Monday, November 05, 2012

Guys and Gingerbread.

The night of November 5th in England is ‘Guy Fawkes’ Night’, or the night of ‘Gunpowder, Treason, and Plot, or simply ‘Bonfire Night’. It commemorates the failed attempt in 1605 by provincial English Catholics to blow up the Houses of Parliament during its opening session, when the Protestant King James was to be present. One of the chief conspirators (or maybe he was just the fall guy) was Guy (Guido) Fawkes, a citizen of the city of York, who was later tortured, tried, and executed for his involvement in the plot.

It used to be one of the most fun evenings of the year for children in England. It was traditional to have fireworks (bought at the local store, no restrictions or age-limits) and for each neighbourhood to build a large bonfire on a vacant plot of land,  and burn upon it an effigy - a ‘guy’ – representing poor Mr. Fawkes. I have no doubt that the fun and games of the night are now severely curtailed by nervous parents, workplace health and safety officers, and law enforcement officers, and that modern children are not even aware of what they are missing. It used also to be traditional to eat gingerbread on this night. I hope that this is still allowed, but fear that if it is, it will be a neutered, low-calorie, low-carb, low-fat version.

I have only just discovered an interesting food factoid related to the Gunpowder Plot. It was a household cook who discovered the hiding place of one of the conspirators. The story is told in Guy Fawkes; or, A complete history of the Gunpowder treason (1839) by Jon W. Parker.
Robert Winter.
Winter was taken in Staffordshire, where he retreated after the discovery of the plot. For some time, he was concealed in a house, whose occupant was a Roman Catholic. The circumstance that led to his discovery was somewhat singular. The cook was surprised at the number of dishes which were daily taken to his master's room; he therefore, to satisfy his curiosity, peeped through the keyhole, when he saw a person sitting with his master. He was alarmed, both on their account, and on his own; but his fears for his own safety being greater than his apprehensions for Winter and his master, he determined to make a discovery to one of his relations. This step was followed by their apprehension.

Today’s recipe is for gingerbread from the era of Guy Fawkes and his comrades. At this gingerbread was very different from that which we are familiar today. In early times, gingerbread was made from breadcrumbs, mixed with honey or sugar syrup, spiced, and dried in thin sheets or stamped out with shaped moulds. It was a type of sweetmeat especially associated with feasts, festivals, and fairs.

To make Gingerbread.
Take three stale manchets and grate them, drie them, and sift them through a fine sieve, then adde unto them one ounce of ginger being beaten, and as much Cinnamon, one ounce of liquorice & anniseedes beeing beaten together and searced [sieved], halfe a pound of sugar, then boile all these together in a posnet, with a quart of claret wine till they come to a stiffe paste with often stirring of it; and when it is stiffe, molde it on a table and so drive it thin, & pring it in your moldes, dust your moldes with Cinnamon, Ginger, and liquorice, being mixed together in fine powder. This is your Gingerbread used at Court, and in all gentlemen’s houses at festivall times. It is otherwise called drie Leach.
Delights for ladies, to adorne their Persons, Tables, closets, and distillatories, (1602)
by Hugh Plat.

Previous Fifth of November and related stories are:


srhcb said...

"liquorice & anniseedes beeing beaten together and searced' is positively Shakespearian!

The Old Foodie said...

Hi Steve. You are right! It sounds wonderfully tasty too. I had some liquorice-flavoured honey the other day, it was marvellous.