As the clocks go back and the long dark nights loom, there is the excitement and fantastic food of Bonfire Night
to cheer us up. Odd though it may be to celebrate the torture and execution of a religious fundamentalist terrorist with a few sausages and cinder toffee, food has been at the centre of a fair share of treason and plot.
Swan is the animal we most associate with culinary high treason – but it was actually widely eaten at the time of the Gunpowder Plot. (Only mute swans are protected by the Queen.) However you could really get in trouble for eating hares, partridge and pheasants; they all somehow ‘belonged’ to the King. The punishment for poaching had been severe in Tudor times – hanging or having your hands cut off – then reduced to a more reasonable public whipping, fines and imprisonment.
We all know that Cromwell would do you for eating mince pies on Christmas during the Civil War. But later in the 17th century the country was once more on the point of rebellion, all hopped up on caffeine from coffee houses where treasonous talk was rife. King Charles II issued an order banning coffee houses in 1675, but it was quickly rescinded - presumably because they all started getting those caffeine-withdrawal headaches.
Even now if food doesn’t exactly make one a traitor, it can be decidedly unpatriotic. The US ban on Cuban imports doesn’t just mean that Americans can’t bring a bottle of rum back from holiday– they are technically forbidden from purchasing Cuban products even when abroad.
So while we don’t wish Guy Fawkes had succeeded with his plot, I think Bonfire night is a time for a bit of outlaw cooking. If Halloween is a frenzy of sweetness for the kids, now’s the time for some grown-up autumnal treats.
If you’re staying at home, why not cook dinner over your own little bonfire or resurrect the barbecue. Throw a few jacket potatoes, wrapped in foil, into the coals for forty-five minutes and top with beans or chilli. While you’re waiting, pop a foil-wrapped box of Camembert in there as well. Serve the molten cheese with chunks of bread and pass the flask.
Don’t live dangerously when cooking sausages over the open flames– I boil sausages for about ten minutes so they’re already cooked, then pop them onto sticks to build up a caramelised veneer over the fire. Char, to taste. Follow with marshmallows.
If you’re out for the fireworks, make some homemade cinder toffee for the trip – ooh and ahh and stand back as the bicarb fizzes in the boiling sugar. Pack a thermos of mulled wine or cider – even Gunpowder green tea – and a box full of parkin.
Toffee apples are always on offer in the supermarket, but I think to be really authentic, we should be eating our golden toffee in a sticky pudding or cake loaded with dried fruits. Why? Because as they say, “treason is a matter of dates”.
Love to know what outlaw food you'll be cooking up over the bonfire, or indeed any criminal food factoids. I may have exhausted Wikipedia.