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Grantham Gingerbread Recipe: A Very Unusual Biscuit With Fascinating 18th-Century Origins

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Glenis lived near Grantham for several years. It was there that she first ate this local speciality biscuit. Nowadays she bakes it at home.

Grantham gingerbread cookies have a sweet, crunchy shell and a hollow honeycomb centre. They are quite different from other forms of gingerbread.

Grantham gingerbread cookies have a sweet, crunchy shell and a hollow honeycomb centre. They are quite different from other forms of gingerbread.

Grantham gingerbread was popular from the day that William Eggleston accidentally produced it. The gingergbread was so popular, in fact, that eventually people born in Grantham became known affectionately as "Grantham Gingerheads." And so deeply embedded in local culture is William's biscuit that Grantham Town Football Club is known as the "Gingerbreads."

The advent of supermarkets and the loss of independent bakeries led to the demise of Grantham gingerbread. Happily, there has been a recent resurgence in its popularity and it is now again available in local stores. However, if you are unlikely to find yourself in the vicinity of Grantham you can make your own Grantham gingerbread by following this recipe.

Thence to Grantham whose fair steeple is so high as to occasion the proverb it's height makes Grantham steeple stand awry. This place is famous in my esteem for Bishop Fox's benefactions but is chiefly noted of travellers for a peculiar sort of thin cake called Grantham Whetstones.

— The Diary of Ralph Thoresby (c. 1700)

Grantham Gingerbread Recipe

Makes around 24 biscuits

Ingredients:

  • 100 grams of butter or margarine
  • 340 grams of caster sugar
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 250 grams of self-raising flour
  • 2 tablespoons of ground ginger

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 150 degrees centigrade (300˚F or 140˚C for a fan oven).
  2. Prepare 2–3 baking sheets either by greasing or lining with a non-stick liner.
  3. Beat the fat and sugar together and then gradually beat in the egg. Adding a teaspoon of the flour with each addition of egg will prevent the mixture from curdling. Due to the high sugar content the mixture will not cream but will be a crumble.
  4. Sieve the flour and the ginger and add to the mixture.
  5. Form into a ball and wrap in cling film.
  6. Chill the mixture in the refrigerator for 20–30 minutes to make it easier to handle.
  7. Remove the mixture from the refrigerator and work it into a paste.
  8. Using the palms of your hands, shape into small balls, about walnut size. Place well apart on the baking sheets. The balls will flatten out whilst baking.
  9. Bake until puffed up and lightly browned—around 30 minutes.
  10. Cool on a wire rack.
The beaten sugar and butter mixture

The beaten sugar and butter mixture

The gingerbread mixture of butter, sugar and egg

The gingerbread mixture of butter, sugar and egg

Gingerbread mixture after sifted flour and ginger have been stirred into the mix

Gingerbread mixture after sifted flour and ginger have been stirred into the mix

grantham-gingerbread

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History of Grantham Gingerbread

In the days of stagecoach travel, the arduous journey from London to York took four days. The coaches stopped at Grantham in Lincolnshire for travellers to rest overnight and take refreshment. It was here that they purchased Grantham Whetstones, which were presumably popular for the preservative effects of the saltpetre that they contained.

In 1740, William Eggleston, a baker who had moved from the family business in Newark on Trent to Grantham in Lincolnshire, had been attempting to make Grantham Whetstones, a flat hard biscuit which is the earliest form of biscuit recorded as offered for sale. But William made a lucky mistake when mixing his ingredients and the Grantham gingerbread emerged from his ovens.

The Original Recipe for Grantham Whetstones

A "biscuit for travellers," presumably on account of the preservative effects of saltpetre.

Original Receipt in Tib's Tit-Bits of 1869

  • The whites of five eggs beaten to a strong froth
  • ten ounces of loaf sugar pounded and sifted
  • one pound of fine flour
  • a few caraway seeds
  • a small piece of saltpetre about the size of a nutmeg powdered very finely
  1. Mix all the ingredients thoroughly together and roll them very thin cut them to any shape you please and bake in a moderate oven.

What Is Saltpetre?

  • The chemical name for saltpetre is Potassium Nitrate.
  • Saltpetre has been used since the Middle Ages to preserve food.
  • It is added to some brands of toothpaste.
  • Potassium nitrate is used in the preparation of cured meats, sometimes known as charcuterie.
The Angel and Royal Hotel in Grantham, Lincolnshire, once a staging post on the Great North Road, today.

The Angel and Royal Hotel in Grantham, Lincolnshire, once a staging post on the Great North Road, today.

Grantham, Lincolnshire, UK: Birthplace of Sir Isaac Newton, the First Female Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, and Grantham Gingerbread

© 2015 Glen Rix