As I’m sure those of you with children know, next Thursday is Bonfire Night.
Actually, that’s not fair; many of us grown-ups love the fireworks and sparklers just as much as when we were kids. I know I do.
I still love the smell of cordite, the incandescence of burning magnesium, the whoosh and crack of the big rockets, and even the simple yet mesmerising enjoyment of writing one’s name in the air with a sparkler.
Some say it’s allowing a small window to open into our primitive selves, that we have this love of and fascination with flames and fire – it makes us feel safe. I’m happy to embrace my inner Troglodyte – I adore the magic of a big bonfire –the feeling of heat on the face, the mesmerising flames, the upward cascades of sparkling embers. It’s quite hypnotic. Add to this a good display of proper fireworks, and it makes for a spectacular evening.
We Huddersfield folk have special reason to love fireworks, too, don’t we? Living out to the west of town for almost 30 years now, the familiar sound of pops and crackles from the fireworks factory (once Standard, now Black Cat) has become a barely-acknowledged background sound.
I imagine newcomers to the area are quite perplexed when their peace is broken by what sounds like 10 tons of dynamite going off for that first time!
Nowadays, of course, the home display is becoming less common, with many people preferring the safety, and, let’s face it, financial prudence, of a large public display.
As a child of the 70s and 80s, I must say I miss the thrill of a good back-yard Bonfire Night, and the frisson of danger that always lurked behind the flames; the misfiring traffic light, the catherine wheel threatening to whizz off its little nail and arc away into next door’s greenhouse, the terrified local cat zig-zagging across the lawn to safety.
Different days. Recently, it seems like the weather is always disappointingly wet and gloomy for the night itself – I can’t remember a crisp, clear Bonfire Night for ages. Fingers crossed we get a better one this time.
Of course, part of the fun of the 5th is the food. Bonfire grub is brilliant stuff, and should be hearty, fun, and easy to eat. Big stuffed jacket potatoes are always a good idea, loaded with all manner of toppings, from beans to cheese, chili con carne or curry. There’s always the classic pie and peas, too. Stews are great, to be eaten with fluffy dumplings, from big bowls. Boston baked beans (my recipe can be found at: www.examiner.co.uk/lifestyle/food-drink/stephen-jacksons-recipe-baked-beans-4965616) is an excellent one-pot meal, and can be spooned into big mugs for carrying about. Burritos are good, portable snacks, too; big tortillas folded around spicy rice, beans and meats (I like crispy breaded chicken in mine) with lots of firecracker chili flavour and crunchy leaves.
There should always be treacle toffee, and the famous chocolatier in the Piazza (we know the one) makes the best around. Invest in a box.
I thought it’d be a nice idea to make a dessert for Bonfire Night this week, and it’s a classic steamed sponge with custard, the ultimate comfort pudding. It can be made in advance and quickly reheated in a microwave, or kept warm over steam, and the custard can go in a Thermos.
I made the custard a little extra-special by adding the boozy elements of a classic Whisky-Mac cocktail, but you can always omit it, or even warm up a couple of tins – there’s always room for tinned custard! Whatever you choose to do next week, stay safe and have a wonderful Bonfire Night.
Take a look at www.examiner.co.uk/whats-on/family-kids-news/bonfire-night-huddersfield-firework-displays-10230322 to find a display near you.
FOR THE SPONGE:
125g diced stem ginger in syrup
The juice of ½ a lemon
150g softened unsalted butter, plus a little extra to grease
150g unrefined light muscovado sugar
Pinch of Maldon salt
2 free-range eggs, beaten
150g self-raising flour, sifted
2 tsp ground ginger
Approx 250ml full-cream milk
FOR THE CUSTARD:
400ml full-cream milk
200ml double cream
3 tablespoons unrefined golden caster sugar
6 large free-range egg yolks
1 vanilla pod
2 tablespoons whisky
1 tablespoon Stones’ Ginger Wine
900ml / 40oz pudding basin
Greaseproof paper and foil
Butter the pudding basin generously and spoon the ginger and syrup into the bottom. Sprinkle over the lemon juice.
In a mixer, or with a hand-held version, beat the butter and sugar together with a pinch of salt until light and fluffy, and then gradually beat in the eggs until well mixed in.
Gently fold in the flour, and then add just enough milk to give a smooth dropping consistency.
Carefully spoon into the basin, stopping just short of the top to give it room to rise, and level the top with a palette knife.
Pleat a sheet of greaseproof paper and do the same with a sheet of foil.
The pleat allows the pudding to inflate as it cooks.
Lay the greaseproof paper over the basin, then lay the foil on top of this, making sure the pleat is central.
Secure the sheets with string, tightly, and trim away as much of the excess foil and paper with sharp scissors.
Set into the steamer basket and steam the pudding for 2 hours.
As the pudding steams, make the custard. Whisk together the eggs and sugar in a bowl.
Split the vanilla pod, and scrape the seeds into the eggs.
Put the pod into a saucepan with the milk and cream, and bring to the boil.
When just about to boil, strain the milk into the egg mixture and whisk well to mix.
Tip back into the pan and set over gentle heat. Whisking all the time, heat until the mixture thickens, being careful not to boil it.
Add the whisky and ginger wine, and remove from the heat. Decant into a jug or Thermos.
To serve, carefully lift the pudding from the basket, remove the paper, run a knife around the inside of the basin, and turn out on to a lipped plate.
Serve wedges of the hot pudding with lashings of custard.