Hosting your own Guy Fawkes celebration couldn't be easier with this guide to traditional food on Bonfire Night. Prepare to feel toasty and warm.
On 5 November, people across Britain celebrate Guy Fawkes Night with fireworks, bonfires and sparklers. And let's not overlook the bounty of food on Bonfire Night that accompanies those crackling fires and popping fireworks.
But why do we celebrate and what should we serve up on this chilly November evening?
What follows is a speedy history lesson covering the origins of this longstanding British festival, a quick rundown of how to celebrate it and details about the planning and serving of the celebration food. Of course, we'll also take a look at a few recipes for the best food on Bonfire Night that you could dole out.
Why do we celebrate Bonfire Night?
The celebrations mark the anniversary of The Gunpowder Plot. In 1605, led by Robert Catesby, a group of Catholic noblemen conspired to end intolerant Protestant rule by blowing up King James I, the Queen, protestant church leaders, various other nobles and the Houses of Parliament.
The plan was simple: plant 36 barrels of gunpowder in the cellars beneath the Houses of Parliament in London and detonate it when the King was in the building.
But one member of the group sent a warning to a friend, advising him to stay away from Parliament on the 5th November. Suspicion was roused and guards were sent to investigate the cellars. Guy Fawkes was discovered, arrested and, rather gruesomely, executed along with numerous other plotters.
Over 400 years later Bonfire Night celebrations still sweep across the country every year on November 5th. These celebrations commemorate the unsuccessful attempt on a Monarch's life. They do not represent a tribute to Guy Fawkes himself.
Ways to celebrate
Guy Fawkes Night is typically celebrated by lighting a bonfire, setting off fireworks and serving up some hearty, fun and comforting food and drinks.
Traditional celebrations include a Guy (a dummy made from rags) on the top of the fire, representing Mr Guy Fawkes himself.
Some people choose to celebrate in their own garden, others prefer to turn up to community lead events.
Community organised celebrations are incredibly popular now, since they are an easy and safe way for families to enjoy Bonfire Night.
But the large community celebrations are not for everybody. The size of the fire, the noise from the fireworks and the volume of people can be too much for some.
Indeed, one such event left my younger child shockingly traumatised, to the point that when we took her back to the 'safety' of our car, she spent the next 20 minutes rocking in her seat, unable to communicate her terror.
We've never been back to a large event since.
Catering when Celebrating at Home
A smaller, quieter celebration in your own back garden can be just as enjoyable as a larger event. You can even enjoy Bonfire Night by yourselves - and let's face it, sometimes you might just have to spend it alone.
Luckily, guests are not essential for a good time to be had.
Similarly, fires, fireworks and sparklers are all optional - pick and choose to match your family preferences and the size of your garden.
But the key to all good Bonfire Night celebrations is food. And plenty of it - regardless of how many people are attending.
One of the biggest benefits of hosting a celebration at home is that you get to choose a delicious selection of food on Bonfire Night to keep yourselves and any lucky guests well fuelled.
Plan the Food Carefully
November is usually a chilly month. So spectators will typically keep the cold at bay by filling their tummies. Food on bonfire night is traditionally warming, hearty, fun and really rather humble.
The food needs to be well thought out and prepared in advance as much as possible so that all (cook and spectators) can enjoy both a full tummy and the visual feast for the eyes (and ears) that bonfire night provides.
Ensure that all food needs minimal input or can be made ahead of time and simply warmed through. Don't make the chef miss all the fun of the night.
Oven baking is a great way to deal with the hotdogs, burgers and potatoes. Alternatively, set the BBQ going for those burgers and sausages - chef can multi-task by cooking and watching the fireworks.
And beg, steal and borrow slow cookers to help keep the other food and drinks warm.
How to Serve the food
Forget fancy plates and cutlery, Guy Fawkes night is the time to revert to mugs, spoons and hands. Go rustic for maximum fun and minimal hassle.
Diners will likely be standing up, perhaps huddled around a fire and often holding the hand of small children. Balancing crockery, knives and forks in this situation is not ideal.
Here are my suggestions for keeping things simple:
- Think you can't serve a hotdog without a plate? Use a paper napkin instead. Not only is it one less thing to juggle, guests can use it to clean hands and mouths too
- Want to serve some jacket potatoes? Honestly, one of the finest ways to enjoy this most humble of offerings on a night like this is to split the potato open, fill with plenty of butter and a sprinkling of salt & pepper. Wrap them individually in foil, then once they are cool enough to handle guests can simply unwrap them, little by little, taking bites as they do so
- You'll need plenty of mugs. Maybe don't use your best china, but a mish-mash of mugs works perfectly fine. Again, consider borrowing, or buy some cheap ones for all outdoor celebrations to cut back on single-use disposable items
- Ensure you set up a table loaded with condiments such as ketchup, mustard, brown sauce, chilli sauce, vinegar, mint sauce and salt. Guest can help themselves and compile their own personal feast
- It's a good idea to put other hotdog and burger embellishments out on a table too - onions, lettuce, tomato, bacon, cheese, avocado etc...
- Keep some napkins or wipes on the table too and place a bin nearby to collect the dirty napkins, wipes and any leftovers
The Best Food to Serve
Food on Bonfire Night needs to appeal to all ages. My advice is to stick with traditional crowd-pleasing recipes.
Resist getting bogged down creating separate offerings for kids and adults. It's really not necessary and you'll miss all the fun.
Alright, we're ready to dig into the best foods to lay out. You'll want something main, a few sides, several sweet options and of course, a warming drink or two.
The Main event
Sausages with onions, burgers and chilli. What could be more appealing when eaten around a fantastic fire? Keep your offering simple but don't forget to cater for vegetarians here too.
Side Dishes in Mugs
Think soup, mushy peas and baked beans. Anything that can be slurped or eaten with a spoon works a treat here. All of these items can be made in bulk and are very easy to heat up when required.
And don't forget those foil-wrapped potatoes - simple bake in the oven until tender, then split open, top with oodles of butter, salt & pepper and wrap in foil. So easy.
Easy to Handle Sweet Treats
Now is not the time for showstopper cakes laden with fancy decorations. Go for items that are easy to eat hand-held. Bonfire toffee, parkin, toffee apples or even flapjack are fine dessert contenders.
Cosy Drinks to Snuggle With
Bonfires, fireworks and sparklers need to be treated with due care and respect, so go steady on the alcohol. Hot chocolate and mulled fruit juice are crowd-pleasers for all ages. Masala chai (minus the rum) is also well suited to Bonfire Night.
And that's it. I doubt anybody will claim they are hungry after this little feast of food on Bonfire Night.
The cook and fire manager might like to snuggle up with a cosy autumnal cocktail once the children are tucked up in bed though. It will be well earned.
Do you have a must-have recipe for Bonfire Night? Tell me about it if you do - I always love to hear from you.