Ginger shortbread in the Grasmere tradition

Ginger shortbread in the Grasmere tradition

Traditional Lakeland cooking with Mrs Simkins (October 2018)

The exterior of The Thornhill Arms, located in Yorkshire's Calverley


Makes sixteen squares


  • 110g (4oz) salted butter, softened
  • 110g (4oz) dark brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon golden syrup
  • 225g (8oz) plain flour
  • 1 level teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
  • 1 level teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 3 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon mixed spice
  • 2 teaspoons mixed peel
  • 25g candied ginger, finely chopped

This recipe is adapted from one that originated many years ago in the village of Sawrey, between Hawkshead and Windermere; whether it was Near or Far Sawrey isn’t clear. It was suggested as “an alternative to the secret recipe of Grasmere”. While not the same at all as the famous brand; it’s delicious and made in the traditional Grasmere biscuit-y rather than cake-y style.

The poet Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy, who lived in and around Grasmere from 1799 until their deaths, were fond of gingerbread. Once, according to Dorothy’s journal, “William had a fancy for gingerbread”, and they walked from their cottage, rather late in the day, into Grasmere to buy some.

There were two main types on sale in those days: Wordsworth was hoping for “hard” but only “soft” was left by the time they got there. He bought it anyway: here’s a “hard” one he might have liked.


Preheat oven to 140°C (fan oven), gas mark 3 or equivalent.

You will need a 20cm (8 inch) square brownie pan or similar, buttered and the bottom lined with greaseproof paper.

A food processor works brilliantly for this method, but use a wooden spoon and your hands if you prefer.

Whiz the butter and sugar together in the processor until it is creamed and fluffy. Add the golden syrup and whiz to combine them.

Sieve in the flour, raising agents and spices. Whiz the ingredients briefly, then add peel and candied ginger before whizzing it again until the mixture starts to form large clumps.

Press the mixture gently into your tin. Smooth the top level with a damp metal spoon, taking the time to get the surface even.

Bake it for thirty minutes, until it is pulling slightly away from the pan sides.

Remove it from the oven and allow it to cool in the tin before turning it out and marking it into squares.

Once it is completely cold, store it in an airtight container.


Golden syrup and raising agents would be unknown to the Wordsworths – they weren’t available until the mid and late 1800s.

The exterior of The Thornhill Arms, located in Yorkshire's Calverley


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