Cumbrian Christmas Hamper from Lakelovers (gifted).
Earlier this week, I was delighted to receive a Christmas hamper courtesy of Lakelovers, which was packed with Christmassy delicacies from the Lake District. I have never been to Cumbria, but it’s a part of the UK that has long figured in my imagination, as I grew up reading Beatrix Potter’s stories and Arthur Ransome’s Swallows & Amazons series, which are set within the area.
Dorothy Wordsworth’s journals, describing her life at Grasmere with her brother, the famous poet William Wordsworth, has become a more recent literary favourite of mine. I love her jottings on the small pleasures of her days set in the Cumbrian landscape: [December 5th,] Friday Morning: Terribly cold and rainy. Coleridge and Wm. set forwards towards Keswick, but the wind in Coleridge’s eyes made him turn back. Sara and I had a grand bread and cake baking. We were very merry in the evening, but grew sleepy soon, though we did not go to bed till twelve o’clock. – Dorothy Wordsworth, extract from ‘Life at Grasmere.’
Still today, December is certainly a period that calls for ‘a grand bread and cake baking,’ and many of my Christmas traditions revolve around the delicacies of the season, from making a wish on Stir Up Sunday in November, to relishing the smell of freshly baked mince pies throughout December, to opening the traditional jar of stilton on New Year’s Eve that I buy every year from Fortnum & Mason.
I was very pleased, then, to get to include some special Cumbrian treats that I’d read about, but never tried before, in my Christmas foodie repertoire this year. The hamper featured local Cumbrian brands and contained treats such as Cartmel Sticky Toffee and Figgy Puddings, Grasmere Gingerbread, Muesli from Lakeland Mues, Pennington’s Christmas Coffee, Lakes Distillery Sloe Gin and Romney’s Kendal Mint Cakes.
I was fascinated to read some of the history behind the goodies provided. Grasmere gingerbread is more like a biscuit than a cake, with a crumbly texture and plenty of spice (perfect to enjoy whilst drinking tea and writing Christmas cards!). Apparently, this unusual form of gingerbread was first created in 1854 by Sarah Newton, who lived in the small village of Grasmere in the Lake District. The Wordsworths lived in Grasmere in the early 1800s, and by the 1850s many Victorian tourists travelled to the village to follow in the footsteps of the famous poet.
Enterprising Sarah Newton sold them her special gingerbread, and the word quickly spread. Newton’s special Grasmere gingerbread is still popular to this day, and it’s sold from the same building – the former village school where William Wordsworth taught. I wonder whether the Wordsworths would have liked the gingerbread if they’d been able to try it?
At this time of year, I love to read festive stories and tales of snow and ice. Bonita Norris’s memoir, The Girl Who Climbed Everest, definitely falls within the latter category, as it describes her incredible journey in becoming the youngest British woman to climb the fateful mountain (you may remember my interview with Bonita on Tea & Tattle podcast).
The Girl Who Climbed Everest is the perfect accompaniment to a bar of Romney’s Kendal Mint Cake, as this Cumbrian classic was famously the favourite high-altitude treat of mountaineers Sir Edmund Hillary and Sirdar Tenzing when they successfully conquered Mt Everest in 1953. They’d requested 38lbs of mint cake to take as part of their rations, and apparently their only complaint about the product was that they didn’t have enough of it! I find it very strongly minty, and I must say I’m quite happy with a small piece from the comfort and safety of my armchair.
It was so much fun to experience a small taste of Cumbria this December, and it’s definitely inspired me to visit the area in person one day soon.