Photographs by Gary Stratmann
Nothing felt more homely and welcoming when I was growing up in my home town of Redcar, North Yorkshire, than entering my Aunty Mary’s old terrace house and smelling the delights being created in her kitchen.
Artie, her friendly black spaniel, also shared my enthusiasm for her cheerful personality and her home cooking hospitality.
One such recipe, Parkin, is a traditional cake (not for the health conscious or diabetic) that is basically a ginger cake packed with oats and treacle. It is mentioned in my books, such as: For Richer, For Poorer, as its recipe has been passed down the generations.
It was certainly made during the Industrial Revolution and gained favour as the ideal snack to partake of in November on a cold Bonfire Night on the 5th. The first Sunday of that month is referred to as ‘Parkin Sunday’.
This rich cake, full of flavour, also helped to keep hardworking folk filled and warmed through the cold winter months.
Lancashire also has its own recipes for parkin, but there are differences between the two versions. Yorkshire includes oats and uses more black treacle (molasses) giving a darker distinct flavour. Lancashire Parkin tends to be lighter and sweeter using more golden syrup (not corn syrup, which is different) instead. Opinions on this vary, as much as the recipes because some people leave out the oats all together, but this version hits the mark when you want to feel re-energized on a cold and dreary day.
The recipe I have included here is the one my Aunty Mary used and the one that when I do indulge takes me back to my childhood, a warm and loving home with my aunt and of course dear old Artie.
5 oz oats
4 oz SR flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp mixed spice
1/2 tsp nutmeg
Pinch of salt
5 oz black treacle
3 oz golden syrup
4 oz soft brown sugar
4 oz butter
2 large beaten eggs
1 tbsp milk
The resulting cake should be dark, sticky, and spicy and has a flavour that improves if it is left in an airtight tin for 3-5 days after it has been allowed to cool.
Then enjoy a slice with a nice cup of tea – but in moderation!
If you know any other versions of this old favourite or more about the origins of it I would love to see your comments.
I am delighted to welcome Margaret James back to my blog as she tells us about her enchanting new book Magic Sometimes Happens!
Thank you for inviting me to be a guest on your blog, Valerie. It’s great to be here! Today, I’m going to tell you about the inspirations – music, poetry and places – for my latest novel, Magic Sometimes Happens.
The story is about second chances for both my hero and my heroine. My hero Patrick Riley is married, is the father of two small children and doesn’t expect his wife to leave him for a man she says makes her fly. My heroine Rosie Denham is running away from a bad mistake and needs to learn to forgive herself.
The story starts when Rosie visits Minnesota in the fall, a season which is probably the most beautiful time of year in one of America’s most beautiful states. The whole place seems to turn red and gold almost overnight as the trees change colour. But fall is a very short season. Minnesota’s long, harsh winter will soon be on its way, and the whole place will be frozen solid for almost six months until spring makes a brief appearance before the next sweltering summer comes around.
So yes, Minnesota has an extreme climate. But it’s place that is full of extremes. The Twin Cities of Minneapolis and Saint Paul are divided by the Mississippi River, which winds between limestone bluffs and through various locks and channels to join the Missouri before flowing on to the Gulf of Mexico. There are quiet, very beautiful stretches of river very close to the urban hearts of Minneapolis and Saint Paul. But some parts of the Twin Cities are very built up. Minneapolis is home to the Mall of America, the biggest shopping centre in the western world. But there are also hundreds of parks, lakes and playgrounds dotted between the buildings, and – in spite of the dozens of high-rise buildings and skyscrapers in downtown Minneapolis – the whole place has a countrified feel to it.
Most American schoolchildren are probably familiar with Henry Longfellow’s narrative poem, The Song of Hiawatha. It’s the story of a Native American warrior and his bride Minnehaha and it’s set in Minnesota. When you visit the Twin Cities, you can’t help but be aware of the influence of Longfellow on place names. You’ll come across Minnehaha Park, Hiawatha Avenue, the Hiawatha Clinic and many more. My fashion PR consultant heroine Rosie is a British girl who has never heard of Longfellow, but American-born Patrick knows long stretches of the poem by heart.
As for music – although Patrick is a professor of IT and very science-oriented, he is in love with music, especially American classical music by the likes of George Gershwin, Aaron Copland, Leonard Bernstein, Samuel Barber – Pat listens to them all. But his absolute favourite is Gershwin who wrote, among many other compositions, Rhapsody in Blue and An American in Paris. So, when Rosie takes him to Paris, Patrick can’t help but be enchanted and magic is surely bound to happen!
Maybe have a listen and see if you’re enchanted, too?