I have lived in Scotland now for over 15 years and truly feel at home here. Of course, this doesn’t mean that I’ve forgotten my roots as I’ll always be a Yorkshire girl at heart. I even have a mug in the tearoom that reads “You can take the girl out of Yorkshire but you can’t take Yorkshire out of the girl”. Very true indeed.
Living in Yorkshire was fabulous as it really is a great central place to go travelling in any direction. I have had great holidays, both walking and cycling, in Devon, Cornwall, Wales and of course, the beautiful Lake District. If I were ever to consider moving away from Scotland, much as I love Yorkshire, I truly believe that it would be to the Lake District, the village of Grasmere especially.
In my teens my love of cycling took me all over Yorkshire but my own cycle runs and club runs never really managed to get beyond Horton-in-Ribblesdale or Ingleton in North Yorkshire. I was, however, introduced to the Lake District by my son’s father, long before Benjamin even came along, and I still remember vividly my first journey up to the beautiful Cumbrian Lake District.
As I have mentioned before, I was a troubled soul growing up and had lots of demons to fight but never had the strength or confidence to allow anyone to fight them with me. One early summer evening though found me as a passenger in a Triumph Vitesse convertible with the roof down, travelling up the A65 through Keighley, Skipton, Kirby Lonsdale and finally onto the dual carriage way towards the Lakes. The evening sun was shining and as we travelled the final miles from Kirby Lonsdale, the views of the Lake District hills started to come into view. I was in awe. There in front of me was the most beautiful backdrop of hills I had ever seen (and coming from Yorkshire that is saying something!). I now know that what I was looking at was the profile of the magnificent mountains of the Langdale Pikes, Wetherlam and The Old Man of Coniston.
In the car there was a cassette player (some people may need to google what a cassette player is) and I selected “Born To Run” by somebody called Bruce Springsteen. As I listened to the tracks on the cassette they just seemed to blend into each with no long pause between each new song - Thunder Road, Tenth Avenue Freeze Out, Nights, Backstreets, Born to Run, She’s The One, Meeting Across The River, and finally Jungleland. The music, the wonderful sound of Bruce’s voice, the breeze blowing around the open topped car, the warm evening sunshine and the vision of the Lake District appearing in front of me seemed to be warming my soul. Gradually, I could feel the heavy load I carried constantly on my young shoulders start to lift. I was transported into an unknown world of peace, calmness and of unbelievable solace. For the first time in many years, I was able to be at one with myself.
That memory has stayed with me and if I am honest has been a life line for me over many years. When my demons take over my mind again I find myself a quiet space, turn out the lights, draw the curtains, block out the world, turn on the album “Born to Run” and take my mind back to that journey. That album can now take me back to that moment in time when I first remember feeling peace, calmness and safety. For me, this works. Everyone needs their own way of coping with life when it becomes too much to handle and you should look for yours.
I have spoken to Mr M about this and he is grateful for the love that has grown between us which allowed me to let him slowly into to my deepest and darkest world. Now when he sees me disappear with Bruce, he knows that the demons are tapping me on the shoulder and understands a little more.
Many years later I, of course, had to introduce Mr M to the Lake District and he too has fallen under its spell. For me, it is wonderful that his favourite place in the Lakes is also Grasmere. Grasmere is a small village between Ambleside and Keswick and was the home of the poet William Wordsworth. William Wordsworth lived in Grasmere for 14 years and called it “the loveliest spot that man hath ever found”. I would totally agree with him. One of Mr M’s favourite poems is by Wordsworth, “I wandered lonely as a cloud” and you will often hear him reciting this in the tearoom. I have even managed to get a daffodil planted for him in the Daffodil Garden next to the church yard where Wordsworth and his family are buried.
