When we think of traditional Lake District fare, we have to admit that rum is not the first thing that comes to mind! Sticky Grasmere gingerbread, sugary Kendal mint cake and spicy Cumberland sausages maybe, but you would never imagine that Cumbria has a fascinating smuggling history as part of the international rum trade. Nowadays this sweet drink is used in various Cumbrian recipes with other imported ingredients such as nutmeg and ginger. The Lake District is becoming a real go-to for foodies who appreciate the locally sourced produce and traditional recipes. Get a taste of the Lakes with this selection of scrumptious treats that you must sample during your Lake District holidays.
TThis spicy sausage, traditionally known as the Cumberland Whirl, is rolled up into a large coil shape to serve. Consisting of rough cut pork and spices, pepper and herbs, it is one of the most popular foods to herald from Cumbria, sold in a pack by supermarkets, but you should try it in its original form here.
Rumoured to have been introduced by German miners working in the Lake District during the Elizabethan era, its strange shape gives this humble Cumbrian sausage a really continental look. It was originally much spicier than the sausage we know and love now as during this period, exciting new spices such as ginger and nutmeg were introduced to Cumbria and they were often utilised in local dishes. Try the wonderful taste of the Cumberland at Brockhole visitor centre on Lake Windermere.
Sticky toffee pudding
There is no better place to try the traditional sticky toffee pudding, a light and figgy sponge pudding, than at the hotel where it was first presented to the public back in the 1970s. Such is its popularity, the chefs involved in making this secretive recipe at Ullswater’s Sharrow Bay Country House Hotel have all had to sign confidentiality agreements to never disclose the recipe, so unfortunately you won’t be able to come away with any secret information! Visit the hotel for afternoon tea - served with butterscotch sauce and a large dollop of clotted cream, the pudding and spectacular views over Lake Ullswater are just the thing to perk you up after a long fell walk.
Kendal mint cake
Image: Andrew Bowden (CC 2.0)
Not a cake as such but more a slice of sugary heaven, the recipe for Kendal mint cake was allegedly made by accident by a confectioner back in 1869. During the process of making sweets in his factory, the mixture turned cloudy and rather than throw it away, he poured it into a tray and made it into a hard white cake. It is still made in Cumbria today by companies such as Quiggin’s and Romney’s, who both have factories in Kendal. Brilliant as a quick energy boost for climbers, its claim to fame is that it made it to the top of Everest with the explorer and mountaineer Sir Edmund Hillary in 1953.
It is the way these lambs grow that gives their meat a sweeter fuller taste – they mature slowly due to the harsh climate on the upper fells where they graze unrestricted. The lamb is best from January to May and there are various butchers in the area that you can buy from. Herdwick Lamb Cobbler is a dish much enjoyed by Cumbrian fell farmers and you will find that many restaurants do their own version of this traditional recipe.
Although this member of the plum family was known to originally come from Damascus, it has also been grown in the temperate climate of Westmorland since the 1700s. Its unique flavour, caused by cross pollination with wild sloes is used in various drinks such as gin, wine and beer as well as cheese, chocolate and jams. Don’t miss the Damson Day Country Fair, held every April, which celebrates the blossoming of the damson by providing taster events and demonstrations, as well as lots of stalls packed with Lake District goodies to take home.
A much older recipe than the famous sticky toffee pudding and invented by Sarah Nelson back in 1854, this chewy spicy gingerbread isn’t the typical crunchy gingerbread man that you find in shops nowadays – it is actually more a cake than a biscuit. A wonderful ingredient to have in your store cupboard, it can bring life to an array of pudding recipes or just sprinkle the crumbs over ice cream!
Image: Andrew Bowden, CC 2.0
Buy some from The Grasmere Gingerbread Shop, a 16th century former schoolhouse next to the church in Grasmere, where Sarah Nelson’s recipe is still a big hit with the customers. They also stock mint cake, fudge and rum butter, which all make for great Lakeland gifts to take home.
Now you don’t have to have a new baby in the family to try this recipe, made with rum, butter, brown sugar and nutmeg, but it is as good an excuse as any! Ancient Cumbrian tradition says that on the birth of a baby, rum butter is served with coins left in the butter bowl to symbolise prosperity to the newborn, with the baby’s mother encouraged to take some during her recovery.
As mentioned earlier, rum was an important part of Cumbrian life in the 18th and 19th centuries as it was smuggled through the western sea ports on its way from the West Indies. Whether you believe the stories about the origins of rum butter – mainly of drunken sailors and unfortunate pirates being trapped in caves – is up to you, but it does make for interesting conversation over the mince pies at Christmas! It also goes down a treat with some classic Grasmere gingerbread.
For a taste of the Lakes, try this recipe for damson gin
- 500g damsons
- 125g caster sugar
- 1 litre gin
- Prick the damsons and place into a large sterilised glass jar that can be sealed
- Add the sugar and gin, shaking daily until the mixture becomes pink
- Store in a dark larder or cupboard and leave for two to three months
- Strain the mixture and put into bottles
- Tie a tartan ribbon and tag around the neck of each bottle and store
Where to eat
If you're looking for somewhere to sit back, enjoy some great food and soak up a relaxing atmosphere, check out our favourite places to eat and drink. Your dog is even welcome to come too!