If you ever chewed on liquorice root as a child you may be surprised to know that it’s possible to grow your own and even make delicious Pontefract Cakes – a black liquorice lozenge that originate from Pontefract.
The root’s compound glycyrrhizin is 50 times sweeter than sugar and has been used to make confections designed to aid digestion and soothe sore throats, which is why the roots are usually sold in pharmacies rather than sweet shops!
Be aware though, that healthcare professionals have warned against overindulgence in Pontefract cakes after a 56-year-old woman was admitted to hospital following an overdose. The woman consumed about 200g daily, leading to dangerously low potassium levels and subsequent muscle failure.
A member of the pea family, liquorice or Glycyrrhiza glabra grows happily in any well-drained soil and will thrive in a sunny position. It produces vibrant violet to pale blue blooms in late summer. These are followed by seedpods containing two to five seeds each. Its creeping roots can grow up to 4m in length if left intact, throwing up stems up 1-3m tall with leaf buds in their second year.
The edible, bright yellowish brown roots are ready toharvest in late autumn. These flexible ‘woody’ roots have an earthy odour and a sweet flavour and are easily cut with a knife. When cut they exude a yellow juicy sap, which tastes like a mixture of brown sugar, fennel and barley water.
Liquorice is easily grown from divisions or root cuttings planted 30-45cm apart, or you can sow seeds outdoors in March to May. When the plant is around four years old, you can dig up the mature roots anytime between September and November and when the tops are dry put them in compost bin.
Dry the roots for several months and then store them in a cool place. Use them for chewing or to make a tea, which is a real thirst quencher. You can also pulverise the root and use the powder as a sweetener in other herb teas
Make your own liquorice
Today, liquorice comes in myriad shapes and styles, colours and flavours. Bootlaces, pipes, sticks, hollow tubes full of kali (like sherbet, except with a larger sugar-like grain), liquorice allsorts. This recipe is extracted from Great British Sweets: And How To Make them At Home by Adele Nozedar, published by Square Peg.
- 200g molasses
- 1 tsp ground liquorice root
- 1 tsp ground star anise
- 150g plain flour
- 2 drops black food colouring
- ½ tsp salt
- Icing sugar, for dusting
- Place the molasses in a pan over a low heat, then add the ground liquorice and star anise.
- Sift the flour and add it to the molasses a little at a time until you have a soft, but workable dough. You might need to add a little more or a little less flour. Leave the ‘dough’ in a cool place for 30 minutes to set.
- You can then make any shapes you like. Roll into tubes, or if you cut into rounds about 2.5cm in diameter, you have your own Pontefract cakes which you can then personalised with your own ‘seal’. Dust your shapes with icing sugar to finish.
- The liquorice will harden in time even when stored wrapped in greaseproof paper in an airtight container. If this happens, warm in a low oven for a couple of minutes.