Historically, gingerbreads in England reach back to the fourteenth century when they were simply pastes made of breadcrumbs, honey, ginger, and sometimes red sandalwood (sanders) for coloring [for more information click here to see my historic gingerbread post]. Over the centuries, ingredients such as wheat flour, oats, molasses, and other spices were added to the basic gingerbread paste recipe to make more modern forms gingerbread. By the 16th and 17th centuries, two ports near Grasmere on the northeast coast of England, Whitehaven and Milnthorpe, were influential in bringing spices, unrefined sugars, and rum to the region. Such ingredients were adopted by the local people and were used to make adaptations of classic recipes; consequently, gingerbread was one of these old world recipes adapted with the new imports. The village of Grasmere is one of several British locations such as Ashbourne, Ormskirk, and Edinburgh, known for making their own specific types of gingerbreads.
The gingerbread recipe associated with Grasmere today was developed in 1854 by Sarah Nelson, a Grasmere woman. Nelson based her gingerbread on recipes from the county of Lancashire; therefore, Nelson cannot be credited with inventing this style of gingerbread even though Nelson's is trade marked and the popular one currently associated with Grasmere.
So, what makes this gingerbread so special? It is known for its unique texture which is a cross between a biscuit and a cake. It also has an oatmeal base which gives it a unique flavor and mouth-feel.
Legend has it that Nelson placed her handwritten recipe in a bank vault for safe-keeping. Of course, nowadays there are several recipes available that claim to mimic this type of gingerbread. Click Here to connect to a version of a recipe for Grasmere Gingerbread developed by the English Kitchen blog. Good luck and enjoy!
If you would like to sample this gingerbread without doing any baking or making the trek to the Lakes District, you can order by clicking here to be connected with the shop's website. They do offer international sales. Please note, I am not being compensated for recommending this site.
- Goldstein, Darra, ed., The Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets, Oxford University Press, 2015.
- Baking for Britain Blog
- Sarah Nelson's Grasmere Gingerbread Website