3 ISSUES FOR JUST £3 Subscribe to Lancashire Life today click here

The history behind the world famous Grasmere gingerbread

PUBLISHED: 09:07 05 January 2015 | UPDATED: 16:21 27 April 2016

Grasmere Gingerbread

Grasmere Gingerbread


Lancashire Life visits this lovely Lakeland community for a party celebrating 160 years of success. Roger Borrell reports

Andrew and Joanne Hunter in the shop  with their childrenAndrew and Joanne Hunter in the shop with their children

On a crisp winter morning in Grasmere, a simple wreath was laid by a gravestone and, for once, it had nothing to do with the churchyard’s most famous residents, the Wordsworths.

This arrangement of white roses, daisies and pine greenery was in memory of a grand old lady who toiled just yards away from St Oswald’s Church creating something which also helped to put Grasmere on the international map.

Sarah Nelson was no poet but a follower of the culinary arts. She invented the famous Grasmere gingerbread and the wreath was placed their by one of her descendants, Joanne Hunter, to mark the 160th anniversary of the business.

From an early age, Sarah’s life was blighted by backbreaking work and family tragedy but her delicious recipe - part biscuit, part cake - has put a smile on faces across the world.

Wendy Steele and Nigel Prickett at Grasmere Gingerbread ShopWendy Steele and Nigel Prickett at Grasmere Gingerbread Shop

Hollywood stars Renee Zellweger and Nicole Kidman have been spotted in the shop and Tom Cruise came back for a second helping.

Director Joanne is the third generation to work in the business and she started young, standing on a box serving American tourists with gingerbread in those distinctive blue paper wrappers.

It is still baked and sold from the tiny Church Cottage, which began as the village school in the 1600s before becoming Sarah Nelson’s home. The recipe – under lock and key in a bank – is unchanged as is the cooking process and even some of the original utensils are still in use.

If ever there was a heritage food business, this is it. But in an age when everything is done online, how does a company like Sarah Nelson keep up?

A portrait of Sarah © Steven Barber Photography LimitedA portrait of Sarah © Steven Barber Photography Limited

Joanne’s husband and fellow director Andrew Hunter says: ‘Combining an old fashioned business with the latest technological advances is not easy because our priority is keeping the product authentic.’

Before the global recession, demand often threatened to outstrip production. When the financial crisis hit, it meant sales levelled out but now they are booming again.

Since Joanne and Andrew took charge the staffing has increases from three to 14 and any venture capitalist backed by a team of accountants would have moved production to a ‘production unit’ on an industrial estate.

‘We could have been millionaires and sold out but that’s not what the business is about We want growth but it has to be done in the right way,’ says Joanne. ‘We are just custodians with a short space of time to look after it.’

Andrew adds: ‘As far as we are concerned the gingerbread will always be made here in the traditional way.

‘It would be foolish to make changes to this business because that would take away the authenticity. It would kill it. It’s unique – the secret recipe, the packaging, the taste and the people we work with. They all make it special.’

However, we shouldn’t run away with the idea that the company is totally immune to change. For instance, they’ve just launched a new website (www.grasmeregingerbread.co.uk) that will allow customers around the world to order their products on line. Not only that, but it uses the format of a pop-up book to tell the Sarah Nelson story. It’s cutting edge stuff.

They are also working to protect their business by applying for international trade marks. If Sarah would have been baffled by the website she certainly would have approved of the trade mark.

Richard and Angela Barker at their Chocolate CottageRichard and Angela Barker at their Chocolate Cottage

‘This was something that Sarah did – she registered the blue logo and her packaging said if it didn’t have the trade mark it wasn’t authentic,’ said Joanne.

Andrew added: ‘It can be a funny feeling when it’s 6am when you are getting the ovens going. You feel Sarah is watching what we are doing.

‘It’s remarkable to think that in those 160 years there have been many wars, rebellions, abdications and we have gone through it all continuing to make our gingerbread.’

