In the 1800s Whitby gingerbread was famous throughout the country with a reputation equal to that of York Muffins. Made from a stiff dough flavoured with coriander, peel and black treacle, it was consumed traditionally at Christmas. It was also recommended for new mothers, often together with cheese. In later versions of the recipe golden syrup replaced the treacle. A fruited gingerbread was also available which included raisins, sultanas and currants in the mix.
A confectioner advertising gingerbread
Young estimated the amount sold in Whitby in one year to be around 12 tons. It was said that between September and December alone 5 tons were produced. It was dispatched far and wide in tea chests, often to ship's captains in distant lands whose crews longed for a taste of home.
Ditchburn's, who had a shop on Church Street, made Whitby gingerbread from 1868 until 1952. Beilby and Edwards' shop on St. Ann's Staith was right next door to Foster and Wright's confectioners. Both emporiums produced the spicy treat, so competition must have been fervent. Sometimes this traditional gingerbread is confused with peppercakes. These however were seasoned with Jamaican pepper.
Whilst the plain type was traditionaly made in a hoop and then decorated on top, the fruited variety was pressed into wooden moulds. These had patterns or pictures cut into them, often by skilled jet workers. Fourteen moulds are on display in Whitby Museum. They date from the 17th to the early 18th centuries and show such things as ladies and gentlemen in their finery, Whitby's coat of arms with its three ammonites and other delicately carved motifs.
Gingerbread moulds in Whitby Museum
Ellizabeth Botham's, craft bakers since 1865, still produce the delicacy today. This is their description of the product.
Original Whitby Gingerbread is a block gingerbread peculiar to the town and has been made here for many hundreds of years. It is quite unlike any other Gingerbread available as it is baked to a firm loaf with a texture between a bread and a biscuit. It is not a cake or a biscuit as many people would imagine.
This high quality product is delicious sliced thinly, buttered and eaten with a farmhouse cheese, such as Wensleydale or Coverdale and is also delightful with preserve. Without doubt, a perfect speciality to be eaten on a crisp winter's day in front of a glowing fire.