Bonfire day passed with the great roaring fire in the corner of the plough field, when potatoes were roasted under the stars and tiny Chinese crackers flew through the air.
Susan had never heard of Guy Fawkes, nor had Tom or Becky, or Joshua. It was a ‘Bun Fire’, when they ate parkin and treacle toffee, and children danced round the fire before winter swept the fields.
As it died they leapt through the low flames and each had a wish. Then they stood in the files to watch the other fires, on the hills in the distance, before they went it to their early bed.
commentary: Alison Utley is known for her children’s books about Little Grey Rabbit and Sam Pig, but this one has its devotees too, and it has been much recommended to me. I found it very uneven – chapters of long boring descriptions of the countryside, and the life of an annoying little girl, alternating with moments of lovely joy and descriptions of fascinating and long-gone customs. It describes the life of Susan Garland, probably in approximately the 1890s, in the Derbyshire countryside, and is generally assumed to be based on Uttley’s own life.
It WAS worth reading, for the good bits, but I wasn’t very interested in the nature walks, or in the fears and strange beliefs of a young girl’s life – they seemed to have been better done elsewhere.
This time of year I generally do a Guy Fawkes entry, and explain to my American readers that there are bonfires and fireworks to mark the Gunpowder Plot: an unsuccessful attempt in 1605 to blow up the Houses of Parliament. For more, see previous years’ entries, with some nice photos…
Interesting that this little girl had never heard of Guy Fawkes.
As it happens I have just been looking at a cookbook first published in the 1950s, and was interested to see an idea for a Guy Fawkes cake (parkin and treacle toffee, as above, are the traditional treats on this night). The cake is covered in chocolate icing then:
Using white icing, cover the top and sides of the cake with drawings of Catherine wheels, rockets and sparklers, using real fireworks as models. Add silver balls and other cake decorations to give the effect of colour and sparks.I’m sure we all know what they mean, but I just love the idea that you might set off the fireworks in your kitchen in order to do a good job of reproducing them (you can imagine this scene in a certain kind of sitcom). In those days every household would have fireworks, ready for the big night, to copy – nowadays nearly everyone goes to an organized event for safety reasons. Today very few houses would have fireworks ready to hand for copying.
[It is a feature of this old cookbook, by the way, that all the cakes for which you would most need detailed instructions, and maybe step-by-step pictures, are just skimmed over in the manner of the recipe here: what I quoted does constitute the whole plan, without even a picture.]
The top pictures, from the Athenaeum website, actually show midsummer bonfires in Norway, by Nicolai Astrup. but seemed to look right.
The cake picture (did you think for a moment it was a picture of an actual box of fireworks?) is not connected with my ancient recipe book – it comes from pinterest, and isn’t it lovely?