Market Drayton Gingerbread, Shropshire
Market Drayton is the archetypal English market town, with a thriving market on the main road through it every Wednesday, and a pretty Buttercross in the town centre. It is probably the model for Wodehouse 's Market Blandings, and there can be no higher recommendation than that.
Gingerbread has been made in the town since at least the late 18th century - the maltster Roland Lateward is documented as having made gingerbread in 1793 - and very possibly before that. Some like to link the confection to the town's most famous son, thief, looter, protection racketeer and of course colonial hero Clive of India, as if his cornering of the spice routes for Britain had led to his home town developing the product. In fact the Romans brought ginger to Britain, and the Crusaders are thought to have brought a penchant for a baked good similar to gingerbread home with them.
Market Drayton's version of gingerbread has its own twist, with rum included in the ingredients. It is traditional for locals to dip their gingerbread - which comes in convenient oblong fingers - in port to increase its richness, ascribing perhaps more in hope than expectation curative properties to the resulting delicacy.
The recipe developed by the Billington family, who began baking it commercially in 1817, is still used, as is the special iron machine they had made to extrude the dough into ribbons. This machine forces the dough through a star-shaped nozzle whose points give the fingers their traditional ribbed surface, ideal it is said for picking up the port into which the fingers will (sometimes) be dipped, softening the hard texture, a rather luxurious variant on the addictive habit of dipping biscuits in tea.