My Grandmother was a witch…… and, for all you naysayers, I can easily dispel any doubts you might have as to the veracity of my statement!
When I was an infant, she used to take me into the woods of Betws y Coed in North Wales. For those of you not familiar with Welsh let me say that it is nothing like English. Secondly you don’t have to “buy a vowel”, the “w” in Welsh is a vowel that sounds like the “oo” in “too”.
On one occasion she had me catching leaves, having told me that if I caught a leaf as it fell I could make a wish. As look would have it, I caught a leaf relatively quickly and wished for what all young lads want, to see a snake!
Well we tramped up and down the woods looking for a snake, all to no avail. In the end we left the woods, headed into town and the car that was parked in the town centre. As we approached we noticed that there was a snake by our car in the car park.
See, I told you I could prove it………
And so from parking, to parkin and this week’s recipe, my Grandmother’s Sponge Parkin. Before you purists out there start to write in, I am aware that this is not a typical parkin cake. For me though it does have one very important advantage over the typical version, it has no treacle in it! Treacle is essential to a typical parkin cake and something I have not been able to source here in Spain.
As I get older I find that I like the flavour of ginger more and more. It was with great delight therefore that I received my Grandmother’s parkin recipe from my sister. It is written in her own hand, it’s her own original recipe, is much lighter than the typical parkin, has no treacle but still has a gingery bite to it.
Parkin is a dense, sticky cake typically from the North of England and in particular from Yorkshire. It is traditionally eaten on Guy Fawkes Night. It typically uses oatmeal, a common northern cereal crop. It also uses both treacle and syrup which are responsible for the sticky, moist texture. There are no real substitutes for either, so if you want to bake the typical parkin, make sure you can get these basic ingredients…… but as I said above, this recipe has no treacle, so all you have to do is find some syrup!
I know I have a few followers from Zaragoza, so let me just say that syrup can be obtained from the “Taste of America” shop on the corner of Conde de Aranda and César Augusto. Although syrup is quintessentially British, they do normally stock it!
Some would suggest that parkin goes back to the Industrial Revolution, given that the ingredients were cheap staples of the time. The first documented reference however comes from the early 19th century. What may surprise some is the use of ginger, a spice that came mainly from the East Indies and therefore not a local product. In fact many recipes of the time used quite a lot of spices and it was not uncommon to find exotic spices in many of the recipes of the time. A dearth of spice usage in the 20th century, followed by an upturn more recently, may lead many people to believe that spice usage is a relatively common thing. This is definitely not the case!
If further proof were needed, both of spice usage and the fact that I am an engineer at heart, I used the search facility to check one of the earliest books I have, a book from the 17th century that I have an electronic copy of:
“The Compleat Cook Expertly Prescribing The Most Ready Wayes, Whether Italian, Spanish Or French, For Dressing Of Flesh And Fish, Ordering Of Sauces Or Making Of Pastry”.
Printed by E.B. for Nath. Brook, at the Angel in Cornhill, 1658.
Searching the book will bring up 20 references to ginger, 4 references to cinnamon and 73 references to nutmeg. So the spices may have travelled far, but they were far from uncommon!
Some have said that my English is ripe (overripe?) with archaic structures and words….. That may be so…. but if you really want to try some old English I would suggest you download the aforementioned cookbook, it is free and can be found at:
Well, back to the recipe. I have changed the self raising flour of the original recipe for plain flour and baking powder as I can’t get self raising flour here. It is quite a large cake, but the apparently small amount of ground ginger really does shine through. I would recommend you leave as is and adjust as necessary after trying the finish cake.
Grandma’s Sponge Parkin
Makes an 8” square cake
2 tsp Ground ginger
4 ½ tsp Baking powder
Warm the syrup and margarine and beat together. Heat to the minimum so as not to cook the egg when it is added later.
Grease and line an 8″ square slab tin.
Mix together the sugar, ginger, flour and baking powder.
Preheat the oven to 180ºC. Set the oven rack towards the bottom of the oven.
Beat the egg then beat in the syrup and margarine. Beat in the milk and flour alternating between the two. I start with a balloon whisk then as the mixture thickens I swap to a large wooden spoon.
Pour the mixture into the prepared tin.
Put the tin onto the prepared lower rack and bake for 30 minutes at 180ºC then 45 minutes at 165ºC.
If you are ever in north Wales I would wholeheartedly recommend a trip down to Betws y Coed. Start at Conwy castle and work your way upstream along the B5106. Take a right in the town of Trefriw and head up to Llyn (lake) Crafnant. Walk around the lake before heading on to Betws. Park in the centre of town as we used to then go up to Llyn Elsi via the track behind the church. For a circular route come back down towards Miner’s Bridge then back along the river!
Could this be the only cooker blog that gives travel information??
Any comments as usual are more than welcome!
tsp – Teaspoon – 5ml
tbsp – Tablespoon – 15ml
Imperial to Metric Measurement:
1 oz – 28g
1 lb – 16 oz – 454g
1 gill – ¼ pint – 142ml
2016 Lincoln W. Betteridge