Back in May, I was very kindly given an experience day for Beamish Museum as a birthday treat. I was over the moon as Beamish forms a very important part of my childhood and past, having lived next door to the museum for most of my formative years.
My junior school was the closest to the museum so we often went for day trips and to take part in activities. I can remember being dressed up in period clothing making toast in the mining cottages and learning how to do a proggy mat before being a counter server in the Co-op!
It’s not just me who has a special affinity with the museum though, my Mam used to play with the previous owners of Pockerley Manor back when she was a child living in Beamish and my Grandad even put the central heating in to the manor when it was a working farm house which is when they realised the outside dimensions didn’t match the inside and a hidden room was found!
Paul’s not been left out too, when he was younger he was part of Blyth Brass Band and has played on the band stand in the town park.
On a cold and blustery November day, we rocked up for our half day experience held in the Jubilee Sweet Shop in the town. As Paul had kindly bought it for me (£65 per person) he came with me to make double the sweetie treats!
With an option to dress up in period garms or not (we opted out!) we made our way by tram through the museum and in to the back room of the Sweet Shop – that’s where the magic happens. Being led by the incredible Simeon Pallister, we rolled our sleeves up and got cracking with the first task – fondants.
Armed with our recipe from yesteryear, we made a batch of flavoured fondants. I opted for blue and minty while Paul went for pink and rose flavoured. We got a bit competitive here and the group had a good buzz as there was 6 guest in total plus the 3 staff.
Fondants left to dry, we moved on to the main event – the boiled sweets. The sweet shop is famed for it’s traditional sweets so it was a big deal to be holed up in the shop making our own. In total we made 30 quarters of Peaches & Cream boiled sweets. Each of us had a task to be involved with from pouring and mixing the molten sugar to pulling the sugar on a hook to turn it opaque. As I am so gormless I opted out of being anywhere near hot sugar and took the reins on the moulding press. The still warm and pliable sugar is trundled through a rolling press and then left to cool where it becomes brittle. The cold sweets are then broken up and rolled in sugar to both stop the sweets sticking and to smooth out the sharp edges.
Did you know in the olden days, they’d use crushed glass, oxblood and nettles to colour their boiled sweets? Bleugh!
After a quick tea break in the tea rooms we were back to the grindstone to make our final treat – Again using a recipe from around 1900s, we made our truffles and dipped them in hot chocolate before leaving them to set. Much finger licking followed!
The experience lasted around 4hrs in total and I can’t even begin to explain how much fun we had. Simeon and the team really looked after us and answered all our questions, really taking the time to explain the processes and the history.
Simeon was the absolute star of the show. He had an infectious passion for what he did, his craft and maintaining the history behind it. We all agreed that he ‘made’ the day and couldn’t imagine how it had gone without him. If you ever spot him working in the back room, don’t forget to say hi – he’s my new favourite person and Paul said his beard was awesome. Now that’s a seal of approval!
The experiences would make an excellent Christmas gift – if sweets aren’t your thing, check out all the other interesting days available HERE on the Beamish website.