The one type of business that Cumbria seems to be blessed with more than anything else, is exceptional butchers. Wherever you’re located in the county there’ll be one in your area.
In the South Lakes where I’m based we’re lucky to have too many to list but there a few really stand out, there’s the force of nature that is Stuart Higginson, whose shop in Grange excels in every area, then there’s Clayton’s and Huddleston’s in Windermere. However, the one I love the most is Garside’s in Ambleside, first opened by local legend Freddy (who still makes the sausages) and now run by his daughter Hayley and her partner Seb. It is super!
Ask where each piece of meat on the counter came from and Seb will tell you without hesitation. What I like best is the simplicity of it; it’s always best when you have a supplier who specializes in certain things and sticks to it. The dry curing of the bacon at Garside’s is the stuff of dreams for any fan of a bacon sandwich. I would go as far to say that if you don’t have it as part of your full breakfast when staying in and around Ambleside then you’re not staying in the right place.
Personally, I think the acid test for a good quality butchers is the black pudding they serve, and you know for definite that you’re in good hands if they make it themselves. I have a bit of a thing about black pudding - it’s the first thing you’ll eat when you sit down to dine in either of my restaurants.
It’s one of my favourite foods in the world, and it’s something you’ll encounter nearly all over the world. Biroldo in Italy, Boudin noir in France, Morcilla in Spain, blodkorv in Sweden and even moronga in Nicaragua and Ñache in Chile. Wherever you eat in the world it will be slightly different, mostly down to the salt content and seasonings but one thing they all have in common is that they’re all delicious.
Nowadays its very much associated with peasant food and is generally cheap to buy, with the famous Stornoway from the Hebrides being the exception, which for me is the finest example and commands the highest price.
In truth, black pudding in Cumbria was historically a luxury reserved for those wealthy enough to own a pig. Pigs historically occupied a strange place in the rural economy, quite often they were treated more like a pet than livestock. This often meant that slaughtering time was quite a traumatic and emotional time, especially with the death of something so close to the family but on the other had it also provided an opportunity to eat the best meat available.
Often the phrase “cos it isn’t every day we kill a pig” was a justifiable excuse for a holiday day to be taken, especially as the deed would need to be carried out by one of the county’s Pig killers. One of these colourful characters was ‘Happy Jack’ Geddes who was the landlord of the Royal Oak, in Caldbeck, who performed the task as a bit of a side-line, being available to “kill a cow, sheep or pig” along with the offer to ”sing a song”. When the task was completed the first job to be done was to make the blood pudding.
It’s the key to our standout dish Westmorland tattie pot and simply grilled and topped with an egg is hard to beat. At the restaurant we use it two ways; in the bon-bon that starts the dining experience. As long as you create a good enough seal with the breadcrumbs when you fry it it should seal and steam the black pudding giving you a moist almost mousse like texture, which is best served with Hawkshead Relish Cumberland sauce. The other option is to make a sauce from it, which as it happens is incredibly versatile and is great with any game meats. The photo shows it with partridge, beetroot and hazelnuts, but substitute the partridge for rabbit, pigeon, hare or venison and it’s just as good. It even works with scallops and smoked haddock!
Black pudding bonbons
Makes about 20
400g black pudding
150g panko breadcrumbs
50g plain flour
Pinch of salt
Remove the black pudding from the fridge about 1 hour before starting. Roll the black pudding in to firm 20g balls. Place it the fridge for a further hour to firm back up.
Get 3 separate large bowls to the first add the flour and a pinch of salt. In to the second crack the eggs and whisk with the milk using a fork. Place the breadcrumbs it the third.
One by one roll the black pudding in the flour, remove the ball shaking of the excess. Dip in the egg mixture again removing the excess followed by the breadcrumbs. Repeat the process skipping the flour part.
Place back in the fridge until required.
Bring a tabletop fryer to 160oc, lower the bon bons in and fry until golden, remove from the oil and place on some kitchen roll to soak up the excess oil, season with pinch of salt.
Serve with the Cumberland sauce.
Black pudding sauce
500g black pudding
500ml chicken stock
4 star anise
1 small piece of cinnamon bark
Slice the black pudding finely and place in a saucepan with the stock. Add the anise and cinnamon. Bring to the boil turn down and simmer gently for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat cover with cling film and allow to infuse for a further 10 minutes. Remove the spices and blend until smooth. Pass through a sieve. Cover with a layer of clingfilm directly on the surface of the sauce until required. Then gently warm up.