That morning the Yorkshire lad enjoyed his usual breakfast. It started with porridge. Then, before the toast and marmalade, came fried eggs, bacon, fried bread, fried mushroom and tomato, and … plenty of solid, rich, sustaining black pudding.
“That black blood pudding gives a lad like you your strength.” said his mother. “It’s what makes all us folk from Yorkshire stand right above the rest.”
Afterwards, on his way into the village, the lad stopped by the notice board. There he read: “Anyone interested in supporting a local entry to Europe’s BLACK SAUSAGE competition should turn up in the chapel hall this evening. The contest is to be held at a place called Eglise-les-Deux-Moutons, Normandy, France.”
After his tea that evening, the lad took an eager role in the discussions held in the hall. He was among the first to agree when Fred Longbottom, owner of the local butcher’s shop, announced that the honour of the local community – and the Yorkshire region itself – were at stake.
The lad was not alone to be intrigued to by the very idea of a sausage contest. His fascination increased as he learned such spicey details that, in France, the name of the black pudding is boudin noir (literally, pudding-black). In Germany the same thing is called Blutwurst (blood-sausage). At the international competition the black pudding would be judged on the basis of appearance, fragrance and, above all, taste.
Judges would be experts of the highest order. Professional chefs would be helped by food writers and other top artists of the culinary world. These adjudicators would be looking for peak perfection. Rules included disqualification for entries containing “unnatural” additives.
The lad was the youngest of the villagers elected on a committee to see that their own creation would be the most exquisite black sausage ever to leave the borders of Yorkshire. Soon, he and the rest of the committee were deeply immersed in the fine points of black pudding engineering.
The lad took an active part in planning the exact balance of his breakfast fare. What, precisely, should the contents be? How should the ingredients of the very highest quality be chosen? And prepared?
Even, he heard it asked, should an outside professional adviser be called in to help them? Fred Longbottom, the butcher, by now voted as committee chairman, had read in “Sausage World ” about one such sausage expert. Named Fritz von Wurstheim, this Fritz person also came from abroad (like Normandy). In fact he came from Frankfurt, a city, said Fred, famous for its sausages.
Like the other villagers, the lad was not sure about the idea of calling in help from outside Yorkshire. It should be explained that to these folk, their own Yorkshire region was their warm and welcoming homeland. West, across the Pennine hills, was that other region, uninviting Lancashire. To all Yorkshiremen, the inhabitants of Lancashire were at best untrustworthy. At worst, they were rivals to be feared or despised.
To sum up the Yorkshire attitude, in Yorkshire a benign sun nearly always shone down a blessing on their tranquil moors, mines and mills. In Lancashire, at it rained for most of the time. (It goes without saying that these hostile feelings were entirely mutual).
As for the rest of the world, the honest Yorkshire people were only vaguely aware of England and the rest of Britain. Beyond that, they rarely acknowledged even the existence of Continental Europe. The lad thought of that as some sort of offshore island, more or less lost in mists of obscurity.
Debate about the wisdom of getting in support from so dubiously far away as Frankfurt raged long and earnest in the village hail. Fred, the butcher, finally set the opinion with a morsel of earthy philosophy.
“There’s no denying that we Yorkshire folk lead the world,” he stated. “But we simply cannot face the risk of not thrashing those rotters from Lancashire on an issue as vital as this: if some chappy from Frankfurt can in any way help to underpin our success, I suppose we’ll just have to have him.”
And so it came to be that Fritz received the honour of being summonsed to the centre of the world. The lad was among others in seeing to it that the German specialist on sausages would find Yorkshire to have a warm heart. His own irrepressible friendliness, like that of most of the villagers, soon overcame their initial misgivings of strangers.
Down to work, Fritz’s advice amazed the lad and the other members of the black pudding committee. To start with, the professional suggested changing up to a higher grade of the black sausage’s principal ingredient, blood drained from animal carcasses.
“Would you like to experiment whether new material, from Angus beef cattle, originated in Scotland would make a tastier,
mix, Fritz suggested. Fritz’s depth of knowledge on fundamentals, such as this, was speedily recognized. The lad himself thoroughly approved of the new formula at his next breakfast session.
“You get a punchier, sharper flavour if you blend in only the finest type of onions available,” the sausage Meister (master) told them.
“The generally considered international view is that the most fragrant onions available anywhere are grown in Brittany, not far from Normandy, in northwest France,” Fritz explained. “The onions are especially good when cultivated in sandy soil, on fields sloping south. Only specimens in this top “cru ” are really suited for you Yorkshire champions to slice and fly,” he added
When it came to garlic, the lad did not even know what the others