“ Brand: William Santus / Type: Mints „
"Over 100 years of sweet success" boasts the label. Yes, since 1898 Uncle Joe has been making Lancashire's finest export since Thora Herd and hotpot.
For those with a nutritional values bent, for your own safety please do not look too closely at the values on the back of the bag. If you're more of a "live fast, eat mintballs" type, you'll notice that basically they are made of sugar, peppermint oil and cream of tartar. What puzzles me a bit is that the recipe is claimed to be a closely guarded secret passed down through generations of the same family, yet the EU's laws require all ingredients of foodstuffs to be listed. So whats missing off the printed ingredients on the back of the packet? - Unicorn tears, eye of newt, moon dust? My legal team has just informed me that as Lancashire is an independant peoples' democratic republic state, EU law doesnt hold any sway there, so that's how good 'ole Uncle Joe can keep his mix a secret.
Any regular sucker of Uncle Joe's mintballs will be familiar with the sugary minty way they turn your spit brown and make your mouth warm, perfect for those long dark hours in gloomy Wigan. Also, they're a regional variation on those after eight mints like the posh people down south eat at Ambassador's parties and royal occasions. Why wait till after eight to eat a mint when you can have a mintball anytime of day? Hotpot and mintballs, a staple diet for those born north of Warrington and south of Kendal. (They have mintcake in Kendal - that's sooooo the subject of a seperate review entirely).
Their appearance may require the mintball to be classed as a sweet and not a mint, but to save any arguments and the unnecessary passing of more EU laws, lets think of the mintball as a minty sweet, or a sweetish mint.
Is anyone else familiar with the saying "chuffed to mintballs", or was it just an idiosyncratic outburst unique to my upbringing? Please leave a comment if I'm not the only one who, from time to time, gets well and truly "chuffed to mintballs".
As I mentioned in my previous review - It was recently my birthday and a good friend of mine gave me a great selection of sweets from The Happy Sweet Shop (www.happysweetshop.co.uk) - and I have to say it was one of the best gifts I have every been given.
There was a wide range of sweets including some really great classics - Flying Saucers, Aniseed Twists, Rolos, Cinder Toffee, Love Hearts, Dib Dabs, and of course Uncle Joe's Mint Balls.
So what are Uncle Joe's Mintballs?
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There are a mint that are originally from Wigan and when first introduced in the 1890s. Uncle Joes are the nicest tasting mints around - it is hard to explain just how nice they are because I am sure you are thinking they are just a mint - but let me tell you, they aren't "just" anything.
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Very traditional looking package - In a red container, either a metal tin, or plastic jar with a blue logo and white lettering. Each mint is wrapped in a branded clear plastic wrapper.
How do you eating yours?
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Well I suck on mine until they are about half their size and then crunch on it. My brother sucks on his until it dissolves and my friend just bites into hers.
You can eat them the same way you would eat any boil sweet! Although the Uncle Joe website does say they are "Not so much a boiled sweet - more of a national institution".
Price and Postage!
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As I mentioned I got mine as part of a gift package, but I have had a look on the website:
£2.67 at Happy Sweet Shop (£2.67 for 250g with free postage).
£4.08 at A Quarter Of (£2.42 for 250g plus £1.66 postage).
£5.24 at Retro Tuckshop (£2.75 for 250g plus £2.49 postage).
£4.45 at The Green Door Sweet Shop (£1.99 for 250g plus £2.50 postage).
(These prices were correct on the 9th June 2009)
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These mints are absolutely delicious - a perfect mint!
Firstly, I can't believe that this product is already on dooyoo without me having to suggest it - Uncle Joe's is a make which is often sold regionally rather than nationally, but I guess it's more popular than I first thought it was.
'Uncle Joe's Mintballs' are possibly the most traditional looking confectionary that I have ever seen - the mints come in a 200g metal tin which houses artwork that reminds me of a long gone era consisting of herbal remedies and wartime rationing. Each of the circular mints found within come individually wrapped in see-through plastic, and are dark amber in colour.
According to the packaging, Uncle Joe's Mint Balls were first made in 1898, when they were produced in the kitchen of a small house in Wigan. The sweets have a closely guarded secret recipe which has been passed down from generation to generation, and it certainly creates a unique taste.
In terms of the ingredients that are disclosed, the product contains; Pure Cane Sugar, Oil of Peppermint and Cream of Tartar - it's as simple as that.
The mints were given to me (for novelty value) by my young nephew, as I am an Uncle Joe. Whilst it was a mildly amusing in-joke, I didn't realise the impressive history and tradition that the sweets held.
But how do they taste?
