Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Bonfire Night - Whizz, Bang, Light My Fire!

When I was a little girl, Bonfire Night was a really big deal! It'd be unthinkable to let the night pass without a bonfire and fireworks, and preparations for it began early. The house I lived in faced onto a huge are of open land, and this was where our bonfire would be built.

Weeks before the event, the local kids would begin gathering up materials for the bonfire, and being autumn-time, there were always plenty of sticks, pruned branches and good garden waste around to start the build. What's more, people used to save up anything that they were throwing away that would be good on the bonfire - maybe someone was having a new fence built and they'd donate the old wood, or on one glorious occasions, several old wooden doors were gifted to us. The word would go around that Mr. So-and So from around the corner had stuff to give, and a bunch of us would rock up and help him shift it - to the bonfire! Yes, it probably saved Mr. So-and-So a trip to the local tip, but we all benefited.

We'd haul everything we could find over to the waste ground, where some of the local fathers would be supervising the building. It was a great community event, one of those magical things that seemed to happen every year without the sort of committees or meetings you'd probably need to have these days. I remember it wasn't a case of everything just being chucked in a big pile and set light to, not at all. The bonfire was built carefully and methodically, with safety always the first priority. Us kids weren't interested in that, though. All we were interested in was that glorious moment when the bonfire would be lit...

On 5th of November, the anticipation would be building all day long till you were almost sick with excitement waiting for it to get dark. Then the signal would go out, we'd all make our way across, and yes! The bonfire would be lit, and after some moments, the fire would really take hold, blazing away and showering sparks into the air. I remember the crackling of the fire and that wonderful wood-smoke smell so well, and even now, the smell of wood-smoke takes me back to those magical nights. Later there would be a firework display, again arranged by the local fathers, I suppose. Nothing compared to the massive public displays you see now, of course, but it was still amazing to us...the wheee-POP of the rockets, the whoosh of a Roman Candle, and the whizz of the Catherine Wheel. Amazing.

Food, of course, featured highly. It must have been organised somehow, how and by whom I've no idea, but plates of this and bowls of that would appear and be passed around everyone. I remember toffee apples one year, donated by someone's Mum, with the sweet, hard toffee like shards of glass that would scratch the inside of your mouth if you weren't careful, and the apples inside hard and sour - delicious. Someone would produce a bag of potatoes, and they'd be laid in among the ashes at the edge of the fire to bake. When they were done, you had to roll them out of the hot embers with a stick and then crack open the layer of carbon to get to the fluffy spud inside, all the while tossing the hot potato from one gloved hand to the other until it was cool enough to eat. That was it; no salt, no butter, but just plain potato made extra delicious with wood-smoke and burnt skin. Nothing tasted as good as those spuds!

Nowadays we're a lot more 'sophisticated,' and in the run-up to Bonfire Night, magazines and TV chefs give us complicated recipes for amazing party dishes to be served up to our guests. I wonder what they'd think of our basic Bonfire party with our cobbled-together bonfire, razor-sharp candy apples and carbonized spuds?? It's not the same, I know. Nothing is, in retrospect. But I do know we were blessed to have that great community spirit around us, a real sense of 'making our own fun' and enjoying every minute of it.

If you're having people over for a Bonfire party, don't go to town on the food. Easy grub is the order of the night, just enough to keep everyone warm and happy - and remember, love, friendship, and good neighbours goes a long way towards that.

Here's a recipe for Sticky Honey Sausages from food writer Nigel Slater. It's as easy as can be and is just right for Bonfire Night. This is for four people, but you can increase the quantities as you like.

8 plump pork sausages

2 tbsp grain mustard

a tbsp smooth Dijon mustard

3 heaped tbsp runny honey

2 tbsp lemon juice

Set the oven at 200C/400F/Gas 6. Put the sausages in a roasting tin large enough to take them in a single layer. If they overlap, they won’t cook properly.

In a bowl mix the mustards, honey and lemon juice. Stir well, and about halfway through the cooking time - about 15 to 20 mins - pour the mixture over all the sausages. Cook the sausages for approximately another 15 minutes or until they're done, and they've taken on a sticky, glossy coat.

Visit Jane at Home Is Where The Heart Is.


Cheryl said...

Bonfire Night sounds like a great tradition. Nothing beats an open fire on a crispy cold night with comfort food waiting at home. How lucky you were (are).

Jenny Twist said...

We used to have ours at my Aunty Barbara's. She had a huge house with an enormous back yard and we had the bonfire there. We also had baked potatoes and my aunty made treacle toffee (very similar to the hard toffee on a toffee apple, but brown rather than red) and gingerbread (known as parkin in my part of Yorkshire). Heady days!
Thanks for bringing it all back for me, Rosemary

Savanna Kougar said...

Jane, oh that sounds much more wonderful than a big ta-do. Nothing better than when people come together in that way.

Someday I'll have to try potatoes/spuds baked that way. Could be where hot potato came from.

Thanks for sharing.

Lindsay Townsend said...

Wonderful blog, Jane! Your memories chime with mine re the community and the magic of the fire.

Delicious food!
I'll have to try those sausages...

Thanks so much for sharing.

Jane Richardson said...

Thanks, everyone, for your thoughts and memories. Happy Bonfire Night on Saturday - hope everyone has a fabulous time! :)

Jane x

Sue Perkins said...

That brings back the memories Jane. I remember my dad loosely nailing the Catherine Wheel to the coal house door and the rest of the fireworks being let off half way down the long garden. Also the brown toffee (not toffee apples). We couldn't have a bonfire as we were too close to the woods that bordered the garden, but we certainly had fun. Thanks for bringing back those old memories.

Rosemary Gemmell said...

Lovely nostalgia, Jane - sounds like our bonfire nights! Great recipe.

Jane Richardson said...

Hi Sue! Sounds like we had very similar childhoods, doesn't it? Lovely to see you. :)

Jane x

Jane Richardson said...

I did wonder if you'd recognise it, Rosemary! Thanks for coming over. :)

Jane x