Thursday 4 November 2010

Mischief and Gunpowder Plot with a bit of Toffee and Parkin

When I was young, Hallowe'en hardly registered with us. We might have indulged in bobbing for apples if anyone had been out scrumping for wild crab apples, but taught from an early age that apples were food and on no account to be wasted, this was not considered a done thing. What we had instead was November 4th - Mischief Night or Plot Night - this was the night in 1603 when Guido (Guy) Fawkes and his co-conspirators smuggled gunpowder into the Houses of Parliament in order to blow up the King, James I. The night before Bonfire Night, the most mishief we got up to was setting off crackers or rip-raps in the street, or knocking on doors and running away into the foggy night. There were four treats greatly looked forward to at this time. The simplest was to beg or borrow a good sized spud to bury under the bonfire, to be retrieved when the bonfire was burning low, and eaten charred and piping hot in the hand. Kindly aunties (neighbours) would dish out bowls of mushy peas: dried peas soaked overnight with bicarbonate of soda tablets to soften them, and then boiled for as long as it took them to dissolve into a green mess to which a dash of salt and vinegar would be added. Next on the scale of delights was Plot Toffee - 1 pound of sugar, 4 ounces each of Black Treacle and Margarine, a good spoon of water, a pinch of salt - all boiled until a drop of the mixture went hard when dribbled in a saucer of cold water. If Golden Syrup instead of Black Treacle was used, then a dash of vinegar was called for to sour it up. But the best treat of all was our own Yorkshire Parkin : 8 ounces of Porridge Oats; 4 ounces each of flour, margarine (or butter), brown sugar, Black Treacle; 2 teaspoons of ground ginger, 1 teaspoon mixed spice and 1 teaspoon bicarb of soda. Just mix together all the dry ingredients, melt margarine and treacle and mix them into the dry ingredients with a knife, roll out on a tray to a thickness of about a quarter of an inch, mark into squares and bake at 170 C for 20 mins. Take the tray out and pass it around the bonfire for people to break off a bit.


  1. Loved hearing your story about traditional treats. I was wondering about the photo... it's an image from Mischief Night, right? Why are they dressed up as Native Americans? (if you know)

  2. Your recipies make my mouth water Jacqueline. I do have fond memories of Guy Fawkes bonfire party's in London. If I had known! how much sugar goes into a toffee apple??
    Have a good one .)

    Have you recovered?

  3. Thanks for the recipes! I was aware about them and missed the taste of them too.

  4. I forgot to say - if you are ever in the south of England for bonfire night do go to Lewes - they have a number of Bonfire Societies and this is one of them in their dress - there are parades and drumming - think Mardi Gras with warm clothes on!

  5. What fun! I remember my mother telling us about Guy Fawkes Day, and especially, as it was my older brother's birthday, how he, as a child would assume all the fireworks were for him!

    I hadn't heard of the food, though - my parents told us of lugging a home-made "Guy" around to doors and asking for a "penny for the Guy" which would be spent on candy, and of the huge bonfires!

    I'm only just home from a week away and find that you've been in hosipital, Jacqueline - I'm so sorry to hear this. I hope all is well now and that you are recovering well.


  6. Do you remember we had a hollowed-out turnip for a lantern with a candle that blew out so often your mum told you if you came back again to have it lit you would have to stay in? We kept it, slowly collapsing, in the garden and then lit it again for a final flourish on Bonfire Night. Irene xxx