Casa Rosales

Casa Rosales

Sunday, 3 November 2013

Plot Night and Parkin Pigs

I thought I'd better check out my facts before I embarked on a story from a long time ago. Most people in England have heard of Guy Fawkes and know that he had something to do with Bonfire Night on 5th November. And they'd be right. In Bradford, where I grew up, we didn't know much more than that ...but we did call it 'Plot Night' and indeed, Guy Fawkes was a member of a group of fellow Catholics who planned - plotted - to blow up the Houses of Parliament. Guy Fawkes hadn't always been a Catholic but converted to this religion when he was about 16, probably due to the remarriage of his mother to a Catholic.... He had been a soldier in his early life, fighting for the Spanish against the Dutch - and at this time, chose to call himself 'Guido' - not sure why as this isn't a Spanish name.. The main target of the plot was to get rid of the Protestant King, James 1 and the year was 1605. The plot failed and it was Guy Fawkes who was the first of the group to be caught and taken prisoner, before being tortured to provide the names of his accomplices and then, as he was led to the scaffold, he jumped and broke his neck before he could be officially put to death. I always thought 'Guy' was an unusual name but I rather liked it. Until I met one in real life and that put me off the name forever! He was originally from York...

There's another Spanish link too - in 1603, Fawkes went to Spain to seek support for the removal of King James, but the Spanish weren't interested.  I put this down to the fact that Spaniards really don't like to eat anything with ginger in it - and ginger is a key ingredient of Parkin and a must for Plot Night - and also they never set off fireworks on November 5th. They only get to hear about the Plot from their native English language teachers...and most of them never mention the Pigs!

That is my official, historical explanation, with some chronology and my take on cause and effect....

Now onto my memories of Plot Night...

Just before Plot Night itself, the children I went to school with would talk about going 'proggin'' (we're famous up North for not pronouncing the 'ng' at the end of 'ing' words...we stop short at the 'n') which was a sort of scavenger hunt for bits of wood and things that could be burnt on our bonfires. I wasn't allowed to go proggin' but didn't really need to as we always had Plot Night at my grandparents' house and my grandpa would build a pretty good bonfire out in the 'croft' - a piece of shared land at the back of our houses. We would sometimes have a 'Guy' - a comical thing made by my granny from Grandpa's old clothes - and we'd always have a selection of fireworks like Catherine Wheels, Roman Candles, Snow Storm and a few rockets - but I always loved sparklers the best of all. I loved trying to write my name in mid-air before the image faded. And the smell...what a smell it was! Apparently it's sulphur residue though I'd always been told it was cordite...not true. Whatever it was, it hung in the air and made everything seem exciting. I really loved Plot Nights.

We ate pork pies and baked potatoes followed by parkin - an oatmeal-based ginger cake - and my Granny's special Parkin Pigs. Again, it would appear that this particular thing was quite local to Bradford and nearby areas of Yorkshire - unless of course, there is anyone reading who can tell me differently. I don't have any photos of our pigs - my mum now has 'the' cutter and she reckons it must be at least 100 years old as it's passed through generations of her family. The pigs themselves must have a currant eye and are thin, crispy ginger biscuits - the recipe is almost foolproof and I'll share it here...I guess it will be OK to make other gingerbread things out of it if you don't have a pig cutter...I do. And because the recipe is very old, it's in imperial measures...

4oz golden syrup                 }
10oz sugar                          }  - melt together in a large saucepan
4oz butter                           }                


Then add:

16oz self-raising flour
2tspns ginger
1 beaten egg

Stir into a soft mass and roll out as quickly as possible. Cut into shapes and bake at 120 degrees (low heat) for 10 to 15 minutes. It's easiest to work with when the dough is warm and slightly soft - I've found a quick blast in the microwave softens it again to make the shapes in batches - stops the cracking that happens when it's cool.

We're going to make some tomorrow when I've bought some golden syrup...I have a wide range of shape cutters but sadly, no pigs...

I am still none the wiser as to why we used to eat Parkin Pigs on Plot Night but we did and my mum still makes them at this time of year and gives them out to 'Trick or Treaters' in Knutsford...who won't have a clue why they've been given a gingerbread pig biscuit (unless they read this blog).

When we lived in Huddersfield, our Plot Night treat used to be a drive up to Castle Hill which overlooked all of Huddersfield and beyond, where we got a real bird-eye view of all the different bonfires and fireworks parties that were going on. Inevitably, there would be other families and groups there and we would always set off a few rockets from this vantage point - nothing too much but always with a sense of community spirit. Since 2009 though, fireworks have been banned on Castle Hill.

Funny to think how customs come and go - if I ever inherit the pig cutter, I shall most definitely continue the tradition. Whatever that might be!









20 comments:

  1. I did enjoy that, Annie, and am fascinated by how our Guy Fawkes Day traditions vary around the country. As I said in my reply to your comment, I've never heard it called Plot Night or of parkin pigs either, though parkin was always a family favourite all year round. Thanks for the recipe. I will definitely try them, though they may have to be parkin stars or bells as I don't have a pig cutter either. :-) Will you have a firework or two on Tuesday for old times' sake?

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    1. Thank you Perpetua! My cousin's wife, in Australia, has just told me that they used to celebrate Bonfire Night over there but now fireworks are banned, other than organised events, and it's dying out a bit. Interesting that the custom was taken over though. I did find a few folk who still say Plot Night but again, it's not widely used. Do try the biscuits - they make excellent gingerbread men and other shapes, not just pigs! And no, I don't think we'll be bothering with a few fireworks... though I may see if any other expats plan on doing so...
      Axxx

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  2. As an American living in England for well over 30 years now, I've watched the tradition of Guy Fawkes night slowly fading away -- we hear the occasional firework going off, but no bonfires in the back yard. So I've found your post very illuminating -- many thanks...

