EATING FOR BRITAIN: HENDERSON'S RELISH, STRONG & NORTHERN
If you speak to any true native of Sheffield and mention the word “Henderson’s” there will be a pause and then, slowly their eyes will begin to fill with fond tears. If you could hear their inner monologue there would be a voice, sounding not unlike Sean Bean’s saying “Na then” and the soundtrack would be the title track to “Coles Corner” by the estimable Richard Hawley.
They are an odd lot the Sheffielder’s, (or “Dee-Dars” as they are known in the rest of South Yorkshire, because of their weird pronunciation of the words “thee” and “thou”) with their love of industrial music, the support of not one, but count ‘em, two lousy football teams, but no decent restaurants to speak of and, if the movies are to be believed, a predilection for getting all their kit off to the belting sounds of Tom Jones.
However, when it comes to food, they have made one of the greatest contributions of all even if said contribution is scarcely known outside of the city let alone outside Yorkshire. Henderson’s relish deserves to be known the world over.
Henderson’s relish is like Worcestershire Sauce to the power 10. It was first made by pickle shop owner, Henry Henderson in the late 1800’s and now some 130 years later, it is still made to the same recipe, the odd required modern preservative apart, at the small factory to which they moved in 1961.
The current protector of the special recipe is Dr Kenneth Freeman, a gently spoken and charming ex-GP from Liverpool who came to own Henderson’s almost by accident when it passed to his side of the family by marriage and he has had to learn the business from scratch since he joined in 1987. He is obviously not doing too bad a job as Henderson’s now sells nearly 500,000 bottles a year and they ship by mail order to homesick ex-pats from The Steel City in every corner of the world.
Every bottle, with its distinctive orange label is filled with the hand made mixture. The ingredients are on the bottle, I guess they have to be these days, but the proportions are a well kept secret with few people having access to them but Dr Freeman and one of his longest serving members of staff.
The process too is carefully guarded secret and, although I was allowed to see the bottles rolling off the line, that was as close as I got as I was ushered back to the reception to be shown a range of aprons and t-shirts, inspired by the city’s passion for the sauce and now a hot item amongst the students at the nearby university.
One taste makes it clear why Henderson’s relish is held in such affection. There is a sourness in there from the tamarind, sweetness from the sugar, lots of garlic, hints of clove and stacks of other things, which make it perfect to douse on Fish & Chips as they do in Sheffield. Others, the perma-tanned Peter Stringfellow, for one, wont eat breakfast without it and when, as is sometimes the case, there are rumours that they are closing down, the aforementioned Sean Bean has been known to order cases of the stuff to make sure he has it to hand on his extended stays in Hollywood.
Thankfully, Dr Freeman seems to be going as well as the sales of the relish itself, so no one has any need to be worried.
Cue huge collective sigh of relief from “Dee Dar’s” everywhere