Pontefract Liquorice Festival - Gastro Obscura
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Pontefract Liquorice Festival

At this annual event, the bitter sweet enhances everything from sausages to pies to clothing.

For those who enjoy the sweet, medicinal flavor of licorice, Pontefract’s annual Liquorice Festival is a haven of delicacies and diversions devoted to the historic candy.

Every July, the town celebrates its leading role in England’s love affair with licorice (known as “liquorice” in the country), in particular through the “Pomfret” or Pontefract cake. Created in 1760, these black, coin-shaped “lozenges” were made of cooked licorice sap and could be dissolved in water. Once used to treat ailments and sweeten other medicines,  the cake eventually became better known as a snack toward the end of the 19th century. In the 1920s, as many as 10 factories (and their mostly female labor force) in Pontefract and the surrounding region were transforming locally farmed licorice into hand-stamped cakes.

At one point during the height of licorice love in the 1930s, women were invited to wear licorice to a dance honoring the sweet treat; one volunteer, Emily Money, went down in history for her edible ensemble. Licorice-based fashion is a big part of the annual festival, which began in the 1990s, with some years featuring all kinds of wearable confectionery, including dresses, licorice-lined boots, and even a licorice jewelry-making station. For those who might not be interested in candy-coated fashion, the town also provides free travel on the “Liquorice Land Train” to Pontefract Castle, where people can take a tour or watch movies such as Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory on the grounds.

And for the tried and true licorice lovers, the festival features a vast array of classic licorice “allsorts” (the encompassing term for all forms of licorice), innovative savory snacks such as licorice-laden Yorkshire pies and sausage rolls, and, for the green thumb, rare licorice plants.

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