Chocolate Cottage

It’s not just gingerbread that has a worldwide following. In just over a year, Richard and Angela Barker have attracted customers from Dubai and Delaware eager to try their handmade chocolates.

What’s more, the couple, who run the Chocolate Cottage in the Old Coach House in Stock Lane, recently picked up a national award for best new business from the Institute of Enterprise and Entrepreneurs.

After many years teaching, they decided to take a new direction and completed a series of courses to become qualified chocolatiers.

‘We’ve been overwhelmed by demand,’ said Angela. ‘We’ve had many occasions when someone has come in and bought a few, eaten them walking down the street and come back to buy a box.’

Richard added: ‘We only buy the finest Belgian chocolate and they are then hand made on the premises. We are also using local landmarks to name our chocolates so you can come in for Helvellyn Hazelnut, Crummock Caramel or Buttermere Banoffee’


Welcome , please leave your message below.

Optional - JPG files only
Optional - MP3 files only
Optional - 3GP, AVI, MOV, MPG or WMV files

Please log in to leave a comment and share your views with other Lancashire Life visitors.

We enable people to post comments with the aim of encouraging open debate.

Only people who register and sign up to our terms and conditions can post comments. These terms and conditions explain our house rules and legal guidelines.

Comments are not edited by Lancashire Life staff prior to publication but may be automatically filtered.

If you have a complaint about a comment please contact us by clicking on the Report This Comment button next to the comment.

Not a member yet?

Register to create your own unique Lancashire Life account for free.

Signing up is free, quick and easy and offers you the chance to add comments, personalise the site with local information picked just for you, and more.

Sign up now

More from Food & Drink

Friday, August 31, 2018

A £10million project has transformed a Victorian hotel into a Lakes spa resort with a brilliant pan-Asian restaurant. Roger Borrell reports.

Read more
Derwentwater Asian Food Luxury Break
Friday, August 24, 2018

It’s a cooking career that started with a tuna pasta bake and now Chris Parsons is head banqueting chef at Ribby Hall Village, venue for this year’s Lancashire Life Food & Drink Awards. He spoke to Roger Borrell

Read more
Ribby Hall
Monday, August 20, 2018

Come and enjoy a relaxed dining experience effortlessly prepared by our Award Winning Head Chef.

Read more

Your granny wouldn’t like it but this Manchester restaurant aims to be out of this world, writes Roger Borrell.

Read more
Manchester Restaurants Asian Food
Friday, August 3, 2018

Due to the popularity of our Vegan Menu and to promote the health benefits of a plant based diet we are launching our weekly vegan night, Choose Vegan.

Read more
Friday, August 3, 2018

The world’s best pizza deal comes to The Feilden’s Arms at Mellor Brook.

Read more
Thursday, August 2, 2018

Join us Monday to Friday, from 12pm ‘til 3pm during the school summer holidays (23/7/18 to 31/8/18) when children under 12 can enjoy a Kids Pizza for FREE.

Read more
Thursday, August 2, 2018

A Lancashire couple sold up their home and their business so their sons could become farmers

Read more
Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Beautiful food in beautiful surroundings...

Read more
Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Fine dining in elegant surroundings makes Pier Eight at the Lowry a destination dining restaurant you’ll want to visit time and again, says Kate Houghton.

Read more
Friday, July 20, 2018

It’s summer, so let’s eat out on the riviera...the Mersey riviera, that is

Read more
Friday, July 20, 2018

An old tea service owned by her grandmother set Tina Nunn on the path to a rewarding new career.

Read more
Afternoon Tea
Thursday, July 19, 2018

A young couple are taking an innovative approach to farming on land overlooking Morecambe Bay

Read more

It’s all the rage in trendy capitals around the world and now ice cream rolls are available in Lancashire.

Read more

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up to the following newsletters:

Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter

Our Privacy Policy

Subscribe or buy a mag today

Local Business Directory

Property Search