Sunday, October 30, 2022

Candies of old Salem - Gibralter & Black Jack

Salem Gibralters, created early 1800s, still sold today. Hawthorne wrote about them - rock hard, white and wrapped in white paper. Black Jacks were a deliberately burnt mixture of maple syrup, butter, brown sugar and molasses.

Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote about Gibraltars in his House of Seven Gables -
Hepzibah Pyncheon reopened a shop in that house with “a glass pickle-jar, filled with fragments of Gibraltar; rock; not, indeed, splinters of the veritable stone foundation of the famous fortress, but bits of delectable candy, neatly done up in white paper.”

There were various origin stories about the "Salem Gibralters" one about Mary Spencer surviving a shipwreck, being gifted sugar and creating Gibralters. Another involved her son Thomas Spencer who arrived about 1820 and was given the recipe. The candy was sold by his mother to local shops and from a wagon. After she died, Thomas sold the business and recipe to John Pepper and returned to England where he had inherited land. Pepper sold his shop circa 1900 to George Burkinshaw, whose family still runs Ye Old Pepper Companie.

"The Gibraltar... was a white and delicate candy, flavored with lemon or peppermint, soft as cream at one stage of its existence, but capable of hardening into a consistency so stony and so unutterably flinty-hearted that it is almost a libel upon the rock whose name it bears. The Gibraltar is the aristocrat of Salem confectionery." [Putnam]

"It was called at first, “Gibraltar Rock,” from its peculiar hardness, though that stately name soon degenerated into Giberalters, and we children always called them “Gibs.” ... sold in the streets by his mother, whose funny old cart and quaint personality were familiar objects there, early in the last century. I have often seen her in her queer old-fashioned black bonnet..." [King]

“The gibraltars, when fresh, were almost as hard as their Spanish namesake, losing the brittle quality in the course of time, but never melting into stickiness. The retail price was a silver four-pence half-penny for seven…” [Silsbee]

"They had in Salem two kinds of candies called Black Jack and Gibraltar, the latter "the artisocrat of Salem confectionery." It (the Gibraltar) gazes upon chocolate and sherbet and says "before you were, I was. After you are not, I shall be." You never soiled your fingers when you ate a gibraltar, but you might smear yourself with Black Jack. Gibraltar was not precisely conservative; it changed as to its flavors, so once a charming old Salem Dame said: "I known I must be growing old, because a peppermint Gibraltar is so comforting to me." We are to believe that these two confections are still Salem Institutions, for Mrs. Bates intimates that Witch Hall, the Museum, and Chart-street burying ground might all go, but while there was a house left in Salem village Black Jack and Gibraltar would stick." [NYTimes]

Black Jack"... detect a hint of maple syrup, a trace of butter, a trifle of brown sugar and molasses, and a tiny fancy of the whole mixture's having been burnt on to the kettle. Make no mistake, however. This burnt flavor is not accidental, but intentional.... To the youthful palate Black-jack possesses a taste at once sweet and bitter, rich and slightly medicinal, but altogether joyous and delightsome." [Putnam]


Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The House of the Seven Gables . Boston: 1851
King, Caroline Howard. When I lived in Salem, 1822-1866. Brattleboro: 1937. Image. HERE
Putnam, Eleanor. Old Salem. 1886. chapter: “Two Salem Institutions” p63-67 HERE
Silsbee, M.C.D. A Half Century in Salem. 113-115
"In By-Gone Days." New York Times, June 13, 1886 (p. 5)

Aditional information

An abolitionist, Thomas Spencer inherited some land so returned to Bransby, England in 1837 and died there in 1876.
Streets of Salem more info about the family HERE

Thomas Spencer was a Salem resident from 1820-1839. Involved in the precursor to Essex Institute. 2 page obit in Bulletin of the Essex Institute Apr-June 1877 HERE

Ye Old Pepper Companie still sells both candies, and more. Their website with history of each candy and the store (‘about us’) HERE

"Salem Gibraltars." Wide Awake. October 1889. Several pages of info 296-297 HERE




©2022 Patricia Bixler Reber
Researching Food History HOME

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