As I have written before, English candy is legendary. Sweets are a source of pride. Cinder toffee (made with bicarbonate of soda and vinegar that gets slightly fizzy on your tongue) done well is a thing of joy. And who can turn down the twisted enjoyment of popping an “unclaimed baby” (a type of gummy candy) as a snack? But one type of candy has never been my cup of sugar: black licorice. I don’t think I’m alone; black licorice is not something that people have neutral feelings about. It’s a love-it-or-lump-it sort of candy.
We were doing our hometown tourist routine this weekend and went through Wakefield to Pontefract. While we were in a gift shop I noticed a display of jams and jellies that proudly proclaimed Pontefract Licorice as a key ingredient. That got my Google fingers itchy, and it seems that licorice (or “liquorice,” if you’re British) has been an important medicinal plant in the area for nearly a thousand years and a popular sweet for the last few centuries.
Not only are the plants and candies popular in the region, Pontefract is famous for the “Pontefract cake.” These are little discs of licorice that would look more at home as old stamped currency than anything you might eat; the embossing was originally done by hand by candy factory workers. These candies are so potent that it’s actually possible (though unlikely when eaten in proper moderation) to overdose on licorice.
So celebrated is the Pontefract licorice history that every year there is a Pontefract Liquorice Festival. On July 8, 2012, people from all around Yorkshire will celebrate this storied candy and plant with various hometown recipes, fun and games, and entertainment for all ages. And you know what? I’m not a licorice lover…but I’m going to attend the festival. It’s not every day that you can get an entire town to rally around something as humble as a garden plant. And of course, I’m all for any celebration that turns candy into the guest of honor. I think Willy Wonka would have approved.
Do you have a favorite food festival? Where is it?