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Aunty Belle's Parkin

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Why I Love This Recipe

I am on a mission - a few years ago I lost my entire collection of cookery books except for a few left-overs through a dreadful mistake, and I wax melancholy today when I think about all the books I had, including for instance an almost complete collection of Gourmet Magazine from the sixties to the nineties! Ones I particularly miss at the moment are the books of Jane Grigson, which were formative to almost all I do in the kitchen. The mission is: make people at large aware of this great British cook, who also lived in France, and collected recipes from all over the world for her wonderful books on fish, vegetable and fruit cookery. Her book on British food is an eye-opener for those who think the British can't cook - although that is a dying breed nowadays, I think.

Now is gingerbread time, so here goes with quoting her recipe for an unusual version. Note her academic precision, combined with a warm, homely attention to the details of the recipe. And note she forces you to read through the whole recipe before you start cooking by not starting with butter the pan or preheat the oven; if you don't read it before attempting it, you're bound to come up short some time or another.

The best recipe for parkin I've tried: it results in a cake of tender consistency unlike those hard, round parkins which I detested as a child (and still do), though I suspect they are in an earlier style. The texture of parkin is nubbly with oatmeal, the taste dark with treacle.

The origin of the name is unknown. The big Oxford Dictionary suggests that it may come from Parkin or Perkin, and the first quotation it gives is from the second edition Craven Glossary of 1828. I would say it is a much, much older cake than that perhaps it lurked under the name of gingerbread, for that is what it is, gingerbread made with oatmeal, the grain of the north where wheat was a trickier crop altogether than in the south.

This version from Joan Poulson's Yorkshire Cookery shows the modern softening of parkin, oatmeal cut with wheat flour, treacle replaced largely by golden syrup and brown sugar (I use light brown).

Ingredients You'll Need

90 ml (3 fl oz) golden syrup
30 ml (1 fl oz) treacle
125 g (4 oz) soft brown sugar
125 g (4 oz) butter
175 g (6 oz) self-raising flour
175 g (6 oz) medium oatmeal
2 level teaspoons ground ginger
a pinch of salt
1 egg beaten in 125 ml (4 fl oz) milk
1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
extra egg to glaze (optional)


The easiest way to get the right quantity of treacle and syrup is to put a saucepan on the scales and weigh it, then add extra weights as you pour in the golden syrup, then the treacle. If you have scales with a needle, put the pan on the scales, then turn the needle to zero and start from there. To the pan containing the syrup and treacle, add the sugar and butter. Warm gently, stirring, until you have a smooth thick liquid.

Have ready the rest of the dry ingredients in a bowl, and pour on the treacle mixture. Beat the egg and milk and add the bicarbonate, then tip into the bowl and mix to a dough. Pour into a well-buttered tin about 32 x 21 cm (13 X 8½ inches). Brush the top with beaten egg - this can be tricky as the surface is soft, but it gives a good dark glaze; an alternative is to brush it half-way through.

Bake in a preheated oven, at Gas 4, 180°C (350°F) for 1 hour, or until firm. Wrap in greaseproof and foil for a few days before eating.

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