The Home of Liquorice

As Featured On The BBC’s ONE SHOW 19th October 2012 and BBC Radio 2 again this October for the Second Time!

Pontefract has a long history with the liquorice plant, dating back to the Crusades. Today the links are with confectionary manufacturing and the companies Tangerine and Haribo, both large employers in the town. However we don’t want to forget ‘Pontefract’s Roots!’ and thus Farmer Copleys has decided to bring liquorice home.

Farmer Copley’s are currently planting just under 100 locally grown plants with the intention of opening a Liquorice Garth in the near future. The Liquorice Garth will take a couple of years to establish, however, the plants will be visible immediately, they be seen from the farm walk. Once the Garth is established we (Farmer Copley’s) will be able to start harvesting the root, which the majority of the local older generation, can fondly remember chewing the sweet root as a child, no doubt their grandchildren are going to have the same experience! All our liquorice plants are grown locally at Brandy Carr Nurseries, Wakefield, by a lovely gentleman Mr Ben Asquith. Ben is always at the liquorice festival and his web address is www.brandycarrnurseries.co.uk, so if you’d like your own liquorice plant in the garden pay him a visit, but be warned if the plant likes the location it can take over!

The Monks…
The Liquorice plant was brought to Pontefract from the Mediterranean, courtesy of the Dominican Monks in the early 16th Century, when they settled close to Pontefract Castle. (Pontefract means ‘broken bridge’!).The Liquorice is unable to flower in our cooler climate however that doesn’t matter as it is the root that we are after. The monks extracted the liquorice juice from the roots as a medicine for easing early coughs and upset stomachs, it was also used as a pain relief in medieval times during child birth. Today in Japan they use liquorice as sutures and other medicinal purposes, this is due to it’s anti inflammatory properties, some Japanese representatives came to Pontefract Liquorice Festival a few years ago in association with the then ‘Liquorice Trust’. The Liquorice plant thrives in rich, sandy, free draining soils, allowing the roots to extend up to 25 foot in length. The top of the plant, the liquorice bush grows to approximately 7 foot tall. The root is the part of the plant that we harvest as it is sweet, people dig it up (wash it) and chew it as a mouth freshener! Once acre of Liquorice Garth can produce 4 to 5 tonnes of harvested liquorice root every 3 to 4 years. Not all of the root is harvested as some is required to be left to allow the plant to keep growing to produce more from for its next harvest.

The Cakes…
The Famous Pontefract Cakes were born in 1614, when Sir John Saville applied at stamp to the round chewy liquorice disk. Pontefract Cakes were initially used as a medicine throughout the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries. Pontefract Cakes are made to a special recipe which includes the raw boiled liquorice mash, which is allowed to cool and dry for a week prior to pressing. Harbio the well known confectionery company acquired Dunhills in 1994. On a Wednesday in Pontefract town center you can smell the liquorice as they boil it in the factory!

The Festival…
Every July, Pontefract holds its annual Liquorice Festival in the town center. Average visitor numbers are around 36,000. Farmer Copley’s is always present, selling our wares of Pork & Liquorice Pies, Liquorice Stout, then in the farm shop 1 mile down the A645 towards Wakefield we celebrate the Festival in the shop for the whole of July with daily tastings and other liquorice products such as, Liquorice Ice Cream, Liquorice Bacon, Pork & Liquorice Sausages and of course Liquorice Sweets in every shape, size and variety. ‘Mr Fish’ our fishmonger is currently experimenting with Sea Bass & Liquorice for 2013 Festival, so watch this space.

The Future…
We are currently putting in a farm walk leaving just outside Moo Cafe up the field to the strawberry fields, the pumpkin patch, past the rhubarb and liquorice, down past the corn maze, the pigs and back past the small animals to the farm shop. So next time you visit please take the short walk as see the liquorice in the fields as was once upon a time. In time Farmer Copley’s aim is to become the world center for Liquorice and ensure everybody knows about Pontefract and it’s sweet history!