Re­dis­cov­er­ing our taste for blood

The Daily Telegraph - Saturday - - Front Page -

Grow­ing up in the West Rid­ing of York­shire, I en­joyed black pud­ding from an early age, much pre­fer­ring its flavour and even its tex­ture to (as I saw it at the time) salty, fi­brous ham. The large cubes of tasty white fat dot­ted through­out the pud­ding were re­garded as a great bonus, akin to the raisins in a scone. I didn’t know at the time that I was ac­tu­ally eat­ing boiled pig’s blood, but I’ve never seen any great prob­lem with this. Black pud­ding is a fun­da­men­tal ex­am­ple of the “ev­ery­thing but the squeak” prin­ci­ple.

The pig-eat­ing por­tion of hu­man­ity has been mak­ing black pud­ding as long as it has had fire­proof pots. Rich in nu­tri­ents, par­tic­u­larly iron, it is a way of util­is­ing and pre­serv­ing the large quan­tity of blood pro­duced dur­ing slaugh­ter. A sort of black pud­ding ap­pears in Homer’s “Odyssey” from 1000BC, when blood and fat are cooked in a stom­ach. The Ro­man food writer Api­cius de­scribes a rich black pud­ding con­tain­ing hard­boiled egg yolks, which sounds to be head­ing to­wards the full English.

The Span­ish de­vel­oped de­li­cious mor­cilla, while north­ern Ital­ians pro­duced horse­shoe-shaped san­guinac­cio. Blas­phe­mous as it may be for a York­shire­man to say so, I now pre­fer the soft con­sis­tency of French boudin noir to our home-made ver­sion. Boudin noir has gained an in­ven­tive range of flavour­ings – brandy in Lyon, ap­ples in Al­sace, spinach around Poitiers, onion in Paris, cream and but­ter in Flan­ders.

Scan­di­na­vians, even, have their own ver­sion of blood sausage, eaten in soup along with blood-en­riched rye bread It’s tempt­ing to imag­ine the Bri­tish black pud­ding as a Vik­ing im­port, whose pop­u­lar­ity has re­mained strong­est in the North.

In the past few years, sales of black pud­ding from the main pro­duc­ers in Scot­land, Lan­cashire and York­shire have been en­joy­ing healthy growth. “Our pro­duc­tion is up around 1520 per cent on last year,” says Dun­can Haigh, co-owner of Arthur Haigh Ltd near Thirsk, North York­shire, which makes “about a ton and a half a week” of a black pud­ding called Doreen’s, based on a recipe by his mother. It dif­fers from most black pud­ding be­cause it is baked rather than boiled, and tri­an­gu­lar in shape.

“As soon as I dis­cov­ered the tri­an­gu­lar moulds, I said, ‘Bingo! That’ll do!’” Haigh re­calls. “We use dried blood, sea­son­ing, oat­meal, rusk, split bar­ley and back fat in 10-mil­lime­tre cubes. It’s got to be from a fat pig or it breaks down and melts. You want it to stay whole – all the flavour is in the fat. Be­cause it’s baked, our black pud­ding has a softer tex­ture. It de­hy­drates by up to 20 per cent in the oven, which in­ten­si­fies the flavour. If you put it into stews, it’ll make your gravy top-notch.”

A big rea­son for the black-pud­ding boom is its re­cent adop­tion by star chefs. This homely item mar­ries happily with a host of food­stuffs in­clud­ing scal­lops, guinea fowl, pi­geon and, of course, pork. “Chefs like it be­cause it adds rich­ness,” ex­plains Haigh. “And it’s cheap.”

This can­not, how­ever, be the rea­son that An­drew Pern gets through 750kg of black pud­ding a year at the Star Inn in the vil­lage of Harome, North York­shire. Most of it is used in a sig­na­ture starter in which fried black pud­ding and caramelised ap­ple form the outer lay­ers of a “sand­wich” with a plump disc of sautéed foie gras act­ing as fill­ing. The Star sells 150 por­tions a week at £14.95 each. The black pud­ding, some­times home-made, some­times from a Northum­brian pro­ducer, is cooked “so it is crisp on the out­side and unc­tu­ous in­side”.

“I wanted to bring to­gether a lux­ury and a sta­ple,” says Pern. “Black pud­ding adds a fan­tas­tic depth of flavour. As a farmer’s boy, I used to have it for break­fast. We also serve it with sautéed squid, and in a Scotch egg us­ing quails’ eggs. On Sun­days, we dice it in the gravy that we serve with roast pork.”

The most in­ven­tive use of black pud­ding is to be found in the Lan­terna, Scarborough, the ac­claimed restau­rant of Pied­mon­tese chef Gior­gio Alessio. His ravi­oli stuffed with black pud­ding is typ­i­cal of his de­sire to utilise lo­cal in­gre­di­ents in dishes from his na­tive Italy. “No, we don’t use this ravi­oli stuff­ing in Pied­mont,” says Alessio. “But I love the flavour of black pud­ding. Some­times I eat it cold, just as it comes. Black pud­ding ravi­oli sells very well in­deed. You’d be sur­prised. It comes with a sauce of melted but­ter and Parme­san with just a touch of English mus­tard to add bite.”

But Alessio’s great­est in­no­va­tion in this depart­ment is an ice cream. When you taste it you can’t quite be­lieve it, but, yes, the speck­led scoop con­veys the essence of black pud­ding in a sur­pris­ingly palat­able, if at first some­what dis­con­cert­ing form. “Ta­bles tend to share one por­tion,” Alessio says. “It took a while to get the recipe right. The first few times that I tried, it was ined­i­ble. But by us­ing a very small amount and tak­ing out as much fat as pos­si­ble, you get a taste of black pud­ding that is def­i­nitely there but not over­pow­er­ing.”

If only this lick­able mir­a­cle had been around when I was a child.

Doreen’s black pud­ding is sold at Cas­tle Howard near York, and Bul­mers Butch­ers, 110 West­more­land Street, Har­ro­gate. For other out­lets and mail or­der, see york­shire­black­pud­

Boudin noir is avail­able from Har­rods, or by mail or­der from Keevil & Keevil in Smith­field Mar­ket; keeviland­

Mor­cilla is sold at Brindisa in Lon­don,

The Star Inn, Harome, North York­shire; thes­

Lan­terna, Scarborough; lanternar­is­

The new black: an art­fully ar­rayed stack of Ger­man Blutwurst

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