Cornish fairings

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Preparation info

  • Difficulty

    Medium

  • For

    14

    fairings

Appears in

Oats in the North, Wheat from the South: The history of British Baking, savoury and sweet

Oats in the North, Wheat from the South

By Regula Ysewijn

Published 2020

  • About

Fairings are sweet treats, usually gingerbread, that were sold at English fairs for centuries. During the Reformation, fairs and festivals, which were mostly held on holy days, were outlawed – even Christmas and its festivities were abolished by an Act of Parliament in 1647. For nearly two decades, the preparation of food for festivities was a punishable offence. After Charles II was restored to the throne in 1660, people could return to their festivities. Gingerbread experienced a revival because the spices needed to make it became cheaper and, by then, sugar imports from Barbados brought large amounts of sugar to the London sugar refineries.

Fairings were known throughout the country, but became connected to Cornwall when Cornish baker, Furniss of Truro, started selling Cornish fairings in 1886. In The Cornishman of 3 December 1908, an advertisement for Ginger fairings appeared with the headline ‘A Genuine Cornish Delicacy for one & all of the Cornish Riviera’. Today, Furniss Foods still sells Cornish fairings and holds the trademark for the name.

In the early 19th century, newspapers describe how at village fairs stacks of gingerbread ‘husbands’ were sold to girls looking for a sweetheart. But gingerbread people are much older. The Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets tells us the legend that Tudor Queen Elizabeth I enjoyed having gingerbread men made in the image of her potential husbands and other guests, and serving the biscuits at the table. This way everyone could ‘eat’ themselves, and The Virgin Queen could decapitate the men who wanted to tame her with her teeth (which eventually turned black from excessive sugar consumption). She never married and reigned alone, to the great annoyance of the powerful men surrounding her.

Ingredients

  • 50 g ( oz) butter, at room temperature
  • 100 g ( oz) plain (all-purpose) flour
  • 50 g ( oz) soft brown sugar
  • pinch of mixed spice
  • tsp ground ginger
  • 55 g (2 oz) golden syrup or maple syrup
  • 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • pinch of sea salt

Method

Preheat your oven to 180°C (350°F). Line a large baking tray with baking paper.

Rub the butter into the flour, sugar and spices by hand.

Heat the golden syrup in a saucepan, then add the remaining ingredients and stir until well combined. Set aside to cool.

Knead the dough, then roll it into balls, using about 18 g (½ oz) of dough per biscuit, and place on the tray. Lightly press the balls down.

Bake for 8-10 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool. The biscuits will flatten as they bake and form nice cracks on the surface. They are best eaten on the day they’re baked because they don’t stay crisp.