Saturday, November 04, 2006

Saturday Surprise - Bonfire Night

In the UK, this weekend has Bonfire Night. Far 'bigger' an event than Halloween in my part of the world it's also known as Guy Fawkes' Night or Firework Night.

So ...

It all began in 1605 when Guy Fawkes and his band of co-conspirators failed to blow up the Houses of Parliament. On the first anniversary bonfires were lit and effergies burnt by order of Parliament - and some 400 years later we're still doing it. In fact, the law which made it obligatory wasn't repealed until 1959!

Some villages still have Bonfire societies and hold very traditional celebrations. The biggest is held in Lewes in Sussex where 50,000 people are expected to gather this year.

If you want to see something particularly foolhardy you'll need to visit Ottery St Mary in Devon. There they celebrate the 5th November with Tar-Barrel Racing. Each bearer, with only sacking for protection, carries a barrel of blazing tar as far as he can. Then another man takes over until the barrel falls apart. You have to wonder why anyone would want to do that!

Gruesome though the history is, there's nothing quite like a getting family and friends together to enjoy Bonfire Night. To me and mine it's all about the food. I love being wrapped up warm on a clear, crisp night with the smell of wood smoke and the bangs and whooshes of fireworks.

The one 'must-have' for my family is toffee apples. Apparently, in Guy Fawkes' time they were made with honey and beeswax but that's not how we do it!

6 Coxes apples
6 wooden sticks (like ice-lolly sticks)
225g/8oz granulated sugar
100ml/3½fl oz water
30g/1oz butter
2 tbsp golden syrup

1. Push the wooden sticks halfway into the apples at the stalk end.
2. Put the sugar and water in a thick-bottomed pan and dissolve the sugar over a gentle heat.
3. Add the butter and syrup and bring to the boil. Boil without stirring until the toffee reaches the soft-crack stage or 290F, measure this on the sugar thermometer.
4. Remove from the heat.
5. Dip each apple into the toffee, one by one. Make sure each apple is well coated and leave to harden on a baking try lined with baking parchment.

If you want to be really 'authentic' I suppose you ought to cook some traditional 17th century food. Maybe some mutton pies, apple 'puffes' or a 'coffyne'? One of the most unpleasant to my mind is umble pie. (Umble being the entrails of deer btw.)

Or you could just bake potatoes in the embers of the fire, make a beef stew, bake apples, heat soup and grill sausages. Most celebrations feature Parkin - which is one of those recipes which has as many variations as there are cooks. Truth be told, if you haven't made yours already you're really too late. You need to make it at least a week before to allow the spices to blend and the cake to soften.

Anyway, I love it - and I featured it my first book, 'For Our Children's Sake'. I came home from a 5th November party and wrote the scene which brought Dominic and Lucy back together .. at a Bonfire Party. A few weeks later I put my MS in the post and within days I'd sold!! A really fantastic feeling!


Natasha's latest release is: Accepting The Boss's Proposal a Harlequin Romance.

Check out more about this book at her website!

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  1. I remember that scene at the Bonfire, it was wonderful!! We don't have any truly revoltionary explosive events to remember in Australia. We have 'Cracker Night' that used to 'celebrate' the commonwealth, (Viva the Republic!!) and we had fireworks at the Tattoo last weekend. Free for me because I can see them from home!!!

  2. My cousin-in-law just moved to the States and is sad we have no bonfires. He actually told my cousin to find him one :) The entire Halloween thing we do here thrilled him, but he said it wasn't as good.

  3. Natasha,

    I enjoyed your post - thank you! It brought back wonderful childhood memories of cracker night/fireworks night in Australia. Bonfires, fantastic fireworks, lots of friends, staying up late drinking hot chocolate to stay warm.

    I think the best was the night my brother put a 'guy' top of the bonfire, stuffed with straw. What we didn't know was that it was stuffed full of rockets. Boy what a display!


  4. We used to have bonfires here in the States at school pep rallies (we would burn a replica of the other team's mascot). I haven't been to one in years though...I think they banned them.

    You made me hungry though. We usually have caramel or candy apples here...probably tastes different than a toffee apple.

  5. We had our school fireworks last night - and organising it last year set me writing 'Seeing Stars' because, being a nerd, I had to find out HOW a firework works - and then I had a lightbulb moment. Or maybe that should be a firewok moment! Definite fantasy fireworks at the end ;o)

  6. We had bonfires on the farm and let off crackers. We burned dead tree stumps with lots of branches and loose wood on top. The fire used to go for days before it went out.

    Natasha, I googled Parkin cake and found a recipe I like the look of. I am definitely going to give it a try. Sounds like my kind of cake.

    Winter person!

  7. I remember doing a bonfire Guy Fawkes scene in a book and wishing I could have included a few photos! The ones on your blog are great, Natasha! Thanks!