Remembering Liquorice Allsorts

Recently I have been finding, and sometimes searching for, food tastes from England. Some I remember from my youth and one I have acquired. The remembered tastes include Marmite, rhubarb and custard (both separately and together), Branston Pickles, and black liquorice.

The acquired taste is for McVities Hobnobs cookies. They did not exist when I was a child, but I have since become aware of them and am totally hooked. A couple of months ago I was in a store that sold imported English foodstuffs, and among them were Hobnobs. I told my friend that these were “the best cookies ever,” but she just looked at me sideways as I paid for my Marmite and Branston Pickles.

Canadians seem to have adapted and/or adopted custard and, because of the above-mentioned specialty stores, there are some ways for me to scratch that and other itches, too. But there are some long-remembered food pleasures that are not usually sold here, as far as I can tell. I have to buy rhubarb when it is season, locally if at all, and when I do it is thinner, less firm, and decidedly less tangy than the rhubarb I remember from my dad’s garden.

Black liquorice is yet another taste adjustment story. North Americans in general seem to like red licorice, but that is clearly an abomination. Not only is the licorice the wrong colour, but it also has the wrong flavour and the wrong spelling. There is nothing “liquorice” about it. It has the same texture as black liquorice, but otherwise it is completely different. It’s related, but not nearly the same. When they come together at the hearing of the will, the difference will become clear.

The red licorice comes in long twisted strips, not fat truncated cylinders, which is the shape that the gods intended. For reference, Bassetts Liquorice Allsorts provide the exemplar. In those sweet treats, the liquorice is either black, short, and cylindrical or black, thin, and square, and it tastes as liquorice should taste.

Imagine my delight, then, when I was in line at my local hardware store (yes, a hardware store!) and saw a supply of black “liquorice” on the impulse-buy rack. It was Australian, not British, but liquorice, nonetheless. I threw caution to the wind and added a package to my shopping basket. It was the spelling that did it.

I am happy to report that the hardware store-acquired Australian liquorice is everything I remembered from the British version I experienced in my youth. Traditional, without palm oil, and spelled as it should be. Ah, bliss.


  1. Oh, I did not know about the liquorice spelling! As a child, I liked both black and red licorice, but I quickly figured out none of my plentiful siblings asked me to share my black licorice, so the black became my only choice. I could happily eat the whole bag of Nibs by myself. When I started my gluten-free diet I was crushed to find licorice made with wheat. But delighted when I happened upon Dutch licorice that was gluten-free. It is now a stocking stuffer treat from one of my family members. And rhubarb! It’s a family delicacy! I have some growing in my backyard, but it doesn’t yield a quart. I was visiting my brother last weekend, and asked if he still had rhubarb in his freezer from last year. He did, and I used it to make us a delicious rhubarb crisp! But so interesting to say rhubarb and custard as my mother’s favorite rhubarb pie recipe was practically a custard with three eggs and ground up tapioca. Still a comfort food for me; that custardy rhubarb pie! A few years ago I made a rhubarb compote that had cinnamon and a touch of ginger. It was ever so delightful on ice cream or a waffle. Or both! I am reading the Maisie Dobbs series and had to look up marmite and eccles. They both sound delish!

  2. Thank you for that very interesting comment, Lorna. You must be a very enterprising cook!

    Marmite is definitely an acquired taste, and most people who didn’t acquire it as a child do not understand the affinity for it. Eccles cakes! I had forgotten about them. They are a real treat that I discovered when I lived in the north of England.

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