Monday, 22 April 2013
Whenever I go to the Lake District - I always come back with a huge bag of Sarah Nelson's Grasmere Gingerbread for family and friends. Who was Sarah Nelson? She was born Sarah Kemp in 1815, the year of Waterloo. She knew poverty and worked to support her widowed mother as a servant with the local gentry. The worked hard and progressed to being cook. In 1844 she married Wilfred Nelson of Morland near Penrith. Wilfred worked as a farm labourer and part-time grave digger, but he was unable to earn enough to support his wife and two children. So Sarah took in washing and made cakes and pastries for Lady Farquhar, in her home at Dale Lodge in Grasmere.
Around 1850 a small cottage known as "Gate Cottage" then became available for rent. Gate Cottage had been built in 1630 by public subscription as the village school. Education was not compulsory at this time, and it was only the village folk who could afford the penny a day to send their boys to school. Once education became compulsory a new school was built nearby to accommodate all the village children, leaving the Nelson's to take over the tenancy of the property.
At her new home, Sarah was encouraged by Lady Farquhar's French chef to make Gingerbread. As the Victorian tourists passed by, they would see Sarah donned in her white apron and shawl sitting out in her cobbled yard selling her Gingerbread. Sarah's Grasmere Gingerbread became renowned, and soon she was wrapping it in pure vegetable parchment printed "None Genuine Without Trade Mark". The recipe was locked away in the local bank vault. Sarah abandoned her parlour, and hung a curtain across her kitchen to form a passageway from the door through to the diminutive shop. Sarah had now established herself as "Baker and Confectioner of Church Cottage, Grasmere".
In 1869 and 1870 tragedy struck when both Sarah's young daughters died of tuberculosis. And a few years later Wilfred died. She turned to her work, even making gingerbread alphabets, then covering them with thin horn to protect them, and using them to teach the village children. She died in 1904 at the age of 88 worn out by her hard work, but fortunately her secret did not die with her.
You can still purchase her secret recipe gingerbread in the shop where it all started - and lots of other home-made goodies too. The gingerbread has a lovely citrus tang and a very firm bite. This vintage tea towel came with an expensive hamper quite a few years ago, but it has never been used. And I thought if you will never visit the lovely Lake District and enjoy this special gingerbread, you might like to enter the draw for this special memento. Click here to visit the Grasmere Gingerbread Shop.
Simply click on the flying angel below to enter and I'll announce a winner next week, 29 April 2013. Good Luck!
Posted by N E E D L E P R I N T at 20:00