Eat Cumbria

Celebrating 6 Traditional Cumbrian Foods

Many places in the UK have their traditional foods, and Cumbria is no exception.

Join us for a taste tour of the Lakes…

What Food Is the Lake District Famous For?

From Cumberland Sausage to Kendal Mint Cake, our county has a rich culinary heritage, so no visit to the Lake District is complete without trying some (or all) of the tasty delights on offer.

And, with eleven Michelin stars under its belt too (that’s more than anywhere in the country outside London), Cumbria can compete with the best when it comes to foodie excellence. But it’s not just all about fine dining around these parts.

Let’s take a look at a few of the traditional must-try foods you can sample on your next visit to our beautiful part of the world.

1. Cumberland Sausage 

In our humble opinion, there’s no better banger. A local speciality for around 500 years, you can recognise a proper traditional Cumberland sausage by its appearance. It’s longer and thicker than other sausages and is sold in a coil rather than links. No one knows why for sure, but one theory is that it was made that way to suit the tastes of German miners who worked in Cumbria during the reign of Elizabeth I.

The other thing that makes a traditional Cumberland sausage unique is the spices. Whitehaven was an important port back in the day and many of the spices that were imported made their way into traditional Cumbrian foods, including the now world-famous sausage. 

An eighth-generation family business, Woodall’s of Waberthwaite have been making Cumberland sausage to the same family recipe since the 19th century and, along with Peter Gott at Silfield Farm, helped the traditional Cumberland sausage attain PGI (Protected Geographical Indication) status, so you know you’re eating the real thing when you buy from them.

2. Sticky Toffee Pudding 

We may be biased, but if there’s a better dessert than the sticky toffee pudding from the Cartmel Village Shop, we’ve yet to try it. Consisting of a moist sponge, made with finely chopped dates and covered in a sticky toffee sauce, it really is foodie heaven – a dollop of vanilla custard or ice cream finishes it off a treat.

Although many regions (and countries – Australia and New Zealand have sticky date pudding) claim to have invented the sticky toffee pudding, it was certainly popularised by Francis Coulson, who developed and served his recipe at the much-missed Sharrow Bay hotel on the shore of Ullswater in 1960.

Not that you need an excuse to visit the beautiful village of Cartmel, but a trip to the village shop in the square to pick up a pudding is a must if you’re in the area. Still handmade, with only natural ingredients, if for any reason you can’t get to Cartmel to get your hands on one (or several), you can buy them online. You won’t regret it.

3. Grasmere Gingerbread 

Food lovers travel from far and wide to try Grasmere Gingerbread, and with good reason. It’s unlike any other gingerbread you will have tasted – a spicy, sweet, chewy cross between a cake and a biscuit, you can only get it from the shop that bears its name in Grasmere. You’ll know you’re in the right place when you see the queue of people outside and smell the gorgeous gingery aroma wafting down the street.

Invented by a Victorian cook called Sarah Nelson at her church cottage home in the 1850s (now the shop), the original recipe remains top secret and is kept in a bank vault away from prying eyes. Now owned and run by the Hunter family (as it has been for three generations), the gingerbread is still baked to Sarah’s recipe and a visit to the shop transports you back in time as the shop assistants are dressed in traditional Victorian garb.If you’re in Ambleside and unable to get through to Grasmere, The Apple Pie does a ‘Lakeland Gingerbread’ that’s also very delicious, but if anyone asks, you didn’t hear it from us!

4. Kendal Mint Cake 

Not many foods can boast the illustrious past of Kendal Mint Cake. This peppermint oil-infused sugary confection was present at Ernest Shackleton’s Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition of 1914-17, went up Everest with Sir Edmund Hilary in 1953 (as well as earlier climbs in 1922 and 1924 – the ill-fated Mallory and Irvine attempt, when it was known as Wiper’s Mint Cake) and, more recently, accompanied Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman on their Long Way Round motorcycle trip in 2004.

Long-renowned as a source of energy by mountaineers, adventurers and fell runners, it’s still made in Kendal to this day by Quiggin’s and Romney’s.

It’s generally accepted that Kendal Mint Cake was born by mistake back in 1869 when Joseph Wiper took his eye off a batch of clear mints and the mixture became cloudy, cooling to solidify and form the confection we know and love today. Don’t forget to pick up a few bars next time you’re passing through Kendal – especially if you’re planning to head up a fell or two.

5. Rum Butter 

Whether you spread it on crackers, try a dollop on crumpets, serve a generous spoonful with your Christmas pud, or warm it up and drizzle it over ice cream or popcorn, the fact is, you can’t beat a bit of rum butter. 

Invented in Cumbria in the 18th century, it’s made with butter, dark brown sugar, dark rum and warm water, which are all beaten together to a creamy consistency and then left to chill in the fridge.

Cumbrian tradition has it that when a baby is born, rum butter is served with some coins left in the butter bowl to symbolise prosperity to the newborn. And, apparently, it helps Mum recover more quickly too.

Rum butter first started appearing in Cumbrian larders in the late 18th century when ports like Workington, Whitehaven and Maryport were important in the spice trade – rum was brought in from the West Indies along with spices like ginger, cinnamon and nutmeg. These days you can buy rum butter from speciality food shops all over Cumbria – including the Grasmere Gingerbread Shop, which makes its own delicious version to accompany a slice of its gingerbread and a steaming hot cuppa. Lovely.

6. Cumberland Sauce 

You’ve no doubt had mint sauce with your lamb (preferably some Cumbrian-bred Saltmarsh Lamb), but if you haven’t tried Cumberland Sauce before, you’re missing a treat – it complements cold cuts perfectly too. And a Cumberland sausage is undressed without it.

A savoury, fruity, slightly spicy concoction that usually combines redcurrant jelly, mustard, salt, pepper, cloves, orange peel and port, it’s thought to have been invented in the 19th century, but nobody knows for sure. 

You can find lots of variations of this traditional recipe from different artisan makers all over Cumbria, but one of our favourites is produced by Claire’s Handmade, although we’re very partial to the Hawkshead Relish Cumberland Sauce too. Oh, and the award-winning Lakeland Artisan one plays a blinder on your taste buds as well. Guess you’ll just have to try them all to find your own favourite.

We hope that’s made you hungry for a trip to Cumbria, and we haven’t even mentioned Herdwick Hoggett, Damson Gin, or Cumberland Rum Nicky. Or Sawrey Pie, Borrowdale Teabread, or Westmorland Pepper Cake. What are you waiting for – get booking!

Well, if that hasn’t made you hungry and ready to try these local foods, then we don’t know what will.

But you’re going to need somewhere to stay too. Luckily, we’ve got you covered

From Ambleside to Keswick, Grasmere to Windermere, and Cartmel to Rydal, there’s a Lakeland Retreats property that’s just right for you. Bon appetit!

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