[Milton-L] Parkin

Conrad Bladey Peasant cbladey at bcpl.net
Tue Oct 31 08:32:51 EST 2006

Parkin also known as Yorkshire Parkin has quite a history and folklore. 
The central aspect is that it is baked hard and after a time comes back 
to life and softens.

At this moment I have a fresh tray of Parkin right out of the oven in 
preparation for our annual guy Fawkes celebratons.  Parkin is in the 
family of ancient cakes- thor cake, tharf cake.


  A cake made chiefly of treacle and oatmeal-North Of England.

Wright's English Dialect Dictionary, vol. vi. p. 75. Thar-cake, short 
for Tharf-cake.

(1) An unleavened cake of flour or meal, mixed with milk or water, 
rolled out thin and baked.

(2) A kind of cake of oatmeal, butter, and treacle.

Used in West Yorkshire, Lancashire, Derby, Cumberland and Durham.

Professor Skeat writes me:" The Middle English form is therf-cake, and 
thus occurs in Piers Plowman.  The A.S. for there of is theorf (very 
common), Old Norse Pjarfr (thiarf-r), Old High German derb, all meaning 
unleavened." It would therefore seem as though the cake itself was of 
Anglo-Saxon or possibly Gothic origin but, unless on the lines suggested 
by Dr. Tille, it is difficult to say why it should be so closely 
associated with the early days of November, although if there be allowed 
us an explanation of origins, then the practice of eating a fancy cake 
on one particular day in November in connection with feasting held on 
account of some national festival-such as the discovery of the gunpowder 
plot-may have developed from it.  Should such a conjecture be correct, 
there would be nothing novel in it to folklorists, as they are 
constantly finding Christian festivals synchronizing with older heathen 
observances on which they have been engrafted.

-Source-C.J. Tabor Folk-Lore,Vol. XIX, 1908.,p.337-339

Parkin, Tharf Cake and November 5th

In Huddersfield the custom of making parkin for November 5 was so strong 
that  a supermarket is offered  all shoppers who spent over £10 a free 
500 gm bag of oatmeal and a free 2 lb tin of golden.  One eats parkin by 
the fistful, in hunks. There is a more refined biscuit variety

Modern parkin is made with treacle and that means that this custom must 
date to after the mid seventeenth century. and therefore is not likely 
to be older than the mid-seventeenth century when Barbados sugar made it 
possible for Molasses to be more widely available. Treacle was a 
replacement for honey used in the original parkin. Honey also was used 
in sacred foods so possible parkin has its origin in this tradition. . 
Spices became more available just in time for the return of fairs and 
festivals following the Restoration of 1660. Gingerbread consumption 
probably rose at this time. Parkin is a poor man's gingerbread with 
oatmeal or breadcrumbs substituted for white flour.  Prior to later 
changes parkin was a basic food product which used elemental ingredients 
available as early as the Iron Age.   Some argue that because of its 
sweetness parkin would not have been an ordinary food until after 1700. 
This is another indication of its possible sacred origin. Honey was also 
relativly expensive and its use may have been reserved for important 
occasions. An additional sacred aspect of both gingerbread and parkin is 
related to the water attracting or hydroscopic properties of honey. As 
with the German Lebkuchen, hard gingerbread made with honey is baked dry 
but comes again after storage as does parken- softening up and becoming 
richer.  Early versions of parkin are associated with special religious 
events such as: Easter, Little Lent (November 11) or  Martinmas, as well 
as the 40 day period of Lent. Honey being sacred and a special food 
could be included in fasting breads. Honey was also associated with 
healing properties.

