York’s sweet taste of suc­cess

Country Life Every Week - - Spectator -

As well as rail­ways, postage stamps and foot­ball, one of the great in­ven­tions of 19th-cen­tury Bri­tain was the boiled sweet. sugar syrup, colour­ing and flavour­ing, re­ally got small lo­cal con­fec­tion­ers go­ing. Many re­lied on mint, but other en­trepreneurs (mostly women) launched into fan­tas­tic flavour com­bi­na­tions, such as apple and cus­tard, rhubarb and cus­tard and clove satins.

I grew up in the sweetie city of York, where most of the work­force ei­ther laboured on the rail­ways or in the gi­ant Rown­tree fac­tory. The city may have been bet­ter known for its an­cient walls, Min­ster and Ro­man gar­ri­son, but was prob­a­bly more ap­pre­ci­ated for Rown­tree, set up by pi­ous Quak­ers who thought choco­late would di­vert the work­ers from drink­ing beer. The own­ers even founded their own vil­lage of New Ear­swick (nat­u­rally known lo­cally as New Ear­wig), in which pubs were seen as the Devil’s in­ven­tion.

Terry’s was more of an aris­to­cratic choco­latier and its 20th­cen­tury owner gave his col­lec­tion of an­tique fur­ni­ture to Fair­fax House, where it can still be seen. Cravens hid it­self in the city cen­tre, un­ob­tru­sive in ev­ery way but its smell.

Ah, Cravens, run by Mary Ann Craven in the 1860s. I used to walk past its fac­tory on the way to work, sniff­ing the air. Hum­bugs today? No, black­berry and aniseed on the boil if I was lucky. Cad­bury’s bought it out and un­der­neath the boil­ing vats was found the Vik­ing city of Jorvik.

York is al­most at the south­ern lim­its of boiled-sweet land. The the­ory for its suc­cess (‘one of the great ver­nac­u­lar in­ven­tions,’ Tim Richard­son wrote in Sweets: A His­tory of Temp­ta­tion) was that cheap cane sugar was sift­ing into Greenock from the Caribbean and the in­dus­tri­ous women shop­keep­ers of the nu­mer­ous small but proud towns of the Bor­ders saw their op­por­tu­nity.

Who­ever in­vented the first town-re­lated mint ball has a lot to an­swer for, but they sprang up east of Greenock through­out the 19th cen­tury, of­ten ac­com­pa­nied by leg­endary sto­ries of their se­cret recipes or un­likely in­ven­tors. I refuse to be­lieve, for ex­am­ple, that the soor Ploom sweetie of Galashiels dates from 1337 when an un­for­tu­nate party of English sol­diers raid­ing the lo­cal or­chards for plums were mas­sa­cred.

More likely is a minty trio still avail­able at their bor­der towns: Jessie Mcvit­tie’s cen­tury-old recipe for Haw­ick Balls; Ber­wick Cock­les, which ap­peared in 1801; and Jethart snails of Jed­burgh ap­par­ently from a Napoleonic French pris­oner of war’s recipe (al­ways a good story). It brings up im­ages of Claude and Jean sweat­ing over boil­ing vats in their cells.

Fur­ther south, you get Needler’s of Hull with the cu­ri­ously named Ja­panese screws and Dr Jim’s Ri­fles plus Fox’s Glacier Mints of Le­ices­ter, whose icy minties still carry its mas­cot, Peppy the Po­lar Bear, strad­dling the sweet.

I knew them all, but my favourite was Mof­fat Toffee, em­phat­i­cally not a toffee and not minty. It was in­vented by Janet Cook John­stone in the late 1880s in Mof­fat. My grand­par­ents lived in this su­pe­rior bor­der town and kept a quar­ter of the sweets in an or­nate tin, to be brought out when I was par­tic­u­larly good.

On a re­cent visit, it was de­light­ful to find that the toffee shop is still there on the high street and, even more sur­pris­ing, that one of the staff lived in my late grand­par­ents’ house. I brought back a 7lb jar and suck one ev­ery now and again for nos­tal­gia.

strange how a child­hood taste can bring back the Bib­li­cal Berlin wool­work pic­ture on their wall, the ‘an­tique’ bureau book­case and the pair of em­broi­dered chairs from my grand­par­ents’ old liv­ing room.

‘Hum­bugs today? No, black­cur­rant and aniseed

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.