November 1st was All Saints Day, or All Hallows Day when the Saints and Martyrs of the Christian faith are remembered. This is also All Souls Eve, when families remember the souls of the departed. It is still tradition in many parts of the world to light candles on the graves of family members, in cemeteries and churchyards. Maybe this is where the tradition of lighted pumpkins originated for Halloween.
November 11th is Veterans' Day and Poppy Day in the UK. The poppy is significant because the armistice for the Great War (World War 1) was signed in Flanders field in Belgium. Legend says that red poppies grow in this field as a reminder of the blood that was lost. (I may not have this quite right - the memory is not what it used to be, but this is the story my mum used to tell.)
I wouldn’t be British if I didn’t mention that November 5th, is Guy Fawkes Day. This charming feller tried to blow up London’s Houses of Parliament in 1605. The dastardly plot failed miserably and the plotters were captured leading to this annual celebration, which continues to this day. Bonfires are lit and an effigy of Guy Fawkes is placed on top. Not exactly a pleasant thought, but it is one of the most eagerly awaited celebrations throughout the year. The night before, November 4th, is, as you can probably guess, "Mischief Night".
Please to remember, the fifth of November, gunpowder, treason and plot.
I see no reason why gunpowder treason should ever be forgot.
There are many other Saints’ days and traditions during the month of November and all of them have their own special feasts. Celebrations go hand in hand with food and drink throughout the year, with recipes being passed down from generation to generation. I feel there is a great sense of security to be derived from traditions, whatever they may be, since these are the things that are certain in the uncertainty of life.
We eat turkey at Thanksgiving and in England on November 5th it's all about Parkin Pigs (these are kinda like gingerbread men, only pigs instead), potatoes baked in the embers of a bonfire, meat pies and mushy peas, but the best was always "Plot Toffee". Here's my mum's recipe, and I quote directly from her, handwritten recipe book:
Put 3 oz Butter, 6 oz Granulated Sugar, one small tin of Nestle’s Condensed Milk, 1 tsp Vanilla Essence and 1 ½ really big Tablespoonsful of Golden Syrup* into a pan, which has been well greased with lard. Cook very slowly to the boil stirring continually until it turns a nut brown colour (about 30 mins). Test a little in a basin of cold water for hardness. Pour into a well buttered 7” x 9” pan. When set turn out onto wax paper then break into pieces by hitting sharply on the under side (with a hammer). *Golden syrup, or treacle can be found in many food stores in the international aisle. You may be able to substitute with corn syrup, but I’ve never tried it…….. Enjoy! Y'all come back now!