Parkin probed by council for links between the cake and colonialism

·3 min read
Parkin has been enjoyed as a Yorkshire delicacy since the 18th century - Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Parkin has been enjoyed as a Yorkshire delicacy since the 18th century - Hulton Archive/Getty Images

It has been enjoyed as a Yorkshire delicacy since the 18th century.

But parkin - a cake made with ginger and treacle - will now have its international origins examined in a review of local cuisine launched to investigate links to the slave trade.

Connections between the cake and colonialism will be probed in research by Leeds City Council prompted by the Black Lives Matter protests, according to a report seen by The Telegraph.

Parkin is to be reviewed along with other local favourites like Yorkshire Tea over their potentially problematic ingredients.

A council document claims: “Historically, some of the ingredients used to make these ‘local’ products were gained through the triangular slave trade (for example, sugar).”

The document states under the heading “activity in relation to Black Lives Matter” that research into these treats will explore “how local products such as Yorkshire Parkin and Yorkshire tea are, in fact, reliant on global trade”.

The aim of the research project is to provide evidence of these connections which can be turned into teaching material for primary school pupils in Leeds.

The Key Stage 2 materials will be added to the local Leeds Curriculum set of teacher resources which already includes an “Empire and Colonialism” section covering Windrush, slavery, gender bias, and decolonisation.

Children will learn how while the production of Yorkshire products put the county “on the map”, the council said, some ingredients “would have been sourced from around the empire and would have involved the labour of enslaved people as well as exploitation of resources and communities around the world.”

Leeds City Council advised that: “Our work will aim to reflect these issues, looking at them from a contemporary perspective in an effort to tell their whole stories.”

Yorkshire Parkin Loaf cake - studiomode / Alamy Stock Photo 
Yorkshire Parkin Loaf cake - studiomode / Alamy Stock Photo

This work came as part of a review launched by the Labour council following Black Lives Matter protests in 2020 which the local administration said “highlighted examples of how racism continues to be prevalent in everyday life”.

Alongside announcing work to teach children about the links between Yorkshire delicacies and British imperialism, it found “no appetite amongst the public to remove statues of individuals” in Leeds.

The report found that “no individuals honoured by statues have been identified as being central to the slave trade”, but claimed that “themes of empire and colonialism are still prominent within the city’s heritage”.

But the report concluded that “more can be done to support diversity and inclusion in the city”.

Schemes considered include adding plaques to buildings indirectly with associated with the slave trade, alongside the educational work examining the history of parkin.

The cake was first mentioned by name in 18th century court records and developed out of earlier oat cakes eaten during autumn and winter celebrations. The treat is still eaten on Bonfire Night.

Its ingredients include ginger, a spice that arguably became available through increased European trading and colonial expansion, and the recipe calls for the use of black treacle.

This substance historically would have made use of sugar imported from Britain’s sugar plantations in the Caribbean.

While parkin is often associated with Yorkshire, it is also traditionally consumed in the neighbouring Lancashire, which has claimed the cake as its own in a long-running dispute over its origins.

It is understood no parallel review of the cake has yet been undertaken in Lancashire.

Tea, popularly taken with sugar, arguably has colonial connections due to the tea plants at one time being grown in Britain's imperial possessions.

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