Dunhill George Dunhill, an apothecary is said to have devised the liquorice Pontefract Cake in the mid 1700's. Liquorice had been grown in England since the Dark Ages and records from the 18th century show liquorice being grown in fields around Pontefract in Yorkshire.
|Dunhill's are now owned by Haribo the large German sweet manufacturer but they are still manufacturing their sweets in Pontefract|
|In 1644, Oliver Cromwell won a crushing victory over the royalist troops at the battle of Marston Moor. The town of Pontefract was the last royalist stronghold, just five years later it too fell to the soldiers of the Lord Protector. What does all this have to do with liquorice? Nothing really, but then again a great deal because Pontefract, a small town fifteen miles south-east of Leeds, was one of the most important liquorice cultivation areas in England. |
Another surprise! How on earth did this plant, which is actually indigenous to the Mediterranean and Asia, come to be grown in Pontefract? The answer is simple: It was brought from the Mediterranean by Dominican monks who settled in the area around Pontefract Castle. The plants didn't flower in the cold climate, but what really mattered were the roots.
The Dominicans used the liquorice juice extracted from the roots of the plant primarily as a medicine, for easing coughs and stomach complaints. There is documentary evidence that liquorice has been grown in Pontefract ever since the early 16th century. Cultivation continued until well into the 19th century, when it finally petered out because of the competition from cheaper imported raw liquorice.
|The famous Pontefract cakes, also known as pomfrets, were born in 1614 when Sir George Saville first applied a stamp to the small, round liquorice cakes. Initially, these cakes were consumed as a medicine. This continued throughout the 17th and well into the 18th century. |
Then, in 1760, an enterprising apothecary in Pontefract named George Dunhill hit upon the idea of adding sugar to the already famous Pontefract Cakes, turning a primarily medicinal product into an immensely popular sweet. Mr Dunhill then set up his famous firm, and in the following years it became one of the most renowned English manufacturers of liquorice.
Pontefract cakes are made using a special recipe. First, the raw liquorice mass is allowed to dry and cool for around a week, after which it is cut up into manageable blocks weighing around seven kilograms each. These are then pulled out into a long strand, which is chopped up into many small rounds of liquorice by a machine. The rounds are then placed in a press where they are flattened in a mould that applies the traditional Pontefract Cake stamp.
In the past, the rounds used to be pressed by hand by a team of 45 women workers. Skilled workers were able to press between 20 and 25 thousand Pontefract Cakes per day.