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    1. You are too kind! It used to be a big family thing and over the years, turned into more organised events but I have a suspicion that Halloween will eventually eclipse it completely...and yes, I know Halloween started here, but it grew much bigger on the other side of the pond, didn't it?! There are the beginnings of it all here now in Spain...but not Bonfire Night. Never mind. Axxx

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  3. Mentioning the smell brought it all right back!
    Wasn't it fun before it all became organised and regimented.

    I shall try the pig recipe not least as my beloved husband - not content with imitating Marmite - has presented me with a saucepan full of his imitation golden syrup on my return from San Jose.
    I shall have to use it to be able to use the saucepan again....

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    1. Yes, the smell always did it for me...
      Wondering about how imitation golden syrup smells? Make sure you use lots of ginger just to be on the safe side! Do you have a pig cutter though, that is the question? All the best. Axxx

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    2. Very lemony! And it is decidedly thick....
      To my shame, I do not have a pig cutter.....

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    3. Lemony sounds good....I almost bought some sugar cane honey to make mine with last night because I'd missed the English shop - they open English hours too, believe it or not! But decided to wait to get the 'real' thing. And I'm beginning to think we should all have at least one pig cutter....I had underestimated their importance in life. Axxx

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  4. What - no plot toffee?
    I was introduced to the joys of the Yorkshire Bonfire Night by my lovely ex-mother-in-law who made fantastic parkin and light, crispy, melt-in-the-mouth plot toffee.
    Did you do Mischief Night too? Another Yorkshire tradition unknown in the South. I believe Guy Fawkes was from York so no wonder they do it best up here!

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    1. We did have plot toffee, when my Granny made it, Nilly - proper Yorkshire stuff - and of course we did Mischief Night!! You are also quite right about Guy being from York....but I can't say that they know about Parkin Pigs in York as these seem very local to the Leeds/Bradford/Halifax area. There's a man in Hebden Bridge (you reading, Janice?) called Andrew Lane of Crow Pie - who seemed to know most about Parkin Pigs when I googled the history and he's put together an excellent glossary of 'endangered' British food, including the pig, which he suggested could have been a symbol of the pig's importance at this time of year - slaughter time. Interestingly, it's 'that' time here too - if I only had a pig cutter, I could start up a new tradition! There's also, a cheeky piece in a Halifax newspaper suggested that the parkin pig has been granted special protected status...like you, I love a bit of research..I'm just not too good on timescales! Axxx

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  5. Came here after googling "Plot Night" - which is what my Granny always called Guy Fawkes' Night (she was from North Yorkshire) - my wife had never heard the phrase, so I wasn't sure how widespread it was. I have my own parkin pig cutter, and a box of pigs next to me now. Don't forget the currants for eyes!

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    1. Now that's interesting, Edric - North Yorkshire links! I am so envious that you have a pig cutter. Yes, always currants for eyes....enjoy your pigs! Happy Plot Night too. Axxx

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  6. Very interesting post, thank you for the recipe will have to try it. My Mum wasn't really a fan of fireworks, we had a few, mainly sparklers but as we grew older she offered us a choice of fireworks or a new book. I didn't hesitate and always went for the book then watched from the window at the displays of others, win win!

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  7. I do understand Mums not being fans of fireworks, Chrissie...mind you, round here, the organised fireworks seem more dangerous than the diy type!
    I think it's a really good idea to have been given a choice - being a book lover and enjoyer of what goes on around me, you really did pick the win-win choice in my opinion.
    Axxx

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  8. Annie.....chronology, dates, Kings.....some excellent background......perfect ! And then, to add the icing, a recipe and fabulous description of plot night. I have loved reading different versions of 5Nov. North London didn't vary that much from Bradford, or Perpetua's Lancashire memories....finding the cat before nightfall was always my memory......he had usually escaped, or hidden, and not knowing which was always a problem. That smell, on the 6th, always meant winter is here now, and Christmas is soon, to me.
    Last year, I stayed in St James' Hospital Hotel on the night of the 5th, as my surgery was first thing on the 6th......this year is going to be much better.....I'm here in Liverpool with Jess....who knows what fireworks will be visible from the docks. Hope you have a good night tonight. Jxxx

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    1. Phew...I felt a little under pressure to provide some 'proper' history as you made me realise how very vague I am about it all! But the smell is the thing that really brings it all back, isn't it!
      It's been a long and at time very tough year, hasn't it? You have really done so incredibly well. It's fitting that there should be spectacular fireworks to celebrate it all. Hope they're well prepared in Liverpool - have a wonderful evening.
      Axxx

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  9. Such wonderful memories to share, Annie. Thank you, and for the recipe as well. They sound so mellow.
    We have sparklers here as well, on July 4th, and you remind me of them here and their unique smell. So much of our memories are tied to our sense of smell. This one surely is.

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    1. We made biscuits last night but to my shame, I'd run out of ginger! We had to improvise with lemon, mixed spice and cinnamon....and what you say about smell. Penny, is absolutely right. It's a powerful sense and it's incredible what it can conjure up even in memory!
      Axxx

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  10. I did enjoy that post Annie and your memories of 5th November. It was good to compare it with Perpetua's memories too.

    I've been wanting to make some gingerbread for a while so am glad you posted a recipe x

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    1. Thank you Ayak! I think both Perpetua and I are very lucky to have good memories of Bonfire Night.
      This recipe is for crunchy ginger biscuits, rather than bread. Nothing like parkin, if you've ever had that. But delicious none the less. I had to make them without ginger this year as I'd run out....but we put lots of mixed spice, lemon zest and cinnamon and they were almost as good. Axxx

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