Quite simply, Uncle Joe's Mintballs are the nicest mints I have ever tasted. The flavour is incredibly mild, and there is none of the strong aftertaste which can often be a characteristic of mass produced mints. As well as the subtle mintyness, there is also a taste reminiscent of golden syrup - or perhaps toffee, which is very pleasant.
Being a boiled sweet, you can generally suck on Uncle Joe's Balls (!?) for around ten minutes before they have competely dissolved - and a nice sucking experience it is too.
It's fairly difficult to purchase this product; it is sold in the major supermarkets, but (as I mentioned earlier) often only in regional stores. However, there is a mail order service will allows you to buy the mints in individual tins or in bulk. To order, you can visit www.mintballs.co.uk, where you can download the order form. The 200g tin, which I am reviewing today, costs £4.95.
In conclusion, if you can get hold of them, I would highly recommend giving Uncle Joe's Mint Balls a go - they taste great, and it's nice to see such a tradtional product in this day and age. Recommended.
Until the age of ten I was fortunate to have lived with and been brought up by my grandparents. My grandparent's house was an old-style red brick council house with a large garden at the back. The main room where everyone congregated was the kitchen come living room which always had a roaring fire in winter, large table placed in the cente of the room and a built in cupboard with a metal latch at the back of the room. This cupboard was a Pandora's box. It had three main wide shelves and it was stacked high with food supplies and luxury items. The bottom shelf was where bottles of lemon soda, raspberryade and some horrible looking green pop was stored. The middle shelf was the home for items like corned beef, tinned ham, endless bags of sugar, sponge cakes, Nice biscuits, tinned pears and peaches etc. Now the top shelf was a little bit different and at the time I wasn't tall enough to reach but I did sometimes climb on a chair as I was inquisitive and wanted to know what was stored up there. It was John Players ciggies for Uncle Jim, Miniature bottles of whisky and large bottles of rum for Uncle Eric and tins of Uncle Joe's Mintballs for whoever wanted a tin. These tins fascinated me because I was a child and I loved colourful objects and not only were the tins red and blue but they had a picture of a man wearing a top hat dressed in a very smart suit with a beckoning face. I knew that inside the tins were boiled sweets as I had seen my gran put them in her mouth to eat. I wasn't allowed to eat these brown sweets in case I choked. Children have no fun!
However, it wasn't until I was in my teens that I found out how famous these brown glass, bullet shaped looking sweets were when I did some research on boiled sweets for a project at school. Having researched all about Uncle Joe and his mintballs I found the story very interesting and still do.
Many parts of the story I can identify with like being brought up in a town called Skelmersdale which isn't too far from Wigan and being part of a large family who spent most of their working lives down the pit. No, this is not a sketch from Monty Python or Peter Kay although if I am allowed to name drop Johnny Vegas who is a Pennington (my gran's maiden name) is related to my long lost family and that geeky, moody, skinny and very talented guy from the Verve, Richard Ashcroft, had relatives who lived around the corner from my gran. It is a small world we do indeed live in. Before I lose the thread altogether here, the review today, Matthew, is about William Santus and his famous mintballs!!
The man behind these sweets was one William Santus. He was a Methodist, very strict but fair and a 'Wiganer'. He was born on July 27th, 1873 and came from a large family which was usually the case in those days. He had seven brothers and sisters and his father worked in the nearby colliery, the same one as my grandad worked in from the age of 12 until he retired of ill-health at the age of 60. My grandad was also from a large family of 6 brothers and my gran had 11 siblings. God knows where they all slept as the houses weren't that large.
William left school at the age of 14 to work on the local market stall in Wigan. Nowadays, the market is inside but I do remember it when it was outside and I also remember trapsing around in Lancashire rain while gran was looking for veg to go with Uncle Ned's cooked roast, and tripe and pots of brawn for another uncle's tea. All thoroughly disgusting stuff. Fruit and veg were the main things William sold on the stall but this all changed when he fell in love and married a local lass by the name of Ellen Seddon. This young Lancashire girl was smart and had more than one string to her bow as apart from being a dressmaker she was also a dab hand at making home-made toffee. At first she would sell the toffee as a side line but it became very popular with the locals and after their marriage in 1898, toffees replaced the veg and became William's exclusive trade.
Ten years on William set up other market stalls in the very glamorous towns of St. Helen's and Bolton. Sales increased rapidly and new premises had to be sought because the small terraced house in Acton Street could no longer accommodate the toffee making pots, pans and all the tranquilments that went with confectionery making. William's brother-in-law owned property near to Ryland's cotton mill on Kenyon Road. They both decided to form a partnership and it was known as 'The Swinley Confectionery Group.' This property was transformed into a small factory where the famous mintballs and treacle toffee were made.