The association of parkin with November derives from confusion. Parkin 
Sunday in West Riding areas was the Sunday in the Octave of All Saints 
that is any of the first seven days of November. In Lancashire Tharcake 
Monday was the last Monday after October 31st. Cake night in Ripon and 
Caking Day in Bradfield, Sheffield was November 1st. or All Hallows. On 
these dates boys and men conducted mumming activities from house to 
house collecting money for their cakes which were, as is parkin, made 
with oatmeal, butter and treacle. Soul mass cakes were made for the poor 
on November 2nd, All Souls' Day. In Lancashire thes cakes were oatcakes 
but in York they were a kind of parkin. Such cakes would also be eaten 
on November 11th, old Martinmass. Parkin therefore is associated with 
the month of November. When the celebration of the Deliverance of 1605 
became the primary celebration of the month parkin followed as it was 
the seasonal food. While it may be associated with bonfire none of the 
other November celebrations with which it was associated were also 
associated with fires. Parkin was adopted by the bonfire traditions in 
the 19th century. This probably occurred with the condensation of all 
November and Fall holidays into one. In Leeds Guy Fawkes day was known 
as Parkin Day. Perhaps a day to remember the bread rather than the plot!

"On November 5th in Nidderdale schools (Lofthouse and Middlesmoor) the 
master was barred out by the scholars until he granted a half-day 
holiday; a collection was then taken among the scholars for parkin 
ingredients, and a parkin party followed, an equal number of small 
parkins being allotted to each child. In Huddersfield the headmaster of 
Almondbury Grammar School was given presents of parkin by parents and 
others. At Midhope near Sheffield the schoolmaster received so many 
parkins he was still eating them behind his desk lid the following 
May."-Peter Brears, Traditional Food in Yorkshire ( Edinburgh, 1987), p. 
171; Easther, p. 97.

Most parkin recipes date from the mid nineteenth century at which time 
modern flowers  and leavening agents such as baking powder became 
popular. Before that time the recipe was so simple as not to require 
publication.  By 1919 M. Gaskell in A Yorkshiere Cookery Book could 
provide 17 recipes for parkin. Today the recipe varies widely.


Hard Honey Tharf Cakes/Parkins

Plain tharf cakes, slightly sweetened, made by the poor for holidays.


  8 oz oatmeal
⅔ cup milk
1 large tablespoon honey
ginger or black pepper (optional)


Melt the honey,  in the milk. Add the  meal making  very stiff dough. 
Form  into several 3" diameter cakes, about ¼" thick. Heat a heavy iron 
frying pan or griddle sprinkled with meal on the cooking surface, then 
put  the cakes on the griddle/pan.

Cook with care for about an hour  until dried out and hard. Keep any 
browning to a minimum
If the cakes are at all damp they will not keep. The cakes will remain 
hard for several months.

Bakestone Parkin with Honey

Derived from the 1830 treacle parkin of Miss Ferrand. It probably was 
made until the end of the seventeenth century.


8 oz honey
2 oz butter
12 oz medium oatmeal
I tbs milk (optional)
butter for greasing
ginger, allspice, black pepper (optional)


Carefully melt the butter and honey.  Mix in the other ingredients. 
Butter an iron frying pan or griddle. Press  mixture which should be 
stiff  in to make one cake ¾" thick. Cook slowly for no more than an 
hour.  Do not let the honey  burn. Cut the bread  into quarters or 
smaller. Turn to cook the other side.  Add more butter on the pan each 
time the bread is turned.  Cook for about 10 or 15 minutes longer. It is 
done when dry throughout. .This bread is tender when fresh but hard 
later.  It softens after several weeks left at room temperature.

A Bakestone Parkin with Treacle

 From  recipe derived from a  description given for parkin of 1830 by 
Miss Ferrand of Brockholes, Huddersfield.


