Christmas is less than three weeks away and here in the Lake District we are getting pretty excited. Already we have had our first snow fall on the fells, creating the perfect setting for Santa’s arrival, and the towns and villages have been illuminated with Christmas lights. Various festive markets have taken place or are due to happen over the next couple of weeks, providing a fantastic Christmas shopping opportunity.

Lots of us have already bought our gifts, so now our thoughts are turning to the festive feast. Whilst for some Christmas might be about celebration or presents, for others, it is absolutely about the food. Here in Cumbria, we have a number of local treats and specialities that are either available to buy in the shops or try in the pubs and restaurants, and Christmas is the perfect excuse to sample them.

1. The Cumberland Sausage

Cumberland sausages at Christmas

There are sausages, then there is the Cumberland sausage. Don’t be fooled by the packets that you see on supermarket shelves, a real Cumberland sausage is up to 50cm long and curled, with a distinct peppery taste. Furthermore, unlike those you find at supermarkets, real Cumberland sausages have a meat content of at least 80% that is chopped rather than minced, making them incredibly filling.

This Christmas, forget the smoked salmon for breakfast and start Christmas day with a good old fashioned Cumberland Sausage Teacake (that’s a roll or bap for you southern folk). It will provide the perfect lining for the buck’s fizz. Your local butchers may have some in supply, but it’s widely agreed that both those bought from respected sausage crafter Peter Gott of Sillfield Farm and from Cranstons Fine Foods are amongst the best.

2. Herdwick Hogget

Lamb roast dinner

The Herdwicks are such an iconic part of the Lake District, and it therefore should not come as a surprise to discover that they are also an important part of the culinary heritage of the area. Herdwick Hogget is a classic dish that comes from the shoulder of a sheep that is between 1 and 2 years old, making it somewhere between lamb and mutton. Roasted slowly, the joint is rich in flavour and moisture. It is the perfect Christmas Eve dinner.

You can find this meat in many Cumbrian butchers, or you can order a joint online from Heritage Meats, a specialist supplier in Coniston. Alternatively, if you are visiting the area, then book at table at the Cottage in the Wood, whose Hogget has been widely acclaimed.

3. Cumbrian Chocolates

Chocolate House

The Famous 1657 Chocolate House (Ian Taylor / geograph.org.uk)

Whilst many of the dishes and treats we discuss here might be fairly well known, Cumbria’s chocolate industry is not as well publicised, but we think it’s something to be proud of. We have a number of independent chocolate shops producing their own products that are truly divine. They make excellent stocking fillers, or an ideal snack to fuel you through wrapping the seemingly never-ending pile of presents.

Kennedys Fine Chocolates

Kennedys Fine Chocolates

Kennedys Fine Chocolates is based in the tiny village of Orton between Penrith and Kendal, and they make over 100 varieties of chocolate in their small factory. You can either visit the factory shop and enjoy a hot chocolate whilst there, or you can order online.

 

The Famous 1657 Chocolate House

1657 Chocolate House

In Kendalthe Famous 1657 Chocolate House is a tourist attraction in its own right, with a storyboard around the shop that tells you all you need to know about chocolate. In the café, you can choose one of sixteen different types of hot chocolate, or you can purchase one of over a hundred different varieties.

 

Friars

Friars

Over in Keswick, Friars is a treasure trove of chocolate delights that has been supplying the good folk of Keswick with chocolate treats for 90 years. The shop is a delight to explore, and this December, it’s packed with Christmas stocking fillers that children and grown-ups will love.

 

4. Solway Potted Shrimp

Shrimp in butter and spices

Morecambe Bay Shrimp might be more famous, but Solway Potted Shrimp from the waters around the north west of Cumbria are equally delicious. Mixed with butter and spices, these shrimp are usually served with fresh crusty bread or toast. You can find potted shrimp on the menu at various establishments in West Cumbria, but if you head to Silloth on the coast, you will find some of the freshest available. The shrimp would make a tasty alternative to a prawn and smoked salmon starter and you can order some online from Cumbrian based fishmongers Bells.

5. Grasmere Gingerbread

Grasmere Gingerbread

Grasmere Gingerbread (Alex Liivet / Flickr.com)

There is only one place to buy genuine Grasmere Gingerbread, and that is via the tiny shop in the village of Grasmere. The recipe for this local favourite was first created by Sarah Nelson in 1854, and has remained a carefully hidden secret since. Today, the recipe is securely stored in a safe, with only one person, a descendent of Sarah, knowing the exact detail. Not quite a cake, and not quite a biscuit, this fiery sweet treat will warm your insides on a cold winter’s night, and makes the perfect accompaniment to the hot chocolate in your Christmas Eve box this December.

Fortunately, with the age of the Internet, you don’t have to travel to Grasmere to buy the gingerbread, since the shop now has an online presence. That being said, Grasmere is a delightful place to visit at any time of year, and with some great walking opportunities nearby, we think the gingerbread is a wonderful addition to your fell walk supplies.

6. Sticky Toffee Pudding

Sticky Toffee Pudding

We think Cumbria’s sticky toffee pudding is a great alternative to the traditional Christmas pudding that many people find too rich. It is believed that the first sticky toffee pudding was created in the 1970s by Francis Coulson at Sharrow Bay, a country house hotel overlooking Ullswater. The original recipe that combines sponge, dates, and toffee sauce is a closely guarded secret, with staff working at the hotel required to sign a non-disclosure agreement to ensure they never share the recipe. Today, you can book a table at the hotel to try this original version.

Alternatively, you can buy an equally famous Cumbrian sticky toffee pudding from Cartmel Village Shop whose puddings are found in supermarkets across the country, including Waitrose.

7. Kendal Mint Cake

Kendal Mint Cake

Kendal Mint Cake (Yohan euan o4 / Wikipedia.org)

Legend has it that Joseph Wiper, a Kendal confectioner in the mid 19th century was trying to boil sugar to make glacier mints when he failed to keep a close eye on it and the mixture turn cloudy. Discarded, it was left to cool overnight and Kendal Mint Cake was discovered. Favoured by mountaineers thanks to its high sugar content, the mint cake can not only be found in confectioners, but it’s also now widely available in the plethora of outdoor activity gear shops that line the streets of the Lake District’s towns.

A great stocking filler, the mint cake is widely available from numerous retailers, but Kendal is home to two of the original suppliers who still operate today. Quiggins is the oldest supplier, established in 1880, whilst Romney’s has a good claim to ownership of the original recipe, having taken over the Wiper business from a descendent of Joseph Wiper.

8. Cumbrian Cheeses

Cheese selection

It might surprise you to learn that Cumbria, better known for its stocks of Herdwick sheep, has a thriving cheese industry. In fact, we love cheese here in the Lake District, which is why we have a good number of producers creating delicious cheeses of varying strengths and textures. No Christmas dinner is complete without a cheese board, and we think that Lake District cheeses should play a starring role. Best of all, rather than trudge through the supermarket, here you can make cheese buying fun.

At Cartmel Cheeses, you can browse and sample the cheeses and learn about their origins from the very knowledgeable staff. The shop stocks both local and international cheeses, and is adjacent to an artisan bakery and a brewery, so plenty of opportunity here to indulge. Over in Keswick, the Cheese Deli stocks one of the largest selections of local cheeses, along with plenty of cheese accompaniments. Of course, you could take your cheese obsession one step further and book yourself onto a Cheese Making Day at Thornby Moor Dairy in West Cumbria. The shop here stocks mouth-watering cheeses that are all made on site.