I’ve recently joined a book club, but not just any book club, this is one where we read (or re-read) classics and I’m loving it to pieces.
The thing is, despite being an avid reader I’ve never belonged to a book club before. Not even one where there’s more wine than words – not that that’s a bad thing, I could never argue with wine.
In Escape To Curlew Cottage, my characters are involved with a cookbook club. They get together once a month with wine and cookbooks and make something from that cookbook to share. In fact, I love the idea so much I’m seriously considering running a virtual version of the idea on my author Facebook page. That is, however, a discussion for another time.
It’s got me thinking though about books and food and books and baking and how the two go together – which brings me to the point of this post and a new occasional series linking books and baking…and baking inspired by books.
First up we’re reading Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte.
I first read Wuthering Heights when I was in school – I must have been 16 or so, I suppose. While we didn’t study it at school, I was drawn to it by the song – the one by Kate Bush. It was, I thought then, the ultimate in passionate love stories. That scene where Catherine declares her love for Heathcliff to Nelly Dean made my teenage heart burst:
My love for Linton is like the foliage in the woods: time will change it, I’m well aware, as winter changes the trees. My love for Heathcliff resembles the eternal rocks beneath: a source of little visible delight, but necessary. Nelly, I am Heathcliff! He’s always, always in my mind: not as a pleasure, any more than I am always a pleasure to myself, but as my own being.
As did the one a few chapters later, where Heathcliff says to Nelly:
‘…I was a fool to fancy for a moment that she valued Edgar Linton’s attachment more than mine. If he loved with all the powers of his puny being, he couldn’t love as much in eighty years as I could in a day. And Catherine has a heart as deep as I have: the sea could be as readily contained in that horse-trough as her whole affection be monopolised by him. Tush! He is scarcely a degree dearer to her than her dog, or her horse. It is not in him to be loved like me: how can she love in him what he has not?’
Reading it again at (nearly) 54, I’m seeing themes much broader than that of the rather simplistic passion my teenage self was so taken by. Now I’m seeing also obsession, cruelty, revenge, and power.
When I thought of the book in the past what came to mind was the textures and extremes – the Moors as a character almost. Yes, I was probably influenced by the song. This time around, though, I’m appreciating the writing and how Bronte is a master of show don’t tell. I think it’s also got to do with discovering the novel with the women I’m discovering it with – we all bring something different and valuable to the discussion. I’m not sure that it’s a book I can truly say that I enjoy, but at the same time, it’s a book that has stayed with me over the years. It still makes me feel and for that reason, it will also be important to me.
Set in the Yorkshire Moors, Wuthering Heights was published in 1847 and centers around two families:
- The Earnshaws of Wuthering Heights and
- The Lintons of nearby Thrushcross Grange
Wuthering Heights is a large farmhouse, but a farmhouse none the less. The mood around the house is dark and rustic – as are the people who reside within it. Light and hope seem unable to exist here – when Frances Earnshaw is brought back to live there, her glow is dimmed and consumed by, well, consumption.
Thrushcross Grange, on the other hand, is more refined, genteel, with shallower passions and better manners. Where Wuthering Heights is dark, it’s light, with this reflected even in the blonde hair of Edgar and Isabella Linton.
Yes, I’m being simplistic, but when I was thinking about what would be baked in the kitchen at Wuthering Heights, it was this difference that came to mind.
My first recipe based on this book is Parkin, sometimes known as Ginger Parkin, Yorkshire Parkin or even, Thar Cake.
Parkin is a sticky ginger cake that originated in northern England – primarily Yorkshire and Lancashire. Associated with bonfire night, or Guy Fawkes Night (November 5) it would have originally been made with oats and molasses – refined wheat flours being more from the south of England – and probably was more like a flapjack than the more cakey texture it has today. It’s one of those cakes that becomes more sticky and less crumbly as it sits, so is best if left for a few days (or couple of weeks in the case of the older recipes) after baking.
Original recipes would have contained no flour at all. Nor would they have contained any sort of raising agent – that being a Victorian invention (baking powder was first sold commercially in 1843. Most modern recipes will, however, include a combination of oats and flour and bicarb soda or baking powder. I tend to think that there would have been no refined wheat flour at Wuthering Heights – but it may have been present in the kitchens of the Grange. It’s most unlikely that baking powder would have found its way into either kitchen.
The first recipe I made was one from Regula Ysewijn’s fabulous Oats In The North, Wheat From The South. Certain members of the family couldn’t wait to try it and then complained about how crumbly the texture was. A week later more was sampled and was declared to be a much better batch – it was, of course, the same batch I’d originally baked but allowed to rest as it should have.
According to Regula Ysewijn in Oats In The North, Wheat From The South, there are theories as to how parkin was linked to Guy Fawkes Night. The oat harvest was traditionally at the end of October, beginning of November; and the pagan feast of Samhain (from which Halloween has developed) was celebrated on October 31 with bonfires and cakes made with the local grain (oats) and honey, and later, when sugar imports made it cheap, treacle. Further, Martinmas on November 11 marks the end of the agrarian year and the end of the harvest. Both Samhain and Martinmas contributed to the importance of Guy Fawkes night – replacing, as Ysewijn says a pagan and a Christian festival with a political one. Clever.
Okay, to the recipe. This one is from Yorkshireman, James Martin. He serves it with rhubarb and a spiced cider syrup made by boiling together 200g golden syrup, 100ml dry cider, and a half teaspoon each of ground ginger and mixed spice with a pinch of freshly grated nutmeg. It’s also good with ice cream and syrup. Somehow I don’t think they would have served it this way in either Wuthering Heights or Thrushcross Grange.
What you need
- 150g softened, unsalted butter, plus more to grease the tin.
- 150g soft light brown sugar
- 250g golden syrup
- 75g black treacle
- 125g rolled oats
- 175g self-raising flour
- 3 tbsp ground ginger
- 1 tsp ground nutmeg
- 1 tsp mixed spice
- Pinch salt
- 2 eggs, lightly beaten
- 25ml milk
What you do with it
- Before you start, preheat the oven to 140C and butter a 30cm x 20cm cake tin. If you line it so the baking paper overhangs the long side of the tin you can use it to pull the slice out in one go #handyhint.
- Put the butter, syrup, treacle, and sugar into a small saucepan and melt over a gentle heat, stirring from time to time.
- In a large bowl tip in the oats, flour, spices, and salt and mix together. Add the eggs and milk and stir this through before pouring in the syrupy buttery mix in the saucepan. Whisk to combine.
- Pour into your prepared tin and bake for 1 ¼ hours, or until firm to the touch in the centre.
- Leave in the tin to cool and when cold store in an airtight tin – resisting the temptation to eat it for a few days.