This year’s Bonfire Night will be like no other in recent memory. Gone are the big gatherings. Gone is the sense of community spirit. Gone are my neighbours deciding that my children’s bedtime is the best time to get their friends over and let off the world’s loudest firework display.
This year, Bonfire Night will be smaller and more household-focused than usual. But it doesn’t mean that all traditions have to be lost. If nothing else, we can always eat like it’s a typical Bonfire Night. Bonfire food has only three defining principles. It needs to be warming. It needs to be seasonal. And, most of all, it needs to be easy to eat standing up, ideally while wearing mittens. Here are 10 of the best.
We’ll start with a Bonfire Night essential. A jacket potato is simple, warm and can be handheld. “The only ones that don’t seem to work are those that are fiddled with. By which I mean those occasions when I’ve been tempted by suggestions to bake them in foil, pierce all over with a fork or cook on a fancy trivet,” writes Nigel Slater, so it’s his fault-free recipe we’ll use here.
Chilli con carne
Of course, the potato is just a vehicle for a fat dollop of toppings – and few are more seasonally appropriate than chilli con carne. Sorted Food’s recipe is made with brisket and slow-cooked for four hours. The result is rich and thick and promises to stick to your guts until long after the sparklers have gone out.
Baked sausages with harissa and tomatoes
Back to Slater, whose recipe for gussied-up sausage and beans – scorched with the warming notes of harissa – seems tailor-made for a cold November evening. “I like a coarse-cut, spicy sausage to cook with haricot beans,” he says. “The pork, fennel seeds and black-pepper-seasoned sausages that hang in Italian grocers, displayed in plump clusters tied together with string, to be exact.”
Campfire crescent dogs
Then again, if you want to incorporate the fire into your dining experience, a crescent dog seems the most sensible option. This is a hotdog sausage wrapped in shop-bought croissant dough and roasted over the fire on a skewer. Providing you trust your children around uncontrollable infernos, this is a great option for parents.
If you would like a lighter option, there is always the opportunity to make a seasonal soup. The beauty of Barney Desmazery’s pumpkin soup is that it’s quick to make, easy to scale up and keeps for ages. You could make a bucket of this stuff now for warming up on 5 November.
Cold November nights aren’t really for dazzling guests, but, if you wanted to go upmarket, you could try making your own marshmallows instead of buying them. If nothing else, William Drabble’s version contains quite a lot of Pernod, which can’t be said for Rocky Mountain Mega marshmallows.
When you have marshmallows, you can make s’mores. Again, these gloopy, squidgy chocolate-and-marshmallow cookie or cracker sandwiches can be assembled from shop-bought ingredients, but Anna Jones has a recipe that calls for homemade ginger biscuits. “The stuff of dreams,” she says.
Gnawing on a lump of honeycomb is as much a Bonfire Night tradition as gorging on baked potatoes. Tamal Ray’s version substitutes the traditional black treacle (“too overpowering”) for a more mellow hit of date syrup.
Good news! With all that leftover black treacle, you can make parkin. This sweet, oaty gingerbread cake is exactly right for this time of year: sugary enough to count as a treat, but substantial enough to serve as genuine ballast. Felicity Cloake’s recipe is one of the best you’ll find, but act fast: as she says, “parkin is one of those cakes, like malt loaf, that carries on getting better for some weeks after making”.
We’ll end with probably the most divisive item of all, the toffee apple. Some may see them as a morally offensive and difficult-to-eat collision of antipathetic textures, but this is Bonfire Night and you can’t argue with tradition. Especially when – as with this recipe, in which the apples are skewered on twigs and shot through with red dye – they look so beautiful.