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 In fact, the law which made it obligatory wasn't repealed until 1959!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
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!
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