5 oz black treacle
5 oz Dark Syrup
4 oz fat (½ butter, ½ lard)
1 ¼-1 ½ lbs medium oatmeal
3 tsp ground ginger or grated dry ginger root
2 tbs milk
lard for greasing


Carefully melt  fat and treacles.  Mix with the other ingredients making 
  a very thick dough. It must  stay in shape when a spoonful is placed 
onto  a plate. (If it needs thickening leave overnight.) Use more meal 
if too thin. Melt lard lard in a 9" diameter heavy iron frying pan. 
Spoon the mixture onto the pan making one large cake  1" thick. Use a 
heavy pan.  Heat slowly-do not burn. Turn off heat when you smell 
treacle. Turn the heat down or remove from heat source. Let sit for 30 
minutes and turn the cake over repeating the process above. Cook slowly 
for 15 minutes or more Cut into your cake while soft so it can be broken 
into pieces evenly later. The cake should be slightly crunchy on top and 
bottom with a small middle. This recipe can be made into small cakes 
flattening them in the hot pan till about  ca centemeter in thickness.
It can also be made into a 1 ½" thick cake on baking sheet. Bake it at 
gas mark 4, 350°F (180°C) for about 40 minutes . Do not over brown-turn 
heat down as required. Beat eaten when warm or after two weeks on the shelf.

Treacle Parkin, Oven-Baked

 From the mid-nineteenth century. Flavored like treacle toffee


1 lb treacle (½ black treacle, ½ Dark Syrup)
8 oz butter
1 ½ lbs medium oatmeal
8 oz brown sugar
1 tsp ginger
1 tsp allspice


Carefully warm the butter and treacle until melted, then mix with dry 
ingredients.  Grease a  7 ½×9 ½×2". Bake at gas mark 2, 300°F (150°C) 
for 2 hours. When done it will spring  back when touched. Best when 
underdone in the center.

Beer Parkin, Yorkshire

Mid- nineteenth century.  Flour, egg, beer and baking soda help make  a 
soft cake.


8oz plain flour
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
2 tsp ginger
8 oz medium oatmeal
6 oz fat (mixed butter and lard)
1 lb black treacle
½ pint strong beer (e.g. Guinness or Theakston's Old Peculier)
1 egg, beaten

Mix the treacle and beer and warm.  Mix  flour, soda and ginger.  Add 
oatmeal . Rub in the fat in.  Add  beer, treacle and egg.  Mix well. 
Grease a 7½×9½×2" tin. Bake one hour at gas mark 4, 350°F (180°C). Eat 
within two weeks of baking.

Modern Parkin from Huddersfield


8 oz butter
8 oz Dark Syrup
8 oz self-raising flour
4 tsp ginger
8 oz medium oatmeal
8 oz demerara sugar
2 eggs
¼ pint milk


Dark Syrup helps the flavor but you can substitute half black treacle 
and half golden syrup. Warm the butter and syrup, till  melted. Beat 
eggs.  Mix with  milk.  Mix  flour and ginger, then mix with the sugar 
and oatmeal.  Add the butter and syrup, eggs and milk.Mix well. This 
should be a  sloppy batter. Grease a 7½×9½×2" tin. Pour in the batter. 
Bake at gas mark 3, 325°F (170°C) for one hour in the middle of the 
oven. Edges will be slightly crisp.   The centre should be  tender. Keep 
in an airtight tin.

Thor Cakes, Derbyshire Mrs Nixon, White Lodge Cottage, Baslow near Bakewell

For November 5th. Recipe from about 1940 collected  by Dr Bedford ( 
Bedford MSS 432/4 p. 56, Leeds University Brotherton Library.)

A large quantity


2 lbs fine oatmeal
3 tbs sugar
8 oz lard
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ginger


Mix  into a  paste with treacle. Rub lard into mixture.  Use around  3 
tbs treacle. Roll  dough to ¼" thick. Make into  roundsl.  Bake at gas 
mark 4, 350°F (180°C) for 25-30 minutes. Leave a minute and cool.

Yorkshire Parkins  Mrs A. Eley, Snydale, Wakefield,


4 oz plain flour
2 tsp ginger
2 tsp mixed spice
8 oz oatmeal
4 oz brown sugar
4 oz lard
4 oz treacle (dark)
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tbs milk


Mix flour and spices, mix in oatmeal and sugar. Rub in  lard. Add 
treacle. Mix soda in milk. Mix all together. Make a light  paste. Dust 
with  some meal.  Form  into rounds ½" thick. Place them  well apart on 
a larded aking tray. Bake at gas mark 2, 300°F (150°C) for about 25 
minutes. Cool.

