Christobel Heginbotham’s ultimate parkin and other Bonfire Night treats

October 31, 2011 § 2 Comments

A name to die for isn’t it? I met the lady in question eight years ago after tucking into platefuls of cake in a scout hut at the edge of the Pennines after completing the annual “Autumn Leaves” fell race. The local running club organising the race have the inspired idea of combining it with a village cake competition and the runners get to eat the entries afterwards. Brilliant. So not only did I get to eat the most fantastic parkin (which in case you haven’t come across it is a a moist sticky gingerbread cake, a speciality from the North of England) but it had the baker’s name on it so I was able to find her and she very kindly emailed the recipe to me. I’ve been making it annually ever since, a recipe to treasure, and traditional for a Bonfire Night party.

The cake mixture, made simply in a single large saucepan by the melting method, looks disconcertingly runny when poured into the prepared cake tin:

But fear not, it will turn into this sweet, sticky, spicy, springy cake when cooked:

Which, as you can see, can be eaten straightaway – no wrapping and storing for a week as some recipe suggest. No need to seek out tricky-to-find oatmeal either – the recipe works just fine with rolled oats which you probably have in your cupboard already for making porridge.

By the way, golden syrup seems to be a peculiarly British ingredient. Looking at various web forums, the best US substitute might be a dark corn syrup – hope this works for you.

Thinking about a fireworks party theme, I have a great recipe for an Argentinian-inspired beef stew served spectacularly in a serving bowl fashioned from a pumpkin. Perfect for a party as it can be made well in advance, warming, substantial and full of healthy veg! Actually it would work really well for a Halloween party too and you could then pull out all the stops and serve it with black pasta (the stuff mixed with squid ink) or black rice if you can get hold of some. Perhaps more economical would be a mix of fettucine type noodles, some black, some green and some plain. Similarly a mix of basmati and wild rice rather than just wild rice or Vietnamese or Piedmont black rice.

Sorry, no photos available from when I last cooked this dish but I think this consignment of squashes from Riverford Organics currently decorating my front porch are destined for this dish next weekend:

Finally, a reliable recipe for toffee apples from my ever trustworthy Good Housekeeping recipe book. It wouldn’t be a proper party without toffee apples and the recipe is literally child’s play as my son Arthur proves:

Boiling the toffee to the correct “soft crack” stage isn’t as tricky as it sounds. Drop a teaspoon of the hot toffee into a bowl of chilled water. It’s ready when the syrup doesn’t just form a ball but separates into hard but not snappable threads.

Try my trick of shoving the handle of a teaspoon into the apple as a handle if you find yourself making these at the list minute with no wooden lolly sticks in your kitchen drawer.

Recipe for parkin

With thanks to Christobel Heginbotham. I bake this in a shallow rectangular metal baking tin approx 20cm by 25cm (see pic above) but you can, as Christobel suggests, double the recipe and bake in a square deep cake tin “to make a fair sized cake”, in which case a longer cooking time may be required.


100g butter
50g soft brown sugar
2 large tablespoons (this weighs 75g) black treacle
2 large tablespoons (ditto) golden syrup
175 ml milk
100g plain flour
2 teaspoons (10g) baking powder
1 teaspoon (3g) ground ginger
half teaspoon ground cinnamon
half teaspoon ground cloves (or ground allspice)
100g rolled porridge oats

Preheat oven to 170 degrees C (fan). Line a 20cm square baking tin with baking paper.

In a large saucepan melt the butter, sugar and treacle together over a low heat. Be careful not to let it burn or bubble. Remove from the heat and stir in the golden syrup and milk.

Add the plain flour, baking powder, ginger, cinnamon and cloves or allspice. Mix well, beating to remove any lumps. Stir in the oats.

Pour into the baking tray and cook for 35-45 minutes. Test by pressing the top with your finger tip. It should spring back and not leave a dent. Cut into squares and leave to cool in the tin.

Recipe for Carbonada Criolla – Argentinian beef and vegetable stew served in a pumpkin

Adapted from a recipe in Jane Grigson’s Vegetable Book.

