Waitrose Weekend: Bonfire Night

Posted on 29th October 2014

The best bonfire nights I attended were when I was a scout back in my hometown of Morley, West Yorkshire. For a few weeks before the big day we scuttled around gathering dried-up twigs, whole dead trees and even old wooden cast-off furniture.


In those days the bonfire was always lit on the actual date commemorating Guy Fawkes' attempt to overthrow King James I in 1605 with the Gunpowder Plot. Effigies of him were regularly thrown on to the bonfire during the night when fireworks were set off. We had a great time, wandering from bonfire to bonfire with smoke-smudged faces and were made welcome everywhere.


Not the case for our kids today. Health and safety has, rightly, taken over, but everything seems more sanitised and to see any sort of firework display you often have to pay big money and then stand 200 yards away. I feel we were so lucky!


Thinking back, we wandered from bonfire to bonfire not only for the fireworks (and the girls), but the different foods available. At this time of year we all need warm comforting food that sticks to your ribs and is perfect for watching the fireworks outside. Simple hot soups are perfect for 5 November in a vacuum flask. Back in Morley we would find super stews, fabulous sausages and jacket potatoes salted and buttered so that the butter ran down our chins. There was always parkin, that wonderful sticky, spongy ginger cake - a great favourite in Yorkshire - and treacle toffee to finish after we had sampled some pies that, to me, were the great delight of bonfire night. Mincemeat pies and pork pies made by our neighbours were something special, but nothing put more of a smile on my face than my mum's mutton pies.


It's odd but I had almost forgotten about her pies until I had a mutton lunch at, of all places, the Highgrove home of HRH The Prince of Wales. I was representing the Royal Academy of Culinary Arts and was invited to Gloucestershire to meet our friends from the National Sheep Association to talk about the mutton renaissance. The idea is that we highlight this cut of meat and make more people aware of its availability. Then hopefully we will get it back on the nation's plates.


Mutton is a meat that used to be a great favourite in this country but seems to have fallen in favour. This meeting resolved that it was determined to bring back mutton to its deserved place on the British table. The Highgrove menu was inventive and showed how delicious mutton can be with a ravioli, then slow-roasted saddle. If you get the chance to slow-roast a shoulder of mutton, treat it a bit like pulled pork then use it to make pies. You'll love 'em.


Ah those were the days... Wouldn't it be great to have an old-fashioned bonfire night again - sparklers, bangers and, of course, mutton pie.

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