Travel: A Ripon Ghost Yarn – in search of lost souls
Here fond climates and sweet singers – but traditional delights?
Crimson leaves blowing across cobbled lanes led us north to Yorkshire for October – the only time to find Parkins.
After an evening’s pause by the roaring fire in The Olive Branch at Clipsham (mushroom and truffle velouté, wow), we ventured further north, in search of a tradition that lives on, we thought, for one or two weeks each year, in Yorkshire.
I wanted to taste a true Parkin (Mr. Herbert M. Bower’s recipe here; My GF recipes here). I hoped to find Mr. Bower’s descendants and ask them if the Parkin recipe handed down, was fondly remembered today, warming the Halloween-time kitchens still.
In Ripon, we found a vibrant centre, the Cathedral City of the Dales – alive with helpful folk and the best pork pies I have tasted yet in England.
In fact, Jim, butcher at Appleton’s, would you share the recipe with the readers here? Post Appleton’s Pork Pie and/or Appleton’s Pork and Apple Pie recipe in a comment below? I’ll have a crack at a gluten free version, if I may? It will be hard to match your fine, crisp, melt in the mouth pastry with a gluten free version, but I will find something worthy, I promise.
Ripon… what DID I find? Jim, it turns out, is not only a fine butcher, but also Sarjeant at Mace.
Ripon, it turns out, has traditions which extend far and away beyond the simple Parkin. I’ll get to that – it took me a little digging, so I’m not going to give it over to you, just like that, oh reader.
‘A hornblower sounds his horn at 9pm each evening by the obelisk in the market square’ was the only clue in the guidebook. Why, we ask resoundingly? But the guide book remains resolutely silent.
Ripon still prides itself on its culinary traditions; the Wilfra Tart and the Pork & Apple Pie having more a presence today than the endangered Parkin.
On St Wilfred’s Day, the closest Saturday to August 1st – Yorkshire Day – Ripon windowsills are lined with steaming Wilfra Tarts – pastries of Wensleydale and Apple! Fear not, I WILL find that recipe for you (and I will have to find a rich, crumbly sheep’s cheese to replace the Wensleydale). Folk of Ripon and Yorkshire – please, please, if you have a Wilfra Tart Recipe, will you post it in a comment for us here? Or Sign up to send it to me by email, that I may share it and freefrom-it?
Sweet and savoury combined? I love nothing more – An olive almond shortbread in a dessert, cherries or damsons in a savoury dish. Heaven. (Last night’s dinner at The Punch Bowl Inn in Cumbria contained just such propositions. Go!)
In Ripon’s bakery windows and café cloches, ginger cakes and biscuits there were aplenty. Mr. Herbert M. Bower (oh, who are you, Mr. Bower?), also shares a ginger cake receipt in Good Things In England. I’ll try it out soon. Almond meal in place of the flour will make it moist and light.
I found Handpicked Hall full of gorgeous handicraft and foodie concessions on Fishergate, with Barney’s Farmhouse Foods (Anne Barningham’s) baking and preserves.
This glossy (= sweet) ginger cake looked like it might almost be a modern take on Parkin. I asked an attending lady (who naturally is Anne’s mother!),
“Oh, a parkin is more aughty”(rhymes with naughty) she replied. “aughty?” I asked, thinking to have discovered a new northern adjective of texture, flavour or temperament. She looked at me strangely.
My son translated “Oaty, mum”. Ah, not easy being an Australian in the dales. My son has been at school in England, and has perhaps picked up more an ear for nuance.
The point is, Parkins are oaty. Yes, that we’ve established. You can’t have a parkin without oats. No oats here.
My son eats a gluten free chicken pie for lunch (the last one!). My husband and I must therefore fail to resist the Pork and Apple pie at Appleton’s (praise be). While we may regret our dalliance with the g-devil, we will never forget the taste of real, country food that burst into our beings and revived our souls.
As those bold mouthfuls of wholesome country pork and flaky, crisp, buttery pastry dissolved in our mouths, the town’s traditions were brought to life for our ears by Jim.
Jim, Sarjeant at Mace, butcher, was previously a Deputy Hornblower, now a standby (see comment below). Hornblower! As we have wandered the streets in search of Parkins and Mr. Bower, we have seen horns everywhere. A horn atop the obelisk, iron horns holding up benches, a horn in lieu of a Yorkshire Bank symbol.
The horn has been blown each night for almost 1200 years to let the people of Ripon know that the watch has begun and they can sleep safely (the Vikings were the cause for the original need for a watch).
The Hornblower, the Wakeman, and the Mace.
