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Grasmere Gingerbread, Cumbria

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This is not such a simple topic, as there are several variations on the theme available in the lovely village of Grasmere in Cumbria , and because people’s reactions to the products vary.

What is reasonably clear is the origin of the trade. The nearby ports of Whitehaven and especially Workington were heavily involved in the importing of rum, sugar and molasses in the 18th and 19th centuries, and those products feature strongly in many of the local gastronomic treats. Ginger would also have been imported via the same places.

The second element of the product’s genesis was the tourist industry in the area. Gingerbread was, and is, a useful source of energy for walkers and climbers.

After that it gets more complex. There are two basic varieties of gingerbread available in the village: one thin - about a quarter of an inch – the other twice as thick. The thicker version is probably the more original, linked to the gingerbreads baked traditionally as payment for those doing work for the church. The thinner version was, it seems, introduced by Sarah Nelson, an incomer from Lancashire who established a business in the settlement in the 1850s. Confusingly it is this product that now appears most ‘typical’.

The shop started by Sarah Nelson is still going, producing to her recipe. The confection is very sweet, with a true ginger kick, and a gritty but soft texture that some take to, and some (foolishly) don’t, preferring the rather harder and thicker style. An early pioneer of food marketing, Sarah Nelson had her product trademarked.

While some of the tea-shoppe flummery is off-putting, real gingerbread – as opposed to the mass produced supermarket gingerbread men – is well worth trying, and for those with a sweet tooth and liking for spices it’s hard to stop at one piece.

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