It’s bonfire night today in the UK (November 5th), so I thought I’d make some parkin to celebrate. It’s so quick to prepare, taking only around 5 minutes – so I thought, why not? I rang my grandma and she gave me her traditional recipe, out of an old scrapbook she’s had for nearly half a century – so you’re in for a real treat with this one!
Parkin’s a traditional spiced cake eaten in the late Autumn/Fall and early Winter months, especially in Yorkshire – where we live at the moment. It’s not as sweet as a regular cake as it uses molasses and dark brown sugar to create more of a smoky, spiced flavour – the perfect compliment to cold, dark nights, fireworks and bonfires!
As parkin is such an ancient recipe, it uses some very traditional ingredients – all of which could have been found in England during the medieval era, or even earlier. It uses a mixture of flour and oats to create a dense texture, along with syrupy sugars and a range of wintery spices such as ginger, cinnamon and nutmeg. The taste is similar to gingerbread, but with much more of a crumbly consistency.
One beautiful thing about parkin is it’s super adaptable. There are slight variations in ingredients from country to country – Yorkshire Parkin, for instance, always contains dark molasses to create a syrupy consistency. I make mine slightly lighter by substituting honey for the molasses; you can also use light rather than dark brown muscovado if you prefer. If you enjoy fruity cakes, you can also add lemon or orange zest to the batter to give it an extra zingy kick.
The North of England gets much colder than the South. As parkin is such a good winter warmer, it developed as a tradition primarily in the Northern counties. There’s a bit of debate as to where it originates from exactly; being a South Yorkshire lady myself, I believe it’s fully a Yorkshire creation, but there are others who claim it comes from Lancashire. I used to live in Cheshire, and parkin is also commonly found there at this time of year. I bought some for my partner (who’s Australian) the first year we lived there. The lady in the bakery just couldn’t believe he’d never eaten it before. She said, “Fancy that, never ‘avin ‘ad a parkin!”
Historically, I’ve found some interesting references to parkin that date back several hundred years. Many sources reckon that it dates back to the industrial revolution, where oats and treacle became staple ingredients in the diets of the lower classes.
Betty’s – a Yorkshire-based cake manufacturer – claim on their blog that “The first mention of it by name can be found in court records from 1728, where one Anne Whittaker was accused of stealing oatmeal to make it. From simple unleavened Anglo-Saxon ‘theorf’ or ‘tharf’ cakes cooked on a griddle, over time the recipe has been sweetened and spiced to become the treat we know today.”
WHAT YOU NEED
Where possible, try to buy local, seasonal, free range and organic ingredients. Apart from it being better to support local businesses and good farming practises, it does make a huge difference to the taste of your food!
100g plain flour
100g soft brown muscovado sugar (I use light but you can use dark if you prefer it more treacly)
100g molasses (or honey)
1tsp ground ginger
1tsp ground cinnamon
1tsp ground mixed spices
4 tablespoons of milk
1 medium sized egg
1 tsp bicarbonate soda
Pinch of salt
Prep Time: 5-10 mins
Cooking Time: 1hr cooking, 15 mins cooling
- Heat the oven at 325F / Gas Mark 3. Line a square cake tin with baking parchment.
- Melt the butter, sugar and molasses together gently on the stove.
- Mix the dry ingredients together in a bowl. Make a well in the centre and pour the liquid mixture in. This should form a thick, dough-like consistency.
- Add the egg and stir to loosen the dough. Add the milk – this should loosen the dough further so it becomes more like a cake batter.
- Pour into the tin and bake for around 1hr – until a skewer comes out clean. Leave to cool for around 15 mins and serve sliced with a cup of tea!
- Technically, my grandma’s recipe says to store it for 2 days in an airtight container before eating. If you do this, it’ll make the cake more sticky. I never bother because I’m impatient and don’t want to wait that long!
LF – lactose free milk and butter are completely fine substitutes in this recipe
GF – use gluten free oats and flour
V – this cake is naturally vegetarian
Ve – you would be best looking up a vegan parkin recipe for full guidance, but I’d imagine that you’d be able to adapt this recipe for vegan tastes: just swap the milk for a vegan nut milk like almond or hazelnut, and then use an egg substitute or ripe banana, finally use an equivalent weight of olive oil to replace the butter. If you try this, let me know how it goes!