9 Nov 2015

Once a year foods

I almost committed the unthinkable yesterday. I went to the pantry to get out the ingredients to bake our annual Guy Fawkes Parkin, only to discover that I had no treacle. None. Worse, I figured that the chances of my local supermarket having a tin of Lyle's Black Treacle to be less than 0.

I think no parkin on Guy Fawkes Night might just constitute reasonable grounds for divorce around here, both from husband and daughter, not to mention the dog, because parkin is a once-a-year-food, and once-a-year-foods absolutely taste better than any other kind. Think Anzac biscuits and mince pies and plum pudding and Easter eggs and mooncakes and even radishes. The radishes we eat on Christmas morning are the sweetest, most delicious radishes evahhhhhhh. A year without these foods is absolutely unthinkable, as is the idea of eating them on any other day. Our family is built on traditions, and most of those traditions revolve around once-a-year-foods. Like parkin.

And I had no treacle.

But my supermarket did!!! (See all those exclamation marks? That's how excited I felt!) Sure, it wasn't Lyle's, and it wasn't quite as black as we're used to, but it was treacle, and it made pretty fine parkin. My marriage is safe for another day.

Please to rememberThe fifth of November,Gunpowder treason and plot;I see no reason Why gunpowder treasonShould ever be forgot...

Parkin is integral to our Guy Fawkes Night, but I don't rightly know why. Hailing originally from Yorkshire, its sticky, treacly gingery deliciousness is perfect for the invariably freezing cold of a Northern English bonfire night, but how it came to be traditional, they don't rightly know. Only it did, and it is.

Guy Fawkes Night, of course, refers to the November 5th commemoration of the 1605 Plot to blow up the House of Lords in London - the Gunpowder Plot. The annual bonfires celebrate the fact that the plot was foiled and King James survived. It used to be an anti-Catholic day, but nowadays it's enjoyed by everyone. The banning of fireworks in Victoria in 1985 sort of sounded the death knell of Guy Fawkes Night in our state, but our family is tough. We can overcome such obstacles. They can't stop us building a bonfire and eating parkin, no sire.

And thanks to our supermarket and the plastic jar of CSR treacle syrup, that is definitely not Lyles, but did the job, we did.

And just like every other once-a-year-food, it tasted divine.

In case you feel a need to hunt down your own tin of Lyle's Black Treacle, in time for next year's bonfire, here's the recipe:

Guy Fawkes Parkin


450g treacle (or a whole tin of Lyle's Black Treacle if you find some)
125g butter
150ml milk
125g soft brown sugar
170g plain flour
1/4 teas salt
1 teas bicarbonate of soda
2 teas ground ginger
1 teas mixed spice
350g quick oats


:: Preheat oven to 160°c
:: Grease two loaf tins 10x25cm and line with baking paper.
:: Sift flour, bicarb soda, salt, ginger, and mixed spice twice, then add oats.
:: Gently heat treacle and butter in saucepan until the butter is melted.

:: Add milk and sugar, and stir until sugar dissolves.

:: Add liquid to dry ingredients and mix until combined.

:: Pour into cake tins and bake for 40 minutes, or until the top of the parkin is set. It should still be a bit gooey in the centre.

:: Leave to cool, and then eat with custard and ice cream. They say parkin actually improves if stored for a few days before eating. I'm never that organised, ahem clearly, but you can try it if you like.

Here's something delicious to read while you eat:

“When I'm married, may I wear this dress?"
"Of course," said Loveday. "It will need no alteration. It's a perfect fit."
They went downstairs and found that Robin hd already changed into dry clothes and set the table for tea with bread and butter, honey and cream, and golden-brown parkin. The kettle was singing on the hob, the white kitten was purring loudly, and the strange cave-room was glowing and cosy, lit by the leaping flames of the log fire. When she had put the children's wet things to dry, Loveday made the tea in a big brown pot like a beehive, and they sat down and fell hungrily upon the lovely food. Robin, sitting opposite Maria at the oak table spread with its snowy cloth, gazed at her in astounded appreciation of her appearance, but was at first too occupied in eating to say anything about it. However, when he had devoured half a loaf and a lot of parkin he at last gave tongue.
"That's a pretty dress," he said with his mouth full. "It looks like a wedding dress."
"It is a wedding dress," said Maria thickly, for she too was ravenous and was devouring bread and honey at the rate of two bites a slice. "It's my wedding dress. I'm trying it on to see if it fits."
"Are you going to be married?” asked Robin sharply, his munching jaws suddenly still. “Of course,” said Maria, reaching for the cream. “You didn’t expect me to be an old maid, did you?”
“Are you getting married today?” demanded Robin.
But this time Maria’s mouth was so full that she couldn’t answer, and Loveday, who hadn’t had her hunger sharpened by fresh air, danger, and exercise, and was nibbling very daintily at a very thin slice of bread and butter, answered for her.
“Of course she isn’t being married today, Robin. She isn’t old enough to be married yet. But when she is married she will wear that dress.”
“When you do marry, who will you marry?” Robin asked Maria.
Maria swallowed the last of her bread and cream and honey, put her hand on one side and stirred her tea thoughtfully. “I have no quite decided yet,” She said demurely, “but I think I shall marry a boy I knew in London.”
“What?” yelled Robin. “Marry some mincing nincompoop of a Londoner with silk stockings and pomade in his hair and a face like a Cheshire cheese?”
The parkin stuck in his gullet and he choked so violently that Loveday had to pat him on the back and pour him out a fresh cup of tea. When he spoke again his face was absolutely scarlet, not only with the choke but with rage and jealousy and exasperation.
“You dare do such a thing!” he exploded. “You – Maria – you – if you marry a London man I’ll wring his neck!”
“Robin! Robin!” expostulated his mother in horror. “I’ve never seen you in such a temper like this before. I did not know you had got a temper.”
“Well, you know now,” said Robin furiously. “And if she marries that London fellow, I’ll not only wring his neck, I’ll wring everybody’s necks, and I’ll go right away out of the valley, over the hills to the town where my father came from, and I won’t ever come back here again. So there!”
Maria said nothing at all in response to this outburst. She just continued to drink her tea and look more demure than ever. And the more demure she looked the angrier Robin became. His eyes flashed fire, and his chestnut curls seemed standing straight up all over his head with fury. Maria as quite sure that if she had been standing behind him she would have seen the twist of hair in the nape of his neck twitching backwards and forwards like a cat’s tail. She drank her tea with maddening deliberation and spoke at last.
“Why don’t you want me to marry that London boy?” she asked.
Robin brought his fist down on the table with a crash that set all the china leaping. “Because you are going to marry me,” he shouted. “Do you hear, Maria? You are going to marry me.”
“Robin,” said his mother, “that’s not at all the way to propose. You should go down on one knee and do it in a very gentle voice.”
“How can I go down on one knee when I’m in the middle of my tea?” demanded Robin. “And how can I do it in a gentle voice when I feel as though I had a roaring lion inside me?If I didn’t roar, I should burst.”
“You can stop roaring, Robin.” said Maria. “You can stop, because for the sake of peace and quiet I have suddenly made up my mind to marry you.”
Robin’s curls flopped down on his head again and the crimson tide receded from his forehead. “That’s all right then,” he said with a great sigh of relief. “That’s settled. I’ll have some more parkin, please, Mother.”
Elizabeth Goudge, The Little White Horse



  1. This recipe looks a lot like the molasses cake I often make. Yum! We started reading The Little White Horse today, so I skipped that part.

  2. Thank you for the recipe. I do have a question about the salt - you have it listed twice. Is that correct?

  3. This was so much fun to read. Thank you Jeanne, it's lifted my spirits today. That cake looks divine. I understand about small supermarkets and the feeling of 'what if' and 'will they' when it comes to certain ingredients. Have the bestest day in Melbourne, I would truly love to be there, but I'm hopeful that one day I will be able to, but for now I look forward to hearing you write all about it.

  4. Cit was an error, Susan. I fixed it. Thanks.

  5. Oh, Jeanne, I had a great laugh with this one, friend. I'm so glad that treacle was to be had after all. I must say that your parkin looks absolutely divine in a sea of custard. And I just set aside Little White Horse in a stack of books I'm collecting in preparation for Year 3 in our home.

  6. Well now this is very interesting....I've never even heard of treacle. I love reading stories like this where food and history meet! Thanks for sharing.

    Cindy Bee

    PS. And keep up with traditions. It's what holds families together!

  7. Laughing out loud at that snippet from Little White Horse, thank you Jeanne. I don't think I have the book yet though. Of to search it out and order it. And will have to try making parkin even if it isn't guy fawkes day (practice run in preparation).


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