Parkin is a type of oatmeal gingerbread traditionally made in northern England for Bonfire Night celebrations on November 5th.
There are many different variations on parkin out there. The oldest versions were hearth or griddle cakes, while more modern versions are usually baked in a cake tin and cut into squares. Some versions have extra additions such as lemon peel, while others are much plainer. The defining characteristic seems to be that they always include oatmeal, a staple grain in northern Britain.
The oldest parkin recipe I could find is from Mrs. Dalgairns’ 1829 cookbook, The Practice of Cookery. The recipe is incredibly simple, with only five ingredients: oatmeal, molasses, brown sugar, butter, and ground ginger. I decided not to make this one, since a cake made with nothing but oatmeal and molasses sounds like it would be incredibly dense and stodgy. Most newer recipes for parkin lighten it up with flour and rising agents such as baking powder or soda.
While there were many different versions of parkin to pick from, I ended up choosing a recipe from Lily Haxworth Wallace’s 1908 The Rumford Complete Cook Book. Although the book was published in the United States, Lily Haxworth Wallace was a graduate of the National Training School of Cookery in London, which hopefully would make her an authority on British baked goods.
For the oatmeal, I used steel-cut oats blitzed briefly in a blender. While the recipe doesn’t specify what kind of sugar to use, most modern recipes call for brown sugar, so I went with that as well. I baked mine in a 9×9 pan at 315 degrees. After about an hour, the edges had turned quite dark and were starting to burn, so I pulled it out. The middle was still a bit soft and sank a little afterwards, which gave my cakes uneven heights. While it still worked, I think this would do better at an even lower temperature for a longer time.
After it had cooled, I removed it from the pan by turning it upside-down on a rack. It came out relatively easy, but I would recommend lining the pan with a strip of parchment paper just to make sure (I forgot to do this). Then, I cut the cake into 16 squares.
Next came the hard part – the waiting. Like many gingerbreads, parkin is supposed to get better as it ages. Most recipes I’ve seen recommend leaving it for at least three days – some even say to leave it for two weeks! I did sneak one piece just to see how it turned out, but I dutifully packed the rest into a tin to wait their allotted time.
Three days later, the cakes have turned darker and become much, much stickier. They have a rich molasses flavor with a bit of crunch from the oatmeal. The crunch is contentious in my household – I like it, but if you don’t you could always grind your oatmeal finer. I don’t taste the ginger all that much; it could probably do with a bit more.
The elves in Lord of the Rings should’ve made these instead of lembas bread. The cakes are extremely dense and filling, to the point that I think I could walk all day on nothing but parkin. They also have the stamp of approval from my cat, Charlie, who managed to sneak several large crumbs while I wasn’t looking.
The parkin definitely did improve after sitting for a few days, so if you want to have them in time for Bonfire Night, it’s time to start baking now!
Stead, J. (2006). Parkin. In A. Davidson & T. Jaine (Eds.), The Oxford companion to food (p. 577). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Wallace, L.H. (1908). The Rumford complete cook book. Providence, Rhode Island: Rumford Chemical Works. https://books.google.com/books?id=BFsEAAAAYAAJ&newbks=0&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q&f=false