friday feast: diane wakoski’s “parkin” (+ a recipe)

Happy Halloween!

No tricks here today, just a rich, spicy, scrumptious treat — parkin!

I was compelled to bake a batch of this Yorkshire gingerbread after reading Diane Wakoski’s evocative, affecting poem.

Her musings about the Brontës brought back my own fond memories of visiting Haworth – absolutely fascinating how creative genius can flourish in such a carefully circumscribed, isolated world.

Sip a cup of hot tea, have a good bite of parkin, and find comfort in the words of this generous poet. The “small things” are not so small after all.

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Haworth Bakery Shop (Parkin is listed on outside menu).

by Diane Wakoski

Simple bread for tea. Oh think of those mornings
of early rising, the coke fire to be built in the grate; think
of the skirts of soft muslin, over petticoats that drape
softly around plump bodies; oh think of the Yorkshire moors
which were so open and damp, so green and rolling,
held the spirit’s desire for freedom where Wesley’s religion
flourished as did the fantasies of love that girls
like the Brontës cherished. Men were the prisons, and the
and men who didn’t want to be
the worst imprisoned, Branwell
covering his pain with laudanum.

I saw those small rounded loaves, sitting
in the bakery window, just
the size of the clay circles
in which we, in Kindergarten imprinted our hands,
and sent off to be baked
in a kiln and glazed (mine was green and shiny, like a new spring
rhododendron leaf)
and I, always the scholar of new foods,
rolled their names around my tongue for an entire day:
“parkin, parkin, parkin,” imagining
I would wear my black woolen cloak swirled around me
for a tramp onto the hearth, and carry in a large pocket
underneath the cloak, a loaf of parkin, an apple, a bit of cheese.
I didn’t know what it tasted like, until teatime, when I ate
half a mince pie, hot and sweet,
and a bit of parkin — oh gingerbread,
slightly chewy just blunted with a little molasses,
the energy of it would wave through you
as you walked in the damp cold, seeing a world
of ups and smooth downs.

I imagined one of the girls
pulling it out of the oven early in the morning,
and the smell of it
coming up through the stairway to my bedroom
where I was still snuggled and bundled into the covers of night,
with a steaming pot of tea on the table
next to the bed, the fire in the grate lit for me
by some earlier riser. So small,
these comforts:
the fire, the tea, the parkin,
then the freedom of the walk.
But everything,
when you consider the human condition; everything,
when you consider war,
or famine,
or urban poverty,
or torture.

Forget about love and its absence,
or lack of recognition for your work. Forget about
unsympathetic relatives or boring
jobs and daily life.
Remember these small things
as everything.

“Grateful,” don’t be grateful.
Such a chore.

Just remember the small things: the parkin,
the fire in the grate,
the cup of tea,
the walk on the moors,
or even this human
comfort — sitting here with words,
with the yew bushes in the Michigan backyard,
covered with pillowy snow,
the bird feeder abandoned by even
our unshowy birds, but now filled,
a small thing,
waiting for the cardinals and blue jays and infinite flocks of
to discover we’re back and offering
the small things,
cracked sunflower seeds
(“50 pounds of oilers,” I hear the clerk say). Everything
has its vocabulary. Another small pleasure.
Sally’s voice from out of the Pacific, dripping with plum jam
“remember the small things, the cup of tea…”

I’ve remembered,
thought about them as we walked in Haworth village,
ate parkin,
as we’ve come home to our small lives
and the small things,

“the small things,” as Sally called them,
which save us from

~ from The Butcher’s Apron: New and Selected Poems (Including “Greed: Part 14”), Black Sparrow Press, copyright © 2000 Diane Wakoski. Posted by permission of the author.

Autumn Evening, Bronte Parsonage (giclee print by Amanda White)

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Bronte Parsonage from churchyard by Gary Rogers
Top Withens farmhouse ruins, inspiration for the Earnshaw house in Wuthering Heights
Main Street, Haworth

Diane’s poem took me right back to the ups and smooth downs of Haworth’s Main Street, the moors in the distance, the Parsonage dining room where Charlotte, Emily and Anne did most of their writing, the children’s study where they once played with toy soldiers and penned their miniature books, the spartan kitchen where Emily may have baked the family parkin.

Bronte kitchen via The Peel’s Blog
Dining Room by Simon Warner (Bronte Parsonage Museum)

The Brontës’ first foray into publishing was a book of poems that only sold 2 or 3 copies. A small step on the way to becoming literary icons. Small words in the space of a poem can mean everything.

