There are a number of themes in Public Battles, Private Wars, one of which is food. Mandy Walker, my lead, likes to cook and she loves to bake cakes. As a cook-the-basics-when-I-have-to (i.e. for the kids) and a non-baker, I had to do some research. Given that the novel is set against the backdrop of the 1984/85 Miners’ Strike, I needed to look at old cook books and those with budget recipes, as well as swankier dishes. Luckily for me, I work part-time in a school and one of the more experienced teachers is a keen baker, and a jolly fine one too. She kindly leant me some of the cookery books she used as a young wife and mother in the late 70s and 80s. Thank you, Julia Cook – and yes, that is her real name. You couldn’t make it up.
It was such a joy to read (and feel) these plain but somehow beautiful, obviously very well loved, tomes. I believe it’s the love that makes them beautiful. Public Battles, Private Wars is set in a fictional Yorkshire pit village so you can imagine my delight to discover that the Farmhouse Kitchen was based on a series broadcast by Yorkshire Television during the timeframe. The Dairy Book of Home Cookery was published by the now defunct Milk Marketing Board and, though we are much more cholesterol conscious these days, there are plenty of wonderful, non-dairy recipes in it. Over the coming months, I’m going to share some recipes of dishes and cakes mentioned in the novel. Have a go a baking some and let me know how you get on. I might just tell you how I fared when I attempted some.
I’ll start with a cake that is, for me at least, quintessentially Yorkshire: Parkin.
Parkin is a form of gingerbread, and Yorkshire Parkin is made using oats. Traditionally, it is eaten on Bonfire Night (November 5th and my son, Ginger1’s birthday) celebrating the famous failure of Guy Fawkes to blow up the Houses of Parliament in 1605. Guy Fawkes was a Yorkshireman.
- 8 oz/220g soft butter
- 4 oz/110g soft, dark brown sugar
- 2oz / 55g black treacle/molasses
- 7oz / 200g golden syrup/ corn syrup
- 5oz/ 120g medium oatmeal
- 7 oz/ 200g self raising flour
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 4 tsp ground ginger
- 2 tsp nutmeg
- 1 tsp mixed spice
- 2 large eggs, beaten
- 2 tbsp milk
Heat the oven to 275°F/140°C/gas 1
- Grease an 8″ x 8″/ 20cm x 20cm square cake tin.
- In a large heavy-based saucepan melt together the butter, sugar, treacle, golden syrup over a gentle heat. Do not allow the mixture to boil, you simply need to melt these together.
- In a large, spacious, baking bowl stir together all the dry ingredients. Gradually add the melted butter mixture stirring to coat all the dry ingredients and mix thoroughly.
- Gradually, beat in the eggs a few tablespoons at a time. Finally add the milk and again stir well.
- Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and cook for 1½ hours until firm and set and a dark golden brown.
- Remove the parkin from the oven and leave to cool in the tin. Once cool store the Parkin in an airtight tin for a minimum of 3 days if you can resist eating it, you can even leave it up to a week before eating and the flavors really develop and the mixture softens even further and become moist and sticky. The Parkin will keep up to two weeks in an airtight container.
Enjoy! Next time, one of Mandy’s favourites: Victoria Sponge