Baltimore's Peppermint Stick And Lemon Snack Is A Unique Sweet And Sour Treat

In a glorious mix of taste and tradition, the Baltimore Flower Mart has played host to countless fresh lemons and porous peppermint sticks over 100-plus years. When combined, those two simple items create the magical old-fashioned Baltimore lemon stick consumed by at least 2,000 eager customers every year. 

Known as a lemon peppermint stick or simply a lemon stick, it's a juicy, minty, sweet, and tangy handheld treat that captures the essence of regional pride and giddy devotion handed down through generations. The unlikely marriage of flavors and textures is the point, reflected in the mix of humanity on display at the wildly popular event. Attendees in elegant high-society style hats or more flamboyant interpretations mingle with hipsters, professionals, and families –– all sipping and slurping lemon juice through peppermint sticks. 

In short, the treat consists of a porous peppermint stick inserted into a fresh lemon. Miraculously, the peppermint stick softens and becomes a straw, infusing waiting tastebuds with wild and wonderful explosions of flavor. If you don't live in or near Baltimore, you can make the treat at home as long as you can find the right type of old-fashioned peppermint stick.

Lemon peppermint sticks over the years

Where such an unusual pucker-perfect treat originated varies according to the teller. Some versions of the lemon peppermint stick story place its origin in France during the early 1900s, while others go even further back to 18th-century London. On the American side of the pond, tales pop up from Philadelphia to the festive food courts of New Orleans. The Philly version even featured the secret inclusion of vodka during the Prohibition years.  

But, there's little doubt that the lemon peppermint stick we know today springs from the 1911 Flower Mart festival in Baltimore's Mt. Vernon neighborhood. The treat started appearing in newspaper stories as early as 1913, gaining steam by the 1930s. As with most fan-food anomalies, the Baltimore lemon stick has spawned incarnations across the culinary spectrum. From cocktails to baked goods, the flavor pairing of lemons with peppermint is having a heyday –– albeit one that started more than a century ago. 

Today's food ingenues create takeoff cocktails using the likes of muddled fresh peppermint leaves mixed with limoncello, joined by a citron version of vodka. The obvious garnish for this tart and minty drink is one of those soft, porous peppermint sticks. For an eye-popping and tastebud-exploding cupcake version, top a lemon cupcake with peppermint-flavored frosting. For a fancy, swirled effect, apply the frosting in alternating white and red piping strips, similar to the swirls on a peppermint stick.