Grantham Gingerbread Recipe and History

Updated on August 23, 2017
Glenis Rix profile image

Glenis lives in Newark and often travels the short distance to Grantham, where she buys Grantham gingerbread for fortification.

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

Grantham Gingerbreads
Grantham Gingerbreads | Source

History of Grantham Gingerbread

In the days of stage coach 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.

"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 (c1700)

Staging Post on the Great North Road

The Angel and Royal Coaching Inn today
The Angel and Royal Coaching Inn today | Source

Grantham gingerbread was so popular that from the day that William Eggleston first produced it until the 1970's it was sold in every bakery and convenience store in the town, to the extent that people born in Grantham became known affectionately as Grantham Gingerheads. 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 popularity and it is now again available in local stores. However, if you are unlikely to find yourself in the vicinity you can make your own Grantham gingerbread by following this recipe:

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 tbsp 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 | Source
The gingerbread mixture of butter, sugar and egg
The gingerbread mixture of butter, sugar and egg | Source
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 | Source
Source

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 Medieval Age 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

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Grantham - birthplace of Sir Isaac Newton, Margaret Thatcher, and Grantham Gingerbread

A markerGrantham -
Grantham, UK
get directions

A small town situated on the old coach road from London.

© 2015 GlenR

Comments

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  • Glenis Rix profile image
    Author

    GlenR 14 months ago from UK

    charcuterie - lovely word! Thanks for the visit :)

  • RTalloni profile image

    RTalloni 14 months ago from the short journey

    Ooooh I love gingerbreads! This interesting info on Grantham gingerbread was fun to read and the modern recipe looks simple enough. Thanks, too, for a new word: charcuterie. :)

  • poetryman6969 profile image

    poetryman6969 2 years ago

    They look great and we are told that ginger is good for us.

  • Glenis Rix profile image
    Author

    GlenR 2 years ago from UK

    Peggy W, you are evidently as curious as I am. When I was a small child my grandmother used to cure her own bacon in the cellar of her home - she used saltpetre. I'm pleased you enjoyed the history of the Grantham Gingerbread.

  • Glenis Rix profile image
    Author

    GlenR 2 years ago from UK

    Thank you Moonlake. I feel a kind of connection to the biscuit, which I know is ridiculous. William Eggleston came from my home town and his family were bakers here for many generations. My father, who died recently aged 91, used to talk of the Eggleston bakery.

  • moonlake profile image

    moonlake 2 years ago from America

    They look so good. One day I have to try this recipe. Interesting story to go with the cookies. voted up and pinned..I guess they're 'biscuits and not cookies.

  • Peggy W profile image

    Peggy Woods 2 years ago from Houston, Texas

    I looked up saltpetre to find out that it was most often used in gunpowder as an explosive but the compound of nitrate could also be a part of a salt...so undoubtedly the saltpetre used in the Grantham Whetstones was a salt. Interesting that the original recipe also had caraway seed in it. The history of this was definitely worth reading. Thanks! Will share...

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