Monday, March 26, 2007
BURY BLACK PUDDING: GOODIE GOODIE YUM YUM.
If, like me, you are a person of a certain age, then the first time you probably encountered the words “ Black Pudding” was on The Goodies where Bill Oddie used them to lethal effect in that most devastating of marshal arts, Ecky Thump. With his skilfully wielded puds said Oddie ploughed his way through any number of Johnny foreigner type opponents until he actually was allowed to taste one by his flat cap wearing mentor.
I am convinced that is the main reason why so many people have an immediate and irrational dislike to God’s good pudding and wont even try them. They associate them with that grumpy git on T.V who hates people and loves birds. Oh, that and, of course, the fact that they are made primarily of pig’s blood and fat.
Me? I think they are one of the few things that convince me that we are watched over by a benevolent being who wants nothing but the best for us and that best involves blood, best back fat, spices and oatmeal in sausage form. He is indeed a loving God.
When I set out to plan EAT MY GLOBE and to “go everywhere and eat everything” it seemed entirely natural that I would first take the opportunity to see what foodie wonders we have in our own little part of the world and, the first thing I wrote on my note pad was “BLACK PUDDING” I wrote it just like that too, in large letters and in block capitals as if to remind myself that any trip that claimed to be eating the best the world had to offer which did not include blood sausages from everywhere they killed piggies would be almost worthless.
There are Boudin in France, Morcilla in Spain and the Blutwurst in Germany all of which will do at a pinch. But, none compares to a slice of Black Pudding fried in bacon fat. It is what made this nation great. It is what separates us from the mere beasts.
But, where was the best to be found? Well, Yorkshire makes a good stab and being brought up in Rotherham, I could have made a case for a visit there. Scotland has some damn fine examples too and I could have fitted that in with a few visits to a distillery. I could even have argued for a trip across the water to Ireland to extend my stay when I headed off to make cheese.
Nope, none of these. There is only one place you can go when the siren call of puddings hollers. Bury. That small Lancashire town that is rapidly becoming subsumed into a suburb on Manchester although the local citizens will deny this to their dying breath.
What Graceland was to Elvis, Bury is to the Black Pudding. It’s spiritual home from the time when every small town had innumerable pork butchers and abattoirs and needed a way to use all that blood to good and nutritious effect. Today even the famous Bury market still has two stalls vying for control of the Black Pudding Empire.
There is only one maker, however who still makes puddings in the borough of Bury itself and that is The Bury Black Pudding Company which grew out of a small butcher’s business run by Jack Morris whose puddings were so good the other butchers just stopped bothering and bought them from him instead.
Now, it is run from a specially created unit on the border with Rochdale by his son, Richard and the Managing Director, Debbie Pierce who, between them have succeeded in getting this most divisive of products on to supermarket shelves and the menus of high end restaurants by sheer determination to overcome this silly prejudice against the poor old pudding and damn me, I shall strive to my dying breath to aid them and not least because they gave me a huge carrier bag full of puddings to take away. More of that later.
A quick e-mail later followed by an enthusiastic reply from Debbie and my first trip of EAT MY GLOBE was in the book. I have seldom been more excited.
How excited? Well, my girlfriend is a most patient woman. She would have to be following me around as I traipse from restaurant to restaurant just to look at the menu or have her drive miles out of our way so we can find the best ingredients for supper. On this occasion she had to be patient enough to make St Theresa blush as I became increasingly excited as the day of the journey grew near.
She had, rather foolishly, I think she believes now, agreed to drive me to Bury as she had family close by and, we had to stop rather too often for what our American cousins call “comfort breaks” Much as I would like to put this down to sitting in a car for a long period or being middle aged, the reality was I was almost wetting myself in anticipation and our relationship almost ended in a puddle in her VW Golf. As I said, she is a most patient woman.
We had left London in the pitch black and by the time we got to Bury and our hotel the Sun was high in the, well no, of course it wasn’t, the sky was that steely grey that seems to be a legal requirement in Lancashire. It wasn’t raining but it was very cold so at least the locals had something to talk about. It certainly wasn’t the hotel which was one of those vile places which give themselves homely names like “The Village” which do little to hide corporate control, miserable staff and food offerings which a starving man would think twice about.
Still, it was only a few minutes walk from my meeting and while Dawn settled herself into our room and pondered over a range of facials from the health club, I pondered on the opportunity to be up to my arms in blood and guts.
