Paul grew up in the English Lake District town of Kendal, working for a time in one of the mint cake factories. He now lives in Florida
What Is Kendal Mint Cake?
Kendal Mint Cake is a form of confectionery made in Kendal, Cumbria, UK. It is glucose-based and flavored with peppermint. Although it is called "cake," the name is deceptive. It usually comes in a bar form and has a texture that is much more grainy and sugary than cake.
The production process involves boiling up sugar, glucose, peppermint oil, and water in a copper pan. Care must be taken to constantly stir during the boiling process, otherwise the mixture will turn clear. Afterward, the mixture is poured into molds and allowed to set, before being broken up into individual bars.
It is eaten for pleasure, bought by tourists in the English Lake District, and popular with mountain climbers, especially in the UK, because of its high energy qualities.
Mint cake was taken up Everest in 1953 when Edmund Hilary ascended it, as well as by Sir Ernest Shackleton on his Antarctic expedition of 1914-17.
The confection was first made by Joseph Wiper in 1869. The traditional story is that one time he tried to make a batch of peppermint creams and the process went wrong. The mixture was left overnight and the solidified 'mint cake' was found the following morning.
Wiper opened a factory and named his product Wiper's Mint Cake. The Wiper family continued to produce mint cake until Harry Wiper sold the company to Quiggins in 1960 when his father died.
How Is It made?
The precise recipe for Kendal Mint Cake is a well-kept secret. Nevertheless, it is known to be made from a combination of sugar, glucose, water and peppermint oil, even if the exact proportions are not made public.
The ingredients are used in the following way:
- The sugar, glucose, and peppermint oil, along with some water, are first boiled up in a copper pan.
- The mixture is stirred continuously (if the stirring process is neglected, the end product will turn out clear).
- The mixture is then poured into molds and left to set. Later, it is broken up into bars.
The Main Types
There are essentially three main types: white, brown, and chocolate-coated. The color (and to some extent, texture) depends upon whether white or brown sugar is used to make it.
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The peppermint-flavored confection is typically sold in bar form, but can also be found in other forms, such as fingers and discs.
The Three Mint Cake Makers in Kendal
At the time of writing, the confection is made by three different factories: Wilson's, Quiggin's, and Romney's.
- Wilson's was founded in 1913 by James Wilson. He bought a factory in the Stricklandgate area of Kendal and switched his previous production focus from toffee to mint cake. In 1966 the company moved to the Cross Lane area. The factory is currently run by the grandson of James, Andrew Wilson, affectionately known as "Young Mr. Wilson". In recent years, however, the company has focused more on non-mint cake products, such as their Beatrix Potter range of sweets.
- Quiggin's is the oldest of the Kendal Mint Cake companies still going. The family has been making confectionery since 1840. Originally based in the Isle of Man, a member of the family moved to Kendal in 1880 and formed the mint cake company. The current company is located at the Allhallows Lane end of Lower Fellside.
- Founded in 1918, Romney's used an old recipe to make Mint Cake. The company bought Wiper's Mint Cake from Harry Wiper in 1987. The famous mountaineer, Sir Edmund Hillary and his team took Romney's Kendal Mint Cake with them on the first successful ascent of Mount Everest in 1953. The name of the company came from George Romney, the famous portrait painter, who lived in Kendal in the late 1700's.
Where Can I Buy Kendal Mint Cake?
In the UK, the best place to buy it is from a shop in, no surprise, Kendal, Cumbria, where it can commonly be found stocked in many small and large stores.
It is not hard to find it in the surrounding Lake District area either, as it is sold to tourists in souvenir shops and climbers in hiking/mountaineering stores.
Away from Cumbria, it is sometimes stocked in mountaineering shops as an energy food, because of its high glucose content. You can also buy it online (see below).
Buying Overseas and Online
I have done quite a bit of research on the best place to buy mint cake online. I was raised in Kendal and worked for a time at the Wilson's factory during the mid-1980s, but now live in Florida, where mint cake is virtually unheard of (no mountains!).
You do find mint cake being sold on Amazon. Quite often it is overpriced, but not always. Another good place to try is the eBay website, where vendors such as Kendal Corner give you a very reasonable price deal, in my experience.
Be aware, though, that the cost of shipping will often be far greater than the price of the mint cake, if you live overseas.
© 2013 Paul Goodman