The history of these we can trace, unlike the lost Parkins and Bowers.
Jim invited us, with Geoff, Deputy Sarjeant at Mace, inside the hallowed, ancient walls of the grand Town Hall to see what history is hidden behind lock and key.
King Alfred the Great, fighting the Danes in 886, found the Ripons very loyal. In recognition of their efforts at his side, he presented them with this horn (this VERY horn), made and inscribed for them.
The Charter Horn hangs on a velvet sash, which bears badges, carved all those centuries ago, in silver, in honour of the City Guilds – the tradesmen who represented the city of Ripon. The Tau Cross for the clergy; Axe for woodcutters; Beer barrel for brewers; scissors for tailors and dressmakers; Spurs because Ripon was as famous for working quality steel as Japan is now. The little spurs hanging symbolically on this velvet band are so strong, that if you placed a coin on them and stomped on it, the coin would be dented and the fine spokes of the spur completely unscathed.
The Wakeman was the most important man in the city and it was his job to ensure that his city was safe.
Today, the Wakeman has been replaced by the Mayor.
The Mayor’s Mace, made of silver and plated in 18 carat gold, was presented to Ripon in 1604 by King James I, along with a new Written Charter (the mace top was replaced in 1674). My children were honoured to guard it for a few minutes. Remy, my resident 10 year old metallurgist, informed us that this mix of silver and gold is a Group 12 combination. (silver and gold lie in the twelfth column of the periodic table)
Jim was sure to tell the children that if the Horn should ever fail to be blown, the ghost of the first Mayor, Mr Hugh Ripley, will appear in the window of the Wakeman’s House, now a café next to the Town Hall. A café with a ghost and apparently within its ancient doors…
(we didn’t sample them, having already succumbed to temptation with the pies!)
So it’s lucky that the horn has been blown every night since 886, when the tradition began, and the ghost of Hugh Ripley has never had cause to appear at the window.
Jim doesn’t intend for that to change under his watch (despite Remy imploring him to give it a miss, just for tonight, so they could see the ghost).
Prince Charles visited in 2004, to make sure the hornblower continues to keep the town safe from villains and ghosts; and to become a Freeman of the City of Ripon, soon after which time, the Queen herself also paid a visit.
Our signatures in the same visitors book. How far us Aussies have risen in a day. May my baking be so lucky.
Too soon it’s time to farewell Ripon; its lost ark, generous hospitality and pork pies.
As we walked down the grand and secret corridors of the town hall towards the exit, I lamented to Jim to have found neither Mr. Bower nor a Parkin.
Jim stopped on the spot. “Follow me” he said. We walked on past four or so frames filled with portraits of past Mayors – the men once known centuries ago as Wakemen of the city of Ripon. He stopped around 1907/1908 and there, above me, was, well this!
Our very own Mr. Bower is none other than a Past Mayor of Ripon.
There it was in my secretive guidebook all along. Where I needed to look to find my Mr. Bower.
And the very Mayoral Chain he wore over one hundred years ago, two decades before he sent his receipt to Florence White…
When it came to Parkins, I was not so lucky and found only these.
Ingredients lamentably homogenized with any modern supermarket cake.
Lancashire Packet Parkin: Oatmeal, brown sugar, margarine (vegetable oils, water, salt, emulsifier (E471), flavours), egg, syrup, wheat flour, water, glucose syrup, raising agents (E450i, E500), mixed spices, milk whey powder, acetic acid.
(Where’s the ginger?! in the Mixed Spice?)
There are hidden sulfites in glucose syrup and no doubt in ‘Flavours’ that weird broad ingredient that appears on so many processed foods. To avoid.
In the packet Parkins we find, surprisingly, egg, which doesn’t feature in any of the traditional Parkins recipes in Florence White’s book.
There was one more brand on the shelf called Yorkshire Parkins, but reading the ingredients list which contained much the same as the above AND maltodextrin (sulfites) AND annatto (allegedly carcinogenic colour) I decided I didn’t need to buy 3 packeted Parkins.
I’ll be eating mine, not theirs. And I urge you to get cooking and do the same.
I had a bite of the Lancashire Parkin to test the consistency. The Parkin texture is pleasantly dry and crumbly.
I like it. It’s somewhere between biscuit and cake. A dry giant-crumbed madeira cake or a crumbly oaty gingerbread.
But I far preferred my home-made version.
Hitting the road to find the next Good Thing in England.
Breakfast was delicious at Crosthwaite House – French Toast (gluten free sourdough – supplied by yours truly) with Coconut Milk, Berry Compote and Damson Jam. Thank you to the chefs for their culinary creativity so early in the morning!