Love for a Cake-making Ingredient
Liquorice has for ages been an active ingredient in the making of Pontefract cakes. Prior to the 1960s, the makers of these cakes, commonly known as ‘thumpers’, used their hands to make the cakes. They would knead lumps of liquorice and then rolled them to ensure that they are malleable. Pieces were then cut from the pliable liquorice and more flattening was done by hands after which they were stamped by a hand stamper.
However as time went by, and the need to scale up the production of the cakes to meet demand, hand making of the cakes was replaced by machines.
Why Liquorice is Important in Pontefract Cakes.
Liquorice Plant (Botanical Name reads; Glycyrrhiza Glabra) might have been discovered by the Greeks from Scythians who are documented as having been the first users to learn the benefits that the plants possessed. For instance, in the 3rd century B.C. Theophrastus is documented expressing his views on the different tastes of the plants roots. Another clear example can be seen in the 7th century B.C. where the Royal Assyrian clay tablets documented the use of liquorice in the tablets it was referred to as ‘Susu’.
Liquorice is Medicinal
The plant is officially referenced in medicinal books as an active component in the preparation of medicine. Thus each year there are hundreds of tons of the plant extracts imported into United Kingdom from several European countries notably Italy and Spain who are the main exporters. Other exports countries include Germany, France and Russia.
There are several varieties of the plant but the most commonly cultivated variety is the Glycyrrhiza variety (the name of this variety is Greek in origin denoting Sweet Rose) which has more potential medically than the other varieties.
Cultivation of the Plant
The plant has optimum growth and production when grow on sandy soils near streams. The reason for this is because the plant prefers soils which fine and rich in nutrients but is moist. However the moisture should be free draining in the growing period (usually spring) but gets hard and dry during the consequent summer seasons. For this reasons, it’s never advisable to it on clay soils.
The plant is usually a hardy perennial plant and thus should be planted as early as February or March. The region where the plants are planted should have enough nutrients.
The roots of the plant can grow up to 3 or 4 feet in depth and extend up to 25 feet if given good time for growth. For such a good harvest, it is best to let the roots nurture for about 5 years before harvesting. This grace period gives to produce a sweet substance which is strong medically. However, this rarely happens in Europe as most cultivators of the plant normally harvest it after 3-4 years.
It should be noted that if the plant is left for over 5 years without harvesting, it is more likely to become very coarse and woody which is not favorable in extracting the medicinal components. Most climates in Europe usually make it hard for the plant to flower thus benefiting the root with rich sweet flavors. If the flowering happens to occur then the sweetness reduces.
The taste of the different varieties normally varies and so are their odors all which are traits which are used to describe the strength of the varieties. Sweet taste and strong odor suggest that the variety has more medicinal properties than the other.