After booking his flight from Manchester, England, to Chicago for a week’s visit last month, my friend Nick (who was my host brother when I spent a semester in Great Britain during college) asked if there was anything special my family and I wanted him to bring over from the United Kingdom.
English treacle toffee, my father quickly replied. According to Nick’s parents, their hometown of Ilkley, England, makes the best of its kind. And Dad, a devotee of English Toffee (and all things English, actually) never forgot it.
As for me, there was no question: a 1-lb. bar of Galaxy chocolate (not to be confused with Cadbury Dairy Milk). My English friend Sarah and I lived on the stuff while students at The University of York - that and hot tea, which went a long way to warm you up on those typical rainy days (almost as much as my Scottish wool sweater did before it started smelling like wet sheep and had to be cast aside).
I also asked Nick to fetch me some bags from my favorite tea room: Betty’s.
With his visit on the horizon, I got myself in the mood for a British invasion by spending a Sunday at the Bristol Renaissance Faire in Wisconsin, one of my favorite summer destinations. It’s not often one gets to see comical court jesters, chivalrous swordsmen and a “real” live joust, whilst wearing period clothing and throwing back some fish and chips (traditionally wrapped in newspaper).
Okay, so I’ve never dressed in costume for the Ren Faire. But my companions have. And this year, I allowed a very convincing clothier to suit me up in a corset at one of the many apparel shops in the village, so close enough.
While walking off some cheese fritters (a Ren Faire staple), I came across Bristol’s very own “Confectioner to the Queen” - Pemberton Candies, maker of English toffee, fudge and chocolate-dipped strawberries. If only my dad had been there to indulge! (Luckily, his own toffee was already en route for the States.)
The last time Nick came over on holiday, some eight years ago, I met him at the airport with two of his favorite American treats: Twinkies and Tootsie Rolls. (Both he and Sarah share my love of the latter.) Apparently, they’re hard to come by in the U.K. Nick was 17 then; today he’s 25, so I did not think to take anything with me to O’Hare.
Turns out there was no need. By week’s end, after drowning himself in root beer (also elusive in England), Nick had drawn up a lengthy grocery list of all things American to take back home, often wondering aloud how it was all going to fit in his luggage.
We made it fit. The Pop-Tarts, Lucky Charms, Hamburger Helper, Little Debbie Snacks, Rice-A-Roni, Betty Crocker brownie mix … even the Tootsie Roll Pops (he tasted his first this visit and was smitten) and root beer (both IBC and A&W).
By the way, Nick kept his promise to provide my father and I with the English goodies we requested. He surprised me with not one, but two giant bars of Galaxy. (I’ll be eating chocolate squares for weeks, nay, months.) My father was pleased as Yorkshire pudding (not to be confused with the JELL-O brand variety) to receive his English treacle toffee.
And we’ll both be swimming in black tea (three kinds) until Nick’s next visit … whenever that may be. I’m told I owe him a trip to Manchester, where he just returned to “uni” (university). He’s going to be a science teacher. Maybe he can show his students how to make root beer like my classmates and I did back in high school (with explosive results).
On second thought, maybe he should stick to making the scones he did when we first met. I was 20. He was 12. And my dad was as just as crazy about English toffee as he is now. Time flies, but some things never change.
Editor’s Note: Turn to this month’s Industry Trends piece on toffee for the latest on this sticky-sweet category.