*   *   *



The sweet, sticky version of parkin enjoyed in Northern England contains oats. Both oats and treacle are longtime dietary staples in the region, and it is thought parkin may have evolved during the time of the Industrial Revolution.

Though eaten throughout the year, parkin is always a part of Bonfire Night on November 5, a night of revelry celebrating Guy Fawkes’s failure to blow up Parliament in 1605.

Remember, remember the fifth of November,
Gunpowder treason and plot.
We see no reason
Why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot!

In addition to oatmeal, authentic Yorkshire parkin calls for black treacle and golden syrup, which can be found in food specialty stores or sometimes in the imported aisle of your supermarket. If unobtainable, substitute molasses and corn syrup.


Key to a good parkin is aging. You must use the fullest extent of your self control to not eat your parkin for a minimum of 3 days after baking. Wrap it well and store in a tin. A week’s aging is best to let the flavors fully develop and the bread will have time to reach its optimal moist stickiness. 🙂


You can eat it plain as a snack with tea, or with warm custard or ice cream as a dessert. Either way, it might just set your imagination to dreaming of meeting Heathcliff on the moors or Mr. Rochester at Thornfield Hall. Ever wonder how such seemingly sheltered young women wrote such passionate love stories?

It all began with those small crumbs of parkin they ate when they were little . . . 🙂

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 Recipe for Traditional Yorkshire Parkin


  • 8 oz/220g soft butter
  • 4 oz/110g soft, dark brown sugar
  • 2 oz/55g black treacle/molasses
  • 7 oz/200g golden syrup/corn syrup
  • 5 oz/120g medium oatmeal*
  • 7 oz/200g self raising flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 4 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 2 teaspoons nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon mixed spice/pumpkin pie spice
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • 2 tablespoons milk


1. Heat the oven to 275 F/140 C/gas 1.

2. Grease an 8″ x 8″ square cake tin.

3. In a large heavy-based saucepan melt together the butter, sugar, treacle, and golden syrup over a gentle heat. Do not allow the mixture to boil; you simply need to melt these together.

4. In a large, spacious baking bowl stir together all the dry ingredients. Gradually add the melted butter mixture stirring to coat all the dry ingredients and mix thoroughly.

5. Gradually beat in the eggs a few tablespoons at a time. Finally, add the milk and again stir well.

6. Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and cook for 1-1/2 hours until firm and set and a dark golden brown.

7. Remove the parkin from the oven and leave to cool in the tin. Once cool, store the parkin in an airtight tin for a minimum of 3 days up to a week before eating it. The parkin will keep up to 2 weeks in an airtight container.

*I used rolled oats, which I pulsed in the food processor a few times for a medium texture.

FYI: “Parkin” is diminutive for “Peter” and “Haworth” is pronounced hah-worth rather than hay-worth.

~Adapted from Elaine Lemm’s recipe at

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poetryfriday180The lovely and talented Linda Baie is our Poetry Friday Roundup host this week at TeacherDance. Please take her some parkin and check out the full menu of poetic goodness being served up in the blogosphere. Wear and swirl your black woolen cloak if you like. A-haunting we will go!

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wkendcookingiconThis post is also being linked to Beth Fish Read’s Weekend Cooking, where all are invited to share their food related posts. Settle down with a cup of hot tea and enjoy visiting all the participating blogs. 🙂



Copyright © 2014 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.


57 thoughts on “friday feast: diane wakoski’s “parkin” (+ a recipe)

  1. Lovely poem. Actually the sentiments in it remind me a bit of the wonderful book I just finished, All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. And brave you, being able to resist for 3 minutes! Oh that I had such control! And thank you to the recipe, for not ruining it all by adding raisins! :–)


    1. I resisted for 5 days! And no raisins — this recipe is sweet enough as it is (I recommend eating with ice cream or whipped cream or custard). It’s like fruitcake — tastes better with aging.


  2. Hi, Jama. This looks like a wonderful autumn treat. The poem took me back to my grandparents’ house on the outskirts of a British mining town. Thanks for sharing those amazing photographs. I recently reread Jane Eyre and read Catherine Reef’s biography “The Bronte Sisters” but these were new photos to me.


    1. I’ve yet to read CR’s biography — it’s on my list! I continue to be haunted (in a good way) by the Brontes — their life stories as well as their books. Of course seeing Haworth and where they lived and worked increased my appreciation a hundred fold. I remember eating squidgy cake there :).