Next door to the church is the amazing Grasmere Gingerbread Shop selling the most fantastic gingerbread invented by Sarah Nelson in 1854. This is a spicy-sweet cross between a cake and biscuit. As you walk the road down to the church through the village you get the wonderful smell drifting from the small shop as this is baked fresh each day. I think I tasted this delight the first time I visited Grasmere all those years ago and I just love it. They sell it in packs of 2, 6 or 12 pieces. To be honest, I can’t see the point in the packs of 2 or 6! This Grasmere Gingerbread is still to this day made to the same secret family recipe and is not sold anywhere other than this tiny shop in Grasmere.
Over the years I have tried to replicate this gingerbread with varying degrees of success. I finally thought I had a good recipe that tasted great but still not a patch on the real thing. Then of course once we started to expand our range of gluten and dairy free cakes and bakes in the tearoom I had to start experimenting again. Again, I changed the ingredients, changed the texture and added different spices. Once again I thought I had a good recipe and I loved my own version of Grasmere Gingerbread. Mr M even said that he preferred my version to the Sarah Nelson’s!
The problem I had in the tearoom in Scotland was that not many people had actually tasted the original Grasmere Gingerbread so they didn’t really understand exactly what I was trying achieve. They couldn’t understand why I kept trying to change the recipe as they liked each version I made. That was of course until one Friday afternoon when into the tearoom strolled two young men. “I hear you do gluten free cakes”, said one of them, who I now know to be the lovely Myles. Myles and his husband Garry quickly became regulars in the tearoom. We have shared ideas about books, this and that and I have taught Myles to crochet. It even turns out that Myles was a left-hander like myself. Not only that, but Myles and Garry love the Lake District, especially Grasmere and, of course, Grasmere Gingerbread. Now Myles is coeliac so can no longer have the lovely gingerbread and is heartbroken over this, so was keen to try my version. He agreed that it was lovely but not like the real thing. Myles gave me a link to a recipe by a certain Mr Oliver which was described as the next best thing to the original Grasmere Gingerbread. Myles said he had every faith in me to re-produce this in a gluten free version. The challenge was set.
In Mr Oliver’s recipe he uses ready-made shortbread. Mmmm. Using ready-made gluten free shortbread would ensure that my next version of the gingerbread would be dire. There was only one thing to do. I would use my new gluten and dairy free empire biscuit base to use as the shortbread. I would change the flour to gluten free flour, use stork block instead of butter and add a touch of xanthan gum. I knew when I was making it that this was a much improved version and really did look like and smell like the real thing. What would it taste like? Oh my! It was amazing though I say it myself.
Myles and Garry came into the tearoom and were my official taste testers for this. They both agreed that it was pretty awesome but still needed a tweak or two to be just perfect. What was it that was missing? I really was running out of ideas for the missing flavour. Then one day, Mr M was reading through a book, Dining with the Wordsworths. There it was. Caraway seeds! That could be the missing spice.
A new batch was made and caraway seeds added. The smell when it was cooking was just like being transported back to Grasmere. I could hardly wait for it to cool down to taste it. It was fabulous – a strong smell of ginger and nicely browned. It didn’t snap when I bit into it but had a slightly chewy centre. The crumble topping, which is the most important part, was just right. I thought my version was the closest thing to the real thing.
Never one to rest on my laurels though, I wondered if there was something I could use instead of caraway seeds that are so difficult to grind. I scoured the internet for different substitutes and anise kept popping up. Anise, aniseed and fennel were all suggested as they all give the lovely licorice flavour. Licorice in the Grasmere Gingerbread I wondered. Well let’s just try it. I figured that a licorice flavour would not spoil the bake and it if took away from the authentic taste of the original Grasmere Gingerbread I could always go back to using caraway seeds.
Well if you ask me, I think that I have really cracked it this time. I have made the gingerbread thinner and cut it into rectangles rather than my usual squares. If I didn’t know, I could be fooled into believing I was already back in Grasmere. Of course, the real test will be the verdict of the customers in the tearoom, especially those who have tasted the real think. Perhaps I will bring some back with my from our holidays – though of course those needing gluten and dairy free will only be able to taste my version. Even better, maybe I will take a batch down with me and sit outside the Grasmere Gingerbread shop and sell my own gluten and dairy free version.