Sarah Nelson, born Sarah Kemp, invented Grasmere Gingerbread in the mid-1800s. Sarah was born before Queen Victoria and died after her, living 88 years, an accomplishment for the era. Although Sarah faced the inevitable challenges of her time, she was blessed with true love.
Sarah and her husband moved their family to Church Cottage, a former village school in Grasmere, after losing their son to cholera. They hoped the move might help them protect their daughters from a similar fate. Sarah loved cooking in her Church Cottage kitchen, and she took a job cooking for a lodge to supplement the salary her husband made digging graves at the nearby church.
In the winter of 1854, Sarah perfected her recipe for a spicy-sweet treat, something between a cookie and a cake, and named it Grasmere Gingerbread®. Soon, she began wrapping pieces of her new treat in parchment paper and selling them from her front door. Tourism was on the rise because rail transportation brought more people to the area.
Sarah was a true businesswoman. She placed her handwritten recipe in a safety deposit box, registered the Grasmere Gingerbread name, and kept working as the lodge cook while growing her gingerbread business.
A century and a half later, people can still visit her little cottage, now known as The Grasmere Gingerbread Shop, where her secret recipe is baked fresh daily. The delicious treat is also shipped around the world, which works because Grasmere Gingerbread isn’t fragile.
You can read more about Sarah Nelson's amazing life by visiting HERE.
I found this recipe in an old cookbook, and although it isn’t Sarah’s recipe, the squares are delicious and look quite a bit like true Grasmere Gingerbread. I had no idea what to expect when I made my first batch. At first, I was disappointed because the treat got harder as the days went on. One day, I dipped a piece in my tea, and I understood. This treat is like British biscotti. I ate the entire batch during a two week period. Yes, it keeps that long in a tin on the counter! It is the perfect ending for a quick lunch.
My latest batch was lovely. I used a heavy, red enamelled pan and reduced the baking time. You will find a variety of recipes for Grasmere Gingerbread on the Internet, but I will remain loyal to this one until someone releases the secret notes of Sarah Nelson, which isn’t going to happen.
Type of Bakeware: I use a red enamelled heavy pan that measures 9” by 9” at the top and narrows toward the bottom. This pan is a dark colour and quite heavy, so my baking time is less.
Prepare pan: I oil the pan and line it with parchment paper. This allows me to pick up the entire square while it's still warm, move it to a cutting board, and slice it into 16 pieces.
Preheat the oven: 350°F.
2 cups of flour
½ cup of butter
2/3 cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons ginger powder
1 tablespoon golden syrup
Pinch of salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
¼ cup chopped candied peel
Sift together the flour, salt, baking soda, and ginger. In a separate bowl, cream butter with brown sugar, then beat in the syrup. Mix the dry ingredients into the creamed mixture, forming a crumbly texture. If you can squeeze the crumbs and they hold together, you have the consistency correct. Add the peel. Press lightly into a prepared 9” by 9” pan.
Bake at 350°F for 25 to 30 minutes. Cut into squares while the gingerbread is still warm. In this pan, my gingerbread was golden brown in 20 minutes.
Check out the other shops in the area.
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