Eventually the stalls were sold in Bolton and St. Helen's and a truck was bought to transport the sweets to market in Wigan. A young lad who was still at school and who William knew wanted a job for some extra pocket money and this was given to him. Before the truck was loaded the boy, Eric, I think his name was, had to handwrap every sweet before taking the load to market so you can imagine he had to do this before going to school. For six years this arrangement suited both the proprietor and boy but in 1919 the popularity of the home made sweets had increased so much that William decided it was time to expand and find new premises. On Downing Street, off Wallgate, near the railway station, a new factory was built and it is still used today.
William's brother-in-law retired from the company and William became sole owner. In 1933 Uncle Joe's Mintballs were patented and the business William Santus and Company became fully registered. William was a firm believer in his mintballs and he designed and started a huge advertising campaign. As you may or may not know Wiganers love football and rugby so off he went to the individual grounds to offfer men standing outside in the dreary Lancashire weather frree samples. Once inside they could buy more packets and as a very clever marketing technique there would be a sample packet as an addition with the slogan - take one home for the kiddies.
Obviously Mr. William Santus is now deceased but his great, great nephews own the company and it is still based in Wigan. There is, as well as the factory, a new emporium which sells the traditional mintballs but also over 50 other varieties of home made, old fashioned sweets like I used to eat as a child. Sweets like Pear Drops, Humbugs, Ponterfract Cakes, Torpedoes, Rainbow Drops. The Emporium can be found at 14, Crompton Street, Wigan, Lancashire.
What do they taste like?
The mintballs are very tasty and have to be sucked slowly so that the peppermint oil is released. I personally think that there is a taste of treacle also. They are quite large in size and the colour is dark brown. They are a boiled sweet and when you break a particle off it is transparent and has a glass like quality in appearance. I should imagine they are very soothing for the throat and chest if suffering from a cold. Many miners were heavy smokers including my grandad, and of course they weren't allowed to smoke in the colliery due to the gas leaks but I would think the sweets would help their breathing and keep their chests free of all that dust. Personally they are the sort of sweet I would eat occassionally but my grandparent's and my father love them. It would take my Grandad ages to eat one of these sweets because he had false teeth and had to take his teeth out and put them in the glass on the side whilst he sucked. He would sit in his armchair near the fire, radio blaring away, not a care in the world, gerning away like Les Dawson. Happy days!
Each sweet is individually wrapped and packaged in a bright post office red tin with a picture of Joe, a jolly, enthusiastic man wearing a top hat and smart suit. Nobody knows to this day why they were called Uncle Joe's mintballs. The name was very popular at the time and also used as a nickname. Some believe that Joe could have been William's wife's, Uncle. I do know that my grandparent's generation were very weird about names. For example my grandad's name was Edward - Ted for short but my gran called him Joe and my gran's name was Annie and grandad called her Mick. The mind boggles.
Ingredients and Recipes
As with all these wonderful sweets the recipe is always kept a secret but it is known that it is the original recipe that was used over 100 years ago that is till used today. There are only three ingredients in the making of these sweets and they are; brown cane sugar, peppermint oil and cream of tartar. They are free of additives and gluten free as well as being suitable for vegan and vegetarians. Be careful if giving these sweets to children as they could esily choke.
Where Can I buy Them?
My Aunt who visit's Wigan regularly informs me that the mintballs are no longer sold on the market stall but are sold in the Emporium which is nearby in Crompton Street. The traditional sweets like I have mentioned above are sold in lovely glass jars with screw lids and displayed on large, wide wooden shelves. As well as selling all traditional sweets like mentioned above they aslo have a good stock of memorabilia in the form of model vans, teddies, key rings and lots of other novelties Hampers can be made to order for any special occasion like Easter, Christmas, Valentine's Day and Mother's Day. The actual mintballs are sold in packets, glass jars with a plastic screw top or in the traditional tin.
I believe availability is still limited to Northern England and you can purchase them in supermarkets like Morrison's, Asda, Tesco, and Past Times but these will be regional shops. However there is a mail order postal service so can be delivered worldwide.
I have just looked on my supermarket website and the prices are; 48p per 75 gm bag and £2.39 for a 200gm bag.
Although I have moved on from Wigan and Lancashire and really have no reason to visit as all my relatives have died or no longer live in the area, I somehow think Uncle Joes' mintballs will be the sweetest mint in Wigan for many years to come.
"William Santus and Company have been making a variety of sweets for over 100 years. The survival in this industry may be surprising in itself, but what is more remarkable about Wm. Santus and Co. is the legendary status which has surrounded their Uncle Joes Mint Balls. Immortalised in countless articles, cartoons and poems; there has even been a song written about them!"