Serves 15-20


1 large beautiful pumpkin which will fit comfortably into your oven

For the meat stew

2 large onions, chopped
4 large cloves garlic, chopped
olive oil for frying
1.5 kg cubed chuck steak
2 tins (14oz size) chopped tomatoes
1 tablespoons tomato purée or 4 tablespoons passata
2 litres beef stock (made from cube is fine)
bouquet garni (a handful of parsley stalks, a sprig of thyme, and 2 bayleaves, tied together in a muslin bundle with a long string handle to aid removal from the pot)
1 heaped teaspoon dried oregano
2 teaspoons sweet smoked paprika (or ordinary paprika if you don’t have the smoked kind)
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 kg sweet potato, peeled and cut into 2cm cubes
1 kg waxy potatoes, scrubbed but not peeled (unless you prefer them peeled) and cut into 2cm chunks
1 kg pumpkin or squash (choose a variety which will collapse and melt into the sauce when cooked to act as a natural thickener) peeled and cut into 2cm cubes or chunks
0.5 kg frozen sweetcorn kernels (or the equivalent canned or fresh if you prefer)
a pack of baby sweetcorn
12 canned peach halves sliced – you could use canned apricot halves if that’s what you happen to have in the cupboard – drained contents of 2 cans should be about right
Syrup from the canned peaches or apricots

Begin by preparing the pumpkin. Wash and cut out a lid from the top, keeping the stalk on to act as a handle. Cut a small nick out of lid and base to aid repositioning the lid accurately. Using your hands, a spoon and a small sharp knife, pull out and discard the central fibrous part of the pumpkin along with the seeds. Now cut and scoop away the solid pumpkin flesh, working carefully as you need to leave a good wall of pumpkin flesh for structural integrity when baked and the skin needs to be unpierced/intact. Weigh out the pumpkin flesh needed for the recipe and set aside.

Brush the inside of the pumpkin with a little olive oil. Replace the lid and set the whole thing in a shallow roasting tin.

In a frying pan, cook the onion and garlic in a little oil until soft but not browned. Transfer to a large lidded saucepan or casserole dish.
Add a little oil to the frying pan in which you cooked the onions, turn up the heat and brown the beef cubes in batches, transferring them to the large saucepan with a slotted spoon as you go. Add to the beef and onions the tomatoes, tomato purée, salt and pepper, bouquet garni, oregano and paprika. Now take about half a litre of the stock and use it to deglaze the frying pan. Tip the deglazing liquid into the saucepan containing the other ingredients along with a further half litre of stock. This means that you will have incorporated into the dish about half the stock at this stage.

Cover and simmer until the meat is almost cooked – an hour or so. Add the sweet potato, potato and pumkpkin plus more stock so that the pan contents are covered. Return to the boil and simmer with the pan lid on for a further 20 to 30 minutes until the meat is tender, the potatoes cooked and the sauce thickened with the collapsed pumpkin. Taste and correct seasoning. Remove and discard the bouquet garni.*

Finally, add the sweetcorn and peaches but not their syrup at this stage and simmer for a further 15 minutes. Taste and add a little peach syrup at this stage to sweeten the sauce if liked.

* You can prepare the beef stew ahead of time to this stage. Best not to finish the stew until you’re ready to serve to prevent the baby corn and canned fruit becoming to mushy in the reheating process.

To complete the dish, switch on your oven to 180 degrees C (fan)about 1 hour before you’re ready to serve. Bake the pumpkin for half an hour or so. Safest to keep it underdone as you don’t want the walls to collapse so check it after 20 minutes. After half an hour, ladle the hot stew into the pumpkin then pop back into the hot oven for 10-15 minutes before serving.

Recipe for toffee apples

Adapted from a recipe in UK classic cookery book “Good Housekeeping”. Mine is the 1985 edition.

Makes 6-8 apples


450g (1 lb) demerara sugar (turbinado sugar in the US)
50g (2 oz) butter
10 ml (t teaspoons) vinegar – I use malt vinegar but a white wine vinegar would be fine and a cider vinegar would be appropriate for apples wouldn’t it?
150 ml (1/4 pint) water
15 ml (1 tbsp) golden syrup (dark corn syrup probably OK as a substitute)
8 small/medium apples and the same number of wooden sticks

Wash and dry the apples and push the sticks into their cores, making sure they are secure.

Place the butter, sugar, vinegar, water and syrup in a medium-sized heavy based saucepan. Heat gently, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon, until the sugar is dissolved. Bring to the boil without stirring further and boil rapidly until the syrup reaches the “soft crack” stage (143 degrees C or 290 degrees F if you’re using a sugar thermometer).

Remove from the heat and working swiftly to prevent the toffee from setting, dip the apples into the toffee, remove and twirl for a few seconds to allow excess toffee to drip off. Set on a sheet lined with baking paper to cool and harden.

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