  3. Oh, Just remember… Jama, I learn something from you at every post. Thank you for this lovely poem. I can smell the Parkin (new word to me) in my mind! Would love to walk the moors someday. Happy Halloween, and Guy Fawkes Day too!


    1. Yes, isn’t parkin a wonderful word? Hope you find your way up to the Yorkshire moors someday Linda. It’s fascinating and enchanting. Happy Halloween to you!


  4. I say, Poetry Friday field trip to the Yorkshire moors! Yes?
    We can walk until our feet ache and fill ourselves with hot tea and parkin.
    (I am going to have to try this recipe…!)

    And what a delicious, perfect poem.
    ” ‘Grateful,’ don’t be grateful. / Such a chore. / Just remember the small things… .”
    Thanks to Diane Wakoski for this, and to you, Jama, for sharing it all.


    1. Yes, a Yorkshire field trip would be fabulous! I loved being reminded of the small things that sustain us on an everyday basis. Grateful to Diane for granting permission to share her poem. Been a fan of her work for quite some time. 🙂


  5. “the small things save us from desolation’ love that! I adore parkin and haven’t had any for many years now. Will scribble down this recipe/post it to Pinterest forthwith. I’m pretty sure I’ve been to Haworth. Love those shop windows.


  6. Another post of perfection, Jama. I love everything about it, and it calls out to be returned to and mulled over and savored. Thanks.


  7. Jama, today’s post was a perfect Halloween treat. Being a baker, I appreciate the new dessert that I never heard of before but looks delicious: “and I, always
    the scholar of new foods, rolled their names around my tongue for an entire day…” Special baked goods bring back the memories so thank you for allowing us readers the pleasure of the sights, words, and virtual smells of fresh baked goods from your post.


  8. Thanks for introducing me to Diane Wakoski (who I now know lives just a stone’s throw from my own Michigan backyard.) Love the poem and the impossibility of parkin (I could not bake anything that required more than a 5 minute wait before tasting. Such self-control you have!)


  9. Such a sweet post! I must make parkin, pour some tea and grab a Bronte book sometime this week…maybe Nov. 5…just to travel back in time a bit. Thanks for this bit of “the small things”.


  10. A black woolen cloak with parkin in the pocket sounds perfect for tramping about, savoring the small things. (Did I see Amanda White’s prints on your blog a while back? I bought three!)


  11. I’m being tortured today on Weekend Cooking. I haven’t had a good parkin since I lived in the UK. (and Joy wrote about cider). Ahhh a piece of parkin and nice cider on a hot summer afternoon. I digress . . .

    Loved the poem! and now I need to try this recipe. Can we wait three days? What torture.


  12. “Everything
    has its vocabulary.”

    Indeed it does. I’m always amazed by the amount of jargon in each profession. I imagine it’s to add a little mystery to what may often be an unexciting profession.

    Thanks for including that old photo of the Main Street. I can’t imagine walking for long on the cobblestones without tripping and/or falling. And then I imagine doing it in a long dress and my head spins.


    1. I agree — and the shoes they wore back then had thin soles — no sneakers! Also, no clogs for standing long hours working in the kitchen . . .


  13. This post is gorgeous! The beautiful pictures and the information and then the parkin! So much to look at. I don’t think I’ve ever heard of parkin though I’ve of course eaten gingerbread but I now want to try this. I have the golden syrup though not sure about the treacle. I’ll have to look. Maybe I’ll be able to make it in time to have it age and be ready for the 5th of November. Thanks for sharing!


  14. Such a lovely post! I love the photos you have gathered to go with the background of the poem. And parkin! I’m so ignorant of British treats. Sounds wonderful with tea! But yes, it must be difficult to let it “age”!


    1. Thanks, Melissa. Parkin is a nice way to channel Yorkshire, the Brontes and Guy Fawkes Day. It’s definitely hard to wait several days to eat it, especially after how good it smells baking.


  15. I grew up reading the Brontes so especially enjoyed this post 😀
    I know I’m weird but I have read Jane Eyre 9 times haha since I was 10!
    I wouldn’t mind curling up with it again, and a giant slice of your delicious parkin, I haven’t seen a sticky and moist cake for a while!

    Choc Chip Uru

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Only 9 times? 😀 Not weird at all. I haven’t read it more than maybe 3 or 4 times. You should definitely read it again while snacking on parkin — I’m sure the experience will be even better!


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