From our friend at Baking for Britain:
Parkin is an oatmeal gingerbread, usually made with the addition of black treacle, baked in the northernmost counties of England as well as over the border. Recipe variations are numerous and parkin can take the form of either a biscuit or a cake. Yorkshire and Lancashire both have their own favoured recipes (Lancastrian parkin has a larger proportion of oatmeal), and so do smaller communities and individuals (some add candied peel or other dried fruits and I have seen recipes with the inclusion of coriander seeds). The thar, tharf or thor cake also baked in the north of England – the word ‘thor’ is rooted in the Anglo-Saxon ‘theorf’ or ‘tharf’ meaning unleavened – is parkin by another name. Theorf/tharf cakes were made of oatmeal and water and cooked on the griddle, the ingredients were enlivened at feast times by the addition of spices and sweetening (originally honey). The southern Scottish and Northumbrian perkin is a griddle-cooked variety of parkin (now more usually tray baked in an oven), and elsewhere early recipes for parkin were similiarly cooked. This web-page has some old recipes if you would like to try making the griddle-cooked thar and parkin cakes. Parkin biscuits are a contemporary incarnation of the griddle-cooked cakes, and ingredients such as golden syrup give a modern flavour.
Historically, each community produced their version of parkin to be consumed as part of local events that took at the end of October or beginning of November. The cake was so intrinsic to the celebration that many of these events took the name of the food. In West Riding the first Sunday in November was known as Parkin Sunday. The 1st of November was known as Cake Night in Ripon and Caking Day in Sheffield. In Lancashire, the Monday after the 31st of October was known as Tharcake Monday. The 1st of November is All Soul’s Day, and it was customary to give some form of Soul or Soul Mass Cake to callers (children or the poor of the parish) – in these areas the cakes given out were one of the variations on parkin. Over time the national celebration of deliverance from the gunpowder plotters (1605) has taken precedence over smaller events, and gingerbread cakes, already eaten by many in the North of England and Southern Scotland at this time of year, have become a fixture of November the 5th festivities.
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