“She died of exhaustion, you know,” said Andrew Turner, the present custodian of Sarah Nelson’s Grasmere Gingerbread. Mind you, she was 88 by the time she mixed her last batch of flour, sugar, butter and ginger. She’s buried in the churchyard of St Cuthbert’s Grasmere, just behind the tiny, white painted shop-cum bakery where she baked her masterpieces. Incidentally, William Wordsworth and other members of his family are buried in the same churchyard. Oddly, while I respect WW, I love Sarah Nelson. There is something that lifts the heart when you step into a place of business suffused with a warm fug of molten butter and sugar shot through with spice, and more so when you nibble a thin, elegant tongue of gingerbread, firm in the middle sandy on the outside, rich in butter, warm with ginger.
I didn’t know that baking ginger bread was such a punishing business, but talking to Andrew you realise that it’s not something you can run as a hobby, not if you’re going to do it properly, baking the ginger bread fresh each day, 361 days a year, using just the same basic ingredients that Sarah Nelson uses, to the same exacting standards, mixing the flour and sugar by hand (the hard and critical part), using no E numbers or additives to extend shelf life, and wrap each block in the distinctive blue-and-white paper. Listening to him explain the process, you develop a great respect for Sarah Nelson, and for Andrew and his wife who carry on the great tradition.
Sarah Nelson’s Grasmere Gingerbread, Church Cottage, Grasmere, Ambleside