Seaside Rock, Lancashire
Is there any other foodstuff that reflects the British taste for robust rather than subtle culinary pleasures? The Belgians have their tradition of hand-made chocolates, the French their marrons glacés; we have sticks of crunchable, enduring, mouth-filling rock.
We should not do down seaside rock, however. The art of putting the lettering in is decidedly clever; at Docwras Rock Shop in Great Yarmouth rock is the medium for endeavours artistic and humorous – the ever present baby’s dummy of course, giant lollies, and facsimiles of various fruit and vegetables, but sometimes rather more daring sugar sculptures are found there. And the colours are just what you need to see on those days when the British weather envelops everything in grey.
The making of sticks of rock is a fascinating process: the raw materials are sugar syrup, glucose, and some flavouring oil, generally peppermint, but sometimes orange and other more obscure oils are employed. The lettering is assembled in a great thick version of the thinner end product, and this bulky original is rolled and pulled until it is thinner and longer, when it is cut into the required lengths.
There is much that is traditional about the stick of rock, supposedly developed by the gloriously named entrepreneur Dynamite Dick (said to have been from either Blackpool or Morecambe ) from the similar confection Fair Rock. The outside wall of the stick should be pink, though how pink varies according to geography – in Yarmouth it is lighter (but still bright) than the Blackpool version edging towards red. The Blackpool stick is also thicker than elsewhere, about an inch or so in diameter compared to maybe two-thirds that by the North Sea. The lettering should include a traditional message such as “Greetings from,” or “A present from” (in less affluent times when the seaside trip was the height of travel aspirations for many of us a stick of rock made a great cheap present); and the clear plastic wrapper should have a rectangular picture of the stick’s town of origin in it.
Still loved by most kids now as it was by William Brown in his day, rock has been the dentist’s friend for decades, a dental destroyer; and these days parents looking at the labels on some versions may raise eyebrows at the ingredients – not all bright blue dyes are entirely natural. But for an occasional bit of fun and the sheer joy of crunching through the stick it remains part of the traditional day out at the seaside, along with cars filled with sand and investing in those arcade machines that promise to spill a fortune in pennies.