Yorkshire Parkin

Parkin is a sticky oatmeal gingerbread cake which has been popular in northern England- particularly Yorkshire and Lancashire- for centuries.

Preparation time: 20 minutesCooking time: 1 hour
Required storage time: 2-5 daysServes: 10
Difficulty: Easy

Ingredients

  • 140g/5 oz/⅔ cups of butter, plus extra for greasing
  • 200g/7 oz/just under ⅔ cup of golden syrup
  • 100g/3½ oz/⅓ cup of black treacle
  • 120g/4 oz/⅔ cup of brown sugar
  • 200g/7 oz/1⅔ cups of self raising flour
  • 200g/7 oz/2¼ cups of oatmeal
  • 1 tablespoon of ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon of nutmeg
  • ½ teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda
  • 2 eggs
  • 100ml/1dl/⅔ pt/just under ½ cup of milk

Make it vegan: use a plant based margarine instead of butter and 6 tablespoons of aquafaba instead of the eggs. Use soya, almond or oat milk instead of dairy milk.

Special Equipment

  • A pastry brush
  • A 20cm square cake tin
  • Baking paper
  • A large saucepan or casserole dish
  • A wooden spoon
  • An airtight container or cling film

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 140°C/275°F/Gas Mark 1.
  2. Use a pastry brush to grease a large sheet of baking paper, then use the paper to line a 20cm cake tin.
  3. Add the sugar, butter, golden syrup and black treacle to a large saucepan and set it on the hob over a low heat. Leave the pan on the hob for a few minutes, stirring occasionally, until the butter has melted. Then remove the pan from the heat and leave its contents to cool down for a couple of minutes.
  4. Add the flour, oatmeal, ginger, nutmeg and bicarbonate of soda to the pan and stir them into the syrup mixture. Then stir in the egg and milk, making sure everything is mixed together thoroughly.
  5. Pour the mixture into the prepared cake tin and pop it in the oven. Bake for one hour, or until reasonably firm, then remove from the oven.
  6. Allow the Parkin to cool down, then transfer to an airtight container or wrap tightly with clingfilm. Leave the Parkin for at least two days- preferably five- before unwrapping, cutting into slices and serving.
  7. Bon Appetit!

Tips

  • Make sure the syrup mixture is reasonably cool before adding the eggs- if it’s too hot you might end up with bits of cooked egg in the Parkin.
  • The best way to weigh out the golden syrup and black treacle is to place the saucepan onto the scales, tare them, then slowly pour the syrups directly into the pan until you have the correct weight of each.
  • Don’t eat the Parkin the day you make it! Leave it in an airtight box for at least two days before eating- this process allows the Parkin to become soft and sticky.

Background

Pronunciation: (PAR-kin)
Home: Northern England
Relatives: Tharf Cake (Northern England), Gingerbread, Flapjacks
History

Parkin is a traditional gingerbread cake from Yorkshire and Lancashire. It’s made with oats, a staple crop in northern England. As these were historically abundant there and thus relatively inexpensive, Parkin became a popular regional food, affordable even for the very poor. We don’t know exactly how old Parkin is but it has certainly been eaten in Yorkshire for centuries: the oldest known official reference to Parkin was made in a court record from 1728, when a West Yorkshire woman was accused of stealing oatmeal to make it. A potentially much older reference comes from the ballad Arthur O’Bradley, which describes Parkin being eaten at a wedding in the time of Robin Hood.

Because Parkin is so old, it has changed a lot over the years. In the early modern period, when sweeteners were rare and most food was savoury, the names ‘Parkin’ and ‘Tharf Cake’ were used somewhat interchangeably; in later years, as sweeteners became more readily available, ‘Parkin’ was used to refer to a sweetened version of the savoury Tharf Cake. As industrialization progressed, Parkin was baked in ovens instead of on old fashioned griddles and open fires.

Because oatmeal is used to make Parkin, the cake is traditionally eaten in early November- just after the annual oat harvest. As a result, it has been associated with several winter festivals that are held at that time of year, many of which involve eating ritual cakes- these include Samhain, All Hallow’s Eve, Martinmas and Bonfire Night. Parkin even has its own special day, Parkin Sunday- the first Sunday in November.

Bonfire Night is perhaps the holiday most widely associated with Parkin today. It commemorates the failed Gunpowder Plot against Parliament on November 5th, 1605, and involves fireworks, bonfires, hot food, drinks and cakes. In Yorkshire, Parkin is still enjoyed by adults and children alike as they warm themselves around the communal bonfire. An article from The Times, written in 1857, suggests this tradition was already well established in the mid-nineteenth century:

‘A very old custom, coeval, apparently, with the annual bonfires and fireworks, prevails to this day in the West Riding of Yorkshire, of preparing against the anniversary of Gunpowder Plot, a kind of oatmeal gingerbread, if I may so call it, and religiously partaking of it on the “dreadful” day, and subsequently. The local name of the delicacy is Parkin, and it is usually seen in the form of massive loaves, substantial cakes, or bannocks.’ 

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