If you’re in the Lake District, take the A-591 toward Grasmere, a picturesque village situated by the lake of the same name.
The A-591 runs almost-but-not-quite up the middle of the Lake District. Those fortunate enough to be spending time in the northern lakes may turn off of the A-66 and head south. If this is you, please turn on some stirring classical music or something from the Lord of the Rings movie soundtrack. The landscape from that point on is dramatic and memorable.
Once you’re in Grasmere, your first place of pilgrimage should be the Grasmere Gingerbread shop in Church Cottage. (Their post code is LA22 9SW, if you’re navigating electronically.)
A sign on the building notes that Church Cottage was the village school for two-hundred and twenty years – 1630 to 1850ish. It also says that famed romantic poet William Wordsworth taught there.
By 1854, Sarah Nelson lived in the cottage. She perfected a mighty recipe and set up shop to sell her unique version of gingerbread to Victorian travellers. The new railways brought a lot of people to the Lake District, many of whom would visit the graves of Wordsworth and company in the adjoining churchyard. Thus, word of Mrs Nelson’s Grasmere Gingerbread spread throughout the land.
Warning! You may have to queue (that means get in a line, for folks on the other side of the Atlantic) to get inside. There is fair compensation for your wait – the powerful smell of ginger, butter and sugar fairly wafts out the door.
If they bottled that stuff…
Inside the teeny, tiny shop, you’ll be surrounded by many delicious things, including the gingerbread that is sold no where else but from this bijou shop.
Did I mention the amazing smell?
Surrounded by the wonderful aromas, sidle up to the counter and buy a piece to eat immediately and a package or two for the journey.
Perhaps buy a jar of their award-winning rum butter as a gift – for that person whose gingerbread gift you will eat because you cannot help yourself.
Packages of six and twelve pieces are wrapped in crisp paper with their trademark blue label. Tins are also available, and I understand that you can set yourself up with monthly deliveries. I’m tempted to purchase a bag of the ginger crumbs to sprinkle on my porridge…
Make yourself a memory: walk around this pleasant village, eating your delicious gingerbread and not minding the inevitable gingery crumbs. Let it be a full-sensory experience.
Sarah Nelson lived until she was 88 years old, a much-loved member of her community and an early example of a successful business woman. She is buried in the adjoining churchyard of St. Oswald’s.
Her handwritten recipe is a tightly held secret, and the method for making them is passed from baker to baker. According to their website, only one living person knows the full recipe! (This makes me strangely proud of them, in this current age of mass marketing.)
Grasmere Gingerbread is not like any other gingerbread, ginger cake, biscuit or parkin that I’ve eaten.
Sublimely gingery throughout, Mrs Nelson’s gingerbread flaunts a firm, yet chewy, base topped by spicy sweet crumble. There are visible pieces of preserved ginger under the addictive crumbly topping.
Did I consider attempting to make my own homemade version of this tempting treat? I did. Then I decided that some things are better enjoyed within their own time and place, and that I’d take any excuse I could to visit Grasmere and The Grasmere Gingerbread Shop.
More on Grasmere Village later. For now, I’m going to polish off my last piece of Grasmere Gingerbread with a cup of tea!