Uncle Joes Mint Balls, Lancashire
Real grandads eat Uncle Joe's Mint Balls. In fact they crunch them - my Lancashire grandfather claimed this released the flavour better than sucking the things, and he should have known, he bought them in industrial quantities.
Ideally they should be eaten while walking full of hope to a football match on an overcast Saturday afternoon, but it is equally acceptable to devour them in front of a decent fire on a wet Sunday, the penetrating grinding of the mint balls seemingly designed to drive grandmothers gradually bonkers.
The original Uncle Joe's Mint Balls were made at home in 1898 by Ellen Santus, and sold on her husband William's fruit and veg stall on Wigan market . Pretty quickly confectionery became the couple's sole business, and since 1919 Uncle Joe's Mint Balls have been made at the same factory in Wigan's Dorning Street, using the same ingredients and the traditional method of boiling the mixture over open gas fires.
Part of the sweet's success was down to its early adoption by Wigan miners, who found the peppermint refreshing, and the sweet saliva generated by sucking them a great remedy for the drying coal dust that filled their throats.
The mines may have gone but the mint balls go on. An attraction for modern munchers is the purity of the recipe - just pure cane sugar, peppermint oil, and cream of tartar. No suspicious E-numbers, no unexpected additives to cheapen the product.
Beer in cans never seems to taste as good as beer in bottles, but Uncle Joe's Mint Balls for me taste better from a tin rather than a plastic paper packet. But who Uncle Joe was is unknown, the top-hatted toff on the tin managing the difficult feat of smiling at once toothily and mysteriously.
And there is nothing beige about Uncle Joe's, the tin is as bright red and jolly as it has always been, something to be appreciated by grandads who like a regular pint still, rather than the occasional dry sherry at Christmas, even if these days the lid does highlight the sweet's suitability for those of a vegan persuasion.
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