Scotch Perkins


4 oz plain flour
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
½ tsp salt  (optional)
½ tsp cinnamon
½ tsp ginger
¼ tsp mixed spice
4 oz fine oatmeal
3 oz sugar
2 oz lard
3 oz syrup and treacle mixed
a few almonds, blanched


Mix  flour, soda, salt and spices, then  mix with  oatmeal and sugar. 
Warm  treacle and lard gently till just melted. Make a stiff dough. 
Form into walnut-sized balls.  Put far apart on greased trays. Press 
half a blanched almond in the centre of each. Bake at gas mark 3, 325°F 
(170°C) for 15-20 minutes. Makes 20.

'Traditional Food East and West of the Pennines' Papers by Peter Brears, 
Lynette Hunter, Helen Pollard, Jennifer Stead and C. Anne Wilson EDITED 
BY C. ANNE WILSONwith illustrations by Peter Brears Edinburgh University 
Press 1991

Yorkshire Parkin

Makes: 12 Pieces


8 oz wholemeal or plain flour
1/2 level teaspoon salt
1 to 2 level teaspoons ground ginger
1 level teaspoon ground mace
1 level teaspoon ground nutmeg
6 oz medium oatmeal
1 oz. soft dark brown sugar
4 oz. black treacle
4 oz. golden syrup
2 oz. margarine
2 level teaspoons bicarbonate of soda
8 fl oz warm milk
1 egg lightly beaten
4 oz seedless raisins (optional)


Pre set oven at 325 F. Sift flour, salt and spices together into a 
mixing bowl. Stir in oatmeal and sugar. Gently melt treacle, golden 
syrup and margarine over a low heat. Make a well in the center of flour 
mixture and pour in melted ingredients. Dissolve bicarbonate of soda in 
warmed milk and add to mixture with lightly beaten egg. Add raisins. Mix 
to a soft batter and pour into a lined greased meat tin about 8X10 
inches. Bake in pre-heated oven for 40 minutes. When cooked parkin 
should be an even brown color and have shrunk away slightly from the 
sides of the tin. Leave to cool on a wire rack. If possible keep parkin 
in an airtight tin for at least a week before serving. (Originally it 
would have been put in special wooden parkin boxes)

Parkin Pigs
In Bradford, Yorkshire. Parkin baked in the shape of pigs is eaten on 
Nov 5th . These are cookies/biscuts rather than cakes.

Jameela Lares wrote:

> Quoting Horace Jeffery Hodges <jefferyhodges at yahoo.com>:
>>  By the way, what is the etymology for "parkin"?
> It is probably unknown.  OED has the following:
> orig. Eng. regional (north.) and Sc.
> [Origin unknown. Perh. < the surname Perkin or Parkin (earlier also a
> forename).] 
>     A kind of gingerbread made from oatmeal and treacle; (as a count noun) a
> piece or cake of this.
> 1800 D. WORDSWORTH Jrnl. 6 Nov. (1941) I. 71, I was baking bread, dinner, and
> parkins. 1828 W. CARR Dial. Craven (ed. 2), Parkin, a cake made of treacle and
> oat meal, commonly called a treacle-parkin. 1884 I. BANKS Sybilla III. 145
> Bribed by a cake of parkin from Dame Dorothy's capacious pockets. 1907 J.
> KIRKLAND Mod. Baker II. 188 Scotch Parkins belong to the same family as
> Parleys. 1931 A. UTTLEY Country Child ix. 112 It was a ‘Bun Fire’, when they
> ate parkin and treacle toffee, and children danced round the fire before winter
> swept the fields. 1991 Sun (Brisbane) 30 Oct. 25/1 Parkin... Commonly made in
> Yorkshire, this traditional cake has many versions, all containing oatmeal (use
> any breakfast rolled oats).
> Cheers,
> Jameela

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