimate irony that Guy Fawkes, the paid assassin, became the public face of the event rather than the aristocratic organisers such as Robert Catesby.
And I rather suspect for a larger percentage of the population, the celebration of Bonfire Night now has several extra layers of meaning that are completely opposed to that. I think there is a whole level of meaning connected to the response to terror attacks, the capture and treatment of people who stood/stand against ‘democracy’ and the rule of law, and the idea that we, the people and nation of Great Britain, will not give in to force and violence.
Whatever the reason for celebrating, or the arguments for or against, I think Fireworks Night will be here for a while. Who doesn’t enjoy watching fireworks scooting across the sky? Or eating hot food on a cold night? I have never been brave enough to light my own fireworks, so I find it easier to go out to a big display. I’m very lucky, in that Liverpool City stage a great big River of Light display. Our plan this year is to go across the Mersey, catch the display and then come home to a slow-cooked stew and a slice of Parkin while watching Guy Fawkes try again. That’s a good use of an evening.
Ingredients for 24 pieces
8oz fine or medium oatmeal
8oz self-raising flour
8oz brown sugar
1 pinch salt
1 ½ dessertspoons ground ginger
8oz margarine or butter
5oz black treacle
5oz golden syrup
1 egg, beaten
- Preheat the oven to GM 2 to 3. (about 150)
- Put oatmeal, flour, sugar, salt and ground ginger in a bowl. Rub in the fat.
- Add the treacle, golden syrup and egg.
- Mix well. This will make a heavy mixture. Place in a lined, small roasting tin. I lined my silicone tin
- Bake for 1 to 1 1/2 hours.
- Leave in a cake tin for a week before cutting or a minimum of 2 to 3 days at least if you can’t keep your hands off it. Parkin will taste better after sitting for a week.
What? No pictures of the cake? No. It’s not a pretty looking cake, but it does taste delicious. I’ll be making mine the day before Hallowe’en to give it a chance to moist up.
***The BBC, God bless them, have a new drama series called Gunpowder which is due to be broadcast on three Saturday nights on BBC1. It stars Kit Harrington as Robert Catesby, and also has Liv Tyler and Mark Gatiss in. I am already looking forward to it…. as, I must add, is my daughter.***
You can read more about Winter festivals in my book, Have Yourself a Happy Hygge Christmas. It’s available in paperback and ebook versions from Amazon. If you do read it and enjoy it, please do leave a review or a rating on Amazon and Goodreads.