As a child I remember buying sticks of liquorice root [below] at the chemist and chewing the wood to release the flavour. Pontefract in Yorkshire was the first place where liquorice was mixed with sugar to be eaten as a sweet, a Pontefract Cake [below], as we understand the phrase today. There is no certain date for when liquorice was first grown in the UK, though there are records from the 16thcentury when it was grown in monastic gardens and as a garden crop.
Confectionery became a strand of cookery in its own right in the 17thcentury when sweet confections, made by confectioners, were quite separate from the dinner table. In the late Tudor and early Stuart period, they were served as a separate course. It was a job often done by gentlewomen because of the association then of sugar with medicine. Then in the 18thcentury, sugar became cheaper thanks to the British Empire’s control in sugar plantations – West Indies and the American colonies – and the link between sugar and medicine was broken. Confectioners made anything sugar-based including jellies, ice creams, sweet pastries, set creams and French-style cakes that we know as patisserie.
Sales of confectionery boomed in the Victorian and Edwardian period when it became cheap to set up a workshop, buying or hiring machinery, and sweets were quick to produce.
The roots of boiled sweets are in the 17thand 18thcentury when lozenges, flavoured with herbs and extracts, were sold as cough aids. The line between confectionery and baked goods began to divide and a new definition of confectionery became established. Working with sugar, boiling it to high temperatures, made it hot, physical and sometimes dangerous work. Professional confectionery manual Skuse’s Complete Confectioner concentrated on sweets and toffees made with the new machinery, suitable for small artisan craft makers rather than the home cook. Milk chocolate appeared in the 1870s and filled bars [known as combination bars] were first sold in the 1920s. At this time, many brands familiar today were being established and expanded.
Download free ebooks about confectionery, including Skuse’s Complete Confectioner at Archive.org.
York Castle Museum has a number of exhibits devoted to sweets, including ‘Sweet Memories’ about Terry’s of York; ‘Shackleton’s Cocoa’ about Rowntree’s of York’; and Victorian ice cream making; and an online archive of artefacts including cookery and baking equipment.
Visit a replica Victorian sweet shop, T Cook’s, at the Black Country Living Museum. Mr Thomas Cook, confectioner, and his son made the sweets, his son’s wife and their children ran the shop.
Try making your own period confectionery at Beamish, the Living Museum of the North, including cinder toffee and coconut delights.
If you’re searching for relatives and want to search online safely try the Lost Cousins website, which matches you with other people researching the same ancestors. It’s worth signing up for the Lost Cousins newsletter too.
This post is inspired by an article written by food historian Dr Annie Gray in the August 2017 issue of ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ magazine.
Don’t know where to start investigating your own family history? Try this:-
BUY ‘Who Do You Think You Are? The Genealogy Handbook’ by Dan Waddell
And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
Did your relative work in the confectionery trade? #familyhistory via @SandraDanby