I am not quite sure what I was anticipating, but The Bury Black Pudding Co is housed in a clean, bright unit with little indication of what is being made inside other than a delivery van with the number plate BB PUD.
In my wilder imaginings, I saw a conveyor belt going in one side of a grimy building with dark satanic chimneys billowing smoke into the grey sky. On the belt would be innocent, unsuspecting pigs unaware of the rotating knives and grinders that awaited them. As they entered the building, there would be a piercing series of squeals as they went from scampering creatures to packages labelled “Best Pork Products” and, out of the other side would come trays of sausages steaming and ready to eat. It says more about me than the Black Pudding business that I thought this might be quite a fun thing to see.
No such luck. It is of course, a modern efficient affair with sadly, not a pig in sight. There is plenty of blood, but as Richard and Debbie explained over a cup of builder’s tea, it is all dried these days not least because pigs urinate themselves when slaughtered which gets into the blood and probably creates a flavour that would not pass muster when on the menus of Gordon Ramsay or Gary Rhodes “ it eez Black Pudding, sir. It smells of peeez”
For such a traditional product, it is in fact a very international business. It has to be since they would not be able to depend on the consistency or quality of supply just from the UK. So, blood comes from Holland, dried and pre mixed with a range of traditional spices that have been used since Richard’s father began making puddings way back when. Of course, in the interest of investigative journalism, I had to ask him what the spices were. He gave me a look that made me wish I hadn’t.
The back fat comes from Danish pigs and is perfect for a Bury Black Pudding because it maintains a creamy white consistency even when cooked.
The oatmeal, well hurrah and huzzah, that comes from the UK but the last ingredient, the skins, made from beef intestine, come from Argentina.
What was also a surprise is that The Bury Black Pudding Company is a relatively new brand dating only from 2002 when Richard and Debbie created a name they thought could do for Black pudding what Melton Mowbray does for pork pies. “Geographical Protection” Debbie called it. Downright clever, I call it.
Despite the modern marketing and the international jet set life of the ingredients, this remains a very traditional product and the passion for perfection permeates through from Debbie and Richard through every member of staff I met. There is minimal mechanisation here as hand mixing is king. The final sausages are still linked by hand by Damien who proudly boasted that he had been doing it for as long as he could remember while shaping the sausages at a pace that even when shown in slow motion would be too fast to follow. They are still boiled for forty minutes rather than steamed to protect the texture and then given a final loving bath in soda crystals to create that delightful glisten that we, well I love so much.
After my introduction to the world of Black Pudding, it was time to get down and dirty. In fact, it was time to get down and spotlessly clean. There are two changing rooms, one for people working with raw ingredients, one for those working with the cooked product and never the twain shall meet. I am not sure Debbie appreciated my suggestion that she should create rivalry between them which could end in a pleasing Jets/Sharks like rumble over a mixing bowl of backfat.
After a quick tour of the raw section, I scrubbed up, and changed into my “white” gear for a chance to see the final product being boiled, and hung up to cool. Wellingtons replaced walking shoes, overalls replaced my overcoat and a hairnet covered up, well nothing but slapiness, but they still insisted I wear it. It is not the best look, but I like to think that I carried it off and, admit it ladies, the very thought of a man in uniform, even this one, makes you go a little bit weak at the knees, no?
In the storage area, there are thousands of the things ( well they do produce fourteen tonnes a week), hanging like miniature clown’s trousers over racks as they come down to temperature to be packed. Debbie selected one plump looking specimen and brought it out for me to sample.. I think I may have let out a girlish squeal. It was like eating bread out of the oven or a fish straight from the river and Debbie looked on as I devoured the best part of a whole pudding before coming up for breath to see what I am sure was a look of ever so slight disgust in her eyes. But, by heck, it were magic.
While the little boy in me was slightly disappointed that this was not a more gory process and one which I could have taken pictures of to annoy my girlfriend and a host of other females, make no mistake about it, this is a truly spectacular product. If this was served in France and given an appropriate name, men would tumesce and middle class women would fight over the last packet in the aisles of Carrefour. It is not French, however, it is a simple, British product (with a little help from our international and apparently, more consistent friends) that is made with a tangible amount of passion, a dedication to maintaining standards and tradition and, above all, a love of the product.
It is in fact, everything that EAT MY GLOBE is meant to be about.
As I left, Debbie filled a carrier bag to the brim with assorted Bury Black Pudding Co goodies and handed them to me as she waved me goodbye. She closed the door before I turned to leave, but, if she had stayed to watch me go, she would have seen me give a little skip and try to click my heels together.