EATING FOR BRITAIN: BLACK PUDDING AND BURDOCK
If Hot Pot and Eccles cakes were high on the list of dishes to search for in Lancashire, they still had to doff a flat cap to the daddy of them all, the Lancashire black pudding, easily one of the true proofs of the existence of a loving god.
With its perfect combination of blood, barley, spices and fat, the Lancashire version or more specifically those made in the environs of Bury ranks up there with my very favourite foods in the world.
Nearly two years ago, I visited The Bury Black Pudding Co during the early stages of Eat My Globe. It was a memorable visit and the taste and smell of a pudding, straight from the boiler and sliced in half remains one of my favourite memories.
So, it took little to convince me that I should add the Black Pudding to my list for Eating For Britain and I began to research other possible makers. All roads seemed to lead to Haslingden, a few miles outside Bury itself and to an official Knight of The Boudin, Andy Holt and The Real Lancashire Black Pudding Co
If there are any donkeys in Haslingden with hind legs, I would be very surprised. Andy Holt with his broad Lancastrian accent admitted to being euphemistically “under the weather” but still managed to talk animatedly about his favourite subject, black puddings.
It’s not just the Lancashire version, which fascinates him. He has done considerable research tracing the history of the blood sausage back to its first mention in Homer’s Illiad when Agamemnon’s army is described as being fed on “blood and onions” to keep them strong.
Alongside the research, Andy also collects blood sausage recipes from around the world and shared with me his knowledge of the different varieties before coming back to his own award winning version, a pudding that, last year won Best Black Pudding in Britain for the umpteenth time.
Although former butcher Andy has been running R.S Ireland since the early 1990’s, the recipe dates back to the late 1800’s and has changed little since then even if some of the ingredients now have to be sourced abroad for consistency. Blood, dried from Belgium, fat from Holland and spices from all over the place. It was a story I had heard before at The Bury Black Pudding Co who also would have loved to source locally, but needed to ensure a regular supply of the right quality ingredients.
The method, however, has changed little in the last hundred years with the barley being soaked, mixed with the blood, fat and spices before being piped into casings made of sow or ox stomach. The resulting sausages are tied and then boiled and dipped in water with soda crystals before being hung in traditional nets to dry. Er, that’s about it.
But, like all seemingly simple things, there is a great art involved, the right consistency of the blood, the right amount of meat in the casing, the right temperature of the water for boiling and, of course, the right spicing.
After we had taken our tour of the production facility, Andy took me back to the small staff kitchen and cut one of the fresh puddings in half for me to try. It is not hard to see why his walls are covered in awards. It is a thing of beauty, spicy and, he pointed out, complete with the seven large blobs of fat that is the pre-requisite of the true Bury black pud.
In the spirit of innovation, I also tried other puddings from Andy’s range. A Irish white pudding, a pudding spiced with chilli and, even Lord help me, a vegetarian black pudding, which he created for fun but has now become one of his fastest sellers.
After I left Andy, with a bag of puddings in hand, naturally, it was time to head off in search of a taste of my childhood, Dandelion & Burdock.
In the early part of the 20th Century, Lancashire was the spiritual home of the temperance movement. Across the county, herbalists began to create space in their stores to offer non-alcoholic drinks with supposed nutritional value. Sarsaparilla was a favourite, inspired by a similar drink in the US and dandelion & burdock was another with its much-vaunted benefits of detoxification. As well as serving them in the shops, they began to create cordials for customers to take away and dilute at home.
Joseph Mawson took over the family business in the 1960’s at the time when it was changing from a herbalist to a health food store, but it was his son, Nigel who decided to revive the family recipe for Sarsaparilla to give away during the store’s centenary. So popular was the drink that he was urged to make it on a commercial basis and Mawson’s Traditional Drinks Co was born.
Now they produce a wide range of old fashioned drinks in old fashioned packaging and, as I sat with them, they plopped open a bottle of dandelion & burdock for me to sip on as Joseph filled me in on the history.
My first taste transported me back nearly forty years, to when the “pop man” used to call to our house in Rotherham every Tuesday in his Co-op milk float delivering sixpenny bottles of fizzy drink. We would clamour for lurid orangeade, lemonade that had been no closer to a lemon than I have to the moon and, best of all, the dandelion & burdock with its unique flavour.
Mawson’s drinks are now available nationwide and are even sold at The Imperial War museum’s shops. They are well worth seeking out, as indeed are the superb black puddings made by Andy Holt at The real Lancashire Black Pudding Co.