Flavours that celebrate our National Parks
In steering clear of the usual double-choc-mega-chip-fudge cliches we reckon we've created a couple of dark horses in the Outdoor Provisions range. Classics like Cherry Bakewell and Choc Kendal Mint Cake are well known but Parkin and Bara Brith, on the other hand? Well, they give little away to those who aren’t already in the know.
We recruited proud Yorkshireman and certified fresh-air-head Tom Hill, to explain the origins of our tribute to the Yorkshire Dales.
Words and images by Tom Hill (@24tom)
My first memories of parkin are as a child. It was a traditional bonfire night treat; squares of rich ginger sponge. Baked in a tray, cut into cobblestone-like chunks and transferred into an old biscuit tin. My eager fingers would pluck a cube out while my eyes were transfixed on the (what in hindsight was probably a borderline dangerous and desperately unspectacular) 1980s firework display.
Good parkin isn’t exactly spectacular on the old visuals either. No icing, no decoration at all in fact. There’s not even any special ingredients: ground ginger, oatmeal and treacle supplement flour, fat and sugar. It’s at this point, though, I become defensive about this not-so-humble ginger cake. It’s greatness lies in its simplicity and I think we are rightly proud of our traditional parkin.
A quick history lesson
To start off with, parkin has got a pretty good heritage. The first reference to it dates all the way back to 1797. Somewhat concerningly, that reference is a report of a court case in the Yorkshire Assizes.
In the kind of a case scurrilous enough for Sherlock Holmes, a conniving husband attempted to poison his wife with a parkin cake laced with arsenic. Outdoor Provisions have assured me that their recipe does not contain arsenic.
Ready, steady, cook
Moving on from that slightly inauspicious start, I thought I should probably bake my own parkin. Purely for research purposes you understand – how can I sing the praises of something without refreshing the old tastebuds? This is where things started getting a little complicated. For such a simple recipe it turns out there’s quite a few variations. It kind of makes sense when you think about it. This cake dates back to when recipes were passed on by word of mouth – what’s a few grams of flour between friends?
Aaannyway, enough dithering, I placed my trust in Delia Smith. Because, in this topsy turvy world, if we can’t trust Delia then we are truly doomed. Apron on, brass band playlist selected on Spotify and it still only took me two minutes to end up off piste. She didn’t use enough black treacle for my liking. And seeing as I’d already committed heresy, I chucked in an extra teaspoon of ginger too. Sorry Delia.
Minor indiscretions aside, it wasn’t long before my mix was in the oven, the smell of ginger filling the kitchen. It’s a long bake too – an hour and a half. Delia recommends cooling for half an hour. What? I lasted about as long as it took for the kettle to boil.
The end result was sticky, moist, and delicious. Everything a good cake should be, and more importantly, everything that I remembered.
I have more recent memories of parkin: sitting outside a cafe in the heart of the Yorkshire Dales, bike propped up outside. You can imagine the kind of place. Twee cottage garden, wrought iron chairs and table. The table will be too small to fit your group’s order, and more than likely wobble every time you lift your mug.
In recent times, cafe stops have been trickier to be rely upon. And for some of us, the wilderness is more appealing than doilies and floral prints. On these occasions, one must consider bringing their own cake to recreate the experience.
Unfortunately, even the proudest of Yorkshiremen has to admit there is one downside to parkin. Being a sponge cake, it’s on the fragile side. I didn’t fancy carting a biscuit tin around with me on my ride, so I wrapped the cake in foil and popped it into my jersey pocket. A few hours in, it was time to pause and enjoy my homemade parcel of gingery goodness. Carefully peeling back the foil, I forlornly shook the crumbs into my mouth.
If only there was another way to enjoy the taste of parkin while enjoying the outdoors…
If you fancy making your own traditional parkin, Tom’s recipe is below. We did not envisage dishing out cake recipes when we started Outdoor Provisions but are extremely happy about it!
Traditional Yorkshire Parkin
200g golden syrup
75g black treacle
110g dark brown soft sugar
225g medium oatmeal (this is finer ground oats than your typical porridge)
110g self-raising flour
3 level teaspoons ground ginger
Pinch of salt
Tablespoon of milk
- Put a small pan on the hob and add the butter, syrup, treacle and sugar. Allow the butter to melt and stir before removing from the heat.
- Whack all the dry ingredients into a mixing bowl.
- Add the butter/syrup to the bowl and stir. Add the milk and egg and combine.
- Pour the mix into a square baking tin, lined with greaseproof paper and pop in a preheated 140ºC oven for 90 mins.
- Remove and allow to cool in the tin for at least as long as it takes for the kettle to boil and tea to brew. If you have superhuman powers and can wait 30 mins, even better.