When is a Cake Not a Cake? – When It Is a Kendal Mint Cake:
Travelling through Cumbria, our tour director talks excitedly about Kendal mint cakes (as tour directors do), but I pay scant attention. Yes, I like mints and I love cakes, but the two put together doesn’t sound like an gastronomic treat to hold your breath for .
After a morning stop, Mr. Tour Director walks down the aisle of the coach with a bag of sweets. This was when I discovered that a Kendal mint cake is not really a cake at all! It is more like a mint slice.
Kendal is a market town in the South of Cumbria that is famous around the world for its Kendal Mint cake. Kendal’s famous mint cake contains no flour or eggs at all which got it into trouble in the 1950’s. A ship load of the product was dumped in the Atlantic as New York customs barred the Kendal Mint Cake on the grounds that products labelled ‘cake’ should have flour in them. And who’s to argue with New York customs.
Origin of the Kendal Mint Cake
The Kendal mint cake , it seems, was created out of a moment’s distraction over a century ago. According to one legend, the year was 1869 and Joseph Wiper, a Kendal confectioner was in the process of making glacier mints, when he took his eye off the cooking pan for a minute. When resuming his task, he noticed that the mixture had started to ‘grain’ and become cloudy, instead of clear. When poured out, the result was Mint Cake.
Kendal Cake as an Energy Food
I found the mint cake too sweet and it certainly will give you a sugar overload if you had one too many. But what was educational for me about the mint cake is that it enjoys an enviable reputation amongst mountaineers and hikers for its energy supplying ability and has accompanied many trans-Antarctic expeditions. In 1953, when Sir Edmund Hilary and Tenzing Norgay made their first successful expedition to the Everest summit, they had Kendal mint cakes with them. The Kendal Mint Cake it seems “…was easily the most popular item on our high altitude ration – our only criticism was that we did not have enough of it” wrote a member of the expedition.
There are three companies that make Kendal mint cakes in Kendal and these days they come in brown and chocolate flavours as well. Well next time we’re climbing Everest, we know what will help us make the summit.