traditional yorkshire parkin

The Victorians, great mythologisers of British history and traditions, made parkin on Guy Fawkes Night - a fiery treat to eat around the bonfire. Traditional parkin is an unusual cake in that it benefits from ageing. It is considered sacrilege to eat it fresh, unless hot from the oven with lashings of custard! The flavours marry well together and the ageing helps the cake to become moist and sticky as well as softening the harsh liquorice flavour of dark treacle.

So an apology, if you were planning on eating parkin today (Bonfire Night), you've left it too late. Ooops. However, if you make the cake today, it will be ready in a week and it is worth the wait.

At least you won't be waiting ten years before your first taste of parkin, which was my experience. I first read about parkin in a children's book, The Little White Horse, when I was eight years old and living in Malaysia. In fact, this blog is named for one of the characters in the book - Marmaduke Scarlet, an oddly gnomish, misogynistic cook, whose food I fell in love with.

The book enchanted me. Published in 1946, it sadly for me, hasn't stood the test of time. It seems rather saccharine and moralistic. Although if you can get a second-hand copy with the original illustrations by C. Walter Hodges, then it is probably worth a look. But reading in hot and humid Malaysia, about the country of my birth (of which I knew little) filled with delightful descriptions of glorious cream teas and country cakes, I was filled with a longing that stayed with me for some ten years, until moving to Yorkshire at 18, I was actually able to try the real thing. (Not as bad as poor British children reading the book in the late1940s and '50s, for whom as a result of rationing, most of the food they could only dream of!)

So ten years on, I was able to taste parkin and very happy it made me too. Sticky, soft and full of wonderful spice flavours, it is the perfect as well as the traditional accompaniment to a bonfire party.

I have a copy of Florence White's Good Things in England - there are no less than eight separate parkin recipes, from both Yorkshire and Lancashire (a mini War of the Roses over a cake!). Some of which don't contain treacle, some do. Yorkshire parkin contains lard, Lancashire only butter. Some versions are required to stand overnight to allow the flavours to marry before baking, but I was on a deadline and needed to cook it immediately!

Skill level: Easy


 175g black treacle (I replaced 2 tbsps with golden syrup)
150g butter, at room temperature
100g dark muscovado sugar
175g plain flour
2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
250g medium oatmeal (or pin oats)
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 x large egg
150ml milk


  1. Pre-heat the oven to 180C / Gas Mark 4.
  2. Lightly grease a 20cm x 20cm square cake tin. Line the base with baking parchment.
  3. In a large heavy-based saucepan melt together the butter, sugar, treacle, (and golden syrup) over a gentle heat. Do not allow the mixture to boil, you simply need to melt these together. The butter should melt and the sugar should be dissolved. Set aside to cool slightly.
  4. In a large mixing bowl, sift in the flour, spices and bicarbonate of soda, together with the oats.
  5. Mix the egg with the milk and stir into the dry ingredients.
  6. Add the treacle mixture to the batter and stir well to combine. Pour into the prepared tin and bake for about 50 minutes to 1 hour, or until the cake is firm to the touch. If it looks as if the cake is cooking too quickly, cover with a sheet of foil.
  7. Allow the cake to cook for 10 minutes in the tin before turning out onto a wire cooling rack.
  8. When the cake is completely cool, wrap in baking parchment and a couple of layers of foil and store in cake tin or Tupperware container for 5 to 7 days before cutting into squares. The flavours really develop and soften; the cake actually becomes stickier and more moist, the longer you leave it.

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