In 19th-century Salem, Massachusetts, no afternoon tea was complete without Gibraltar rocks. Also known as Salem Gibralters, or simply Gibralters, the tooth-threatening candy gets its name from the massive limestone promontory the Rock of Gibraltar. Even with a hammer, the candy is hard to break apart, as you must invariably do after receiving a bar. At that point, though, the lemon or peppermint candy melts in your mouth.
The manufacturing process has not changed much in several centuries. After boiling a syrup of sugar, water, cream of tartar, and cornstarch in a giant kettle, candymakers stretch the hot dough, weaving it around a metal hook until it becomes a supple rope that can be flattened, aerated like taffy by stretching it out, and cut into small pieces for packaging. Wrapped in wax paper and a paper sleeve, the milky white candy can be broken into bits and shared, or, given the candy’s long shelf life, hoarded in a candy cache. Sailors historically found this characteristic particularly helpful, and the candy is also mentioned in historic documents and the 19th-century novel The House of the Seven Gables.
Accounts from the early 19th century tell of Mrs. Spencer, the candy-maker who first brought Gibralters to the streets of early Salem, which she delivered to shops by way of horse-drawn wagon. The treat addicted children and adults alike, although youngsters tended to prefer the lemon kind, while their seniors opted for peppermint. Today the candy—and another old-time favorite, molasses-flavored Black Jacks—are both sold out of Salem by Ye Olde Pepper Company, carrying American candy continuity into the 21st century.
Need to Know
Gibralters can be purchased from Ye Olde Pepper Candy Company at their Salem or North Andover stores or from the company website.
Where to Try It
Ye Olde Pepper Candy Company Website122 Derby St, Salem, Massachusetts, 01970, United States
Packages of gibralters can be bought for a few dollars alongside fudge, taffy, and other classic sweets.
Ye Olde Candy Company, North Andover Store59 Main Street , North Andover, Massachusetts, 01845, United States
A second location of the historic candy company.