Thursday, March 19, 2009

Ye Old Pepper Companie

In the spirit of Women's History Month, I have an excerpt from The Salem Women's Heritage Trail for you today. And it's about candy, so you know it's going to be a sweet story. (Couldn't resist - sorry.)

So, here's today's tale about Salem's "Gibraltar Lady" and the first commercially produced candy in America:

One of the most enduring remnants of Salem's great East India trade era is the "Gibraltar," a candy made famous throughout the world by the Spencers of Salem and currently available at Ye Old Pepper Companie, 122 Derby Street. Salem lore has it that Mary Spencer and her son Thomas sailed from England sometime around 1806 and supposedly lost everything they owned in a shipwreck, eventually finding their way to Salem. A kindly citizen was said to have donated a barrel of sugar to the Spencers who began making the tasty-paper-wrapped, lemon confection in a house at 56 Buffum Street in North Salem. Mary Spencer at first sold the candies on the stoop of the First Church in Town House Square (the current site of Rockafellas restaurant), but was soon able to acquire a cart (now owned by the Peabody Essex Museum) and a shaggy grey pony she used as she made her sales calls. Eventually, Gibraltars, originally called "Gibraltar Rocks" because of their hardness found their way to the farthest corners of the globe on Salem vessels. No Salem ship, it has been said, would dare leave port without a supply!

The confection business was sold around 1830 to John Pepper, who continued making Gibraltars on Buffum Street. Today, you can buy lemon and peppermint Gibraltars at Ye Old Pepper Companie on Derby Street. The business is owned by descendants of George Burkinshaw, who worked for John Pepper in 1830.
Credit for this information goes to Bonnie Hurd Smith and Jim McAllister, two historians who did all the work and made it easy for me to share the story with you. Visit Bonnie's web site to order the Salem Women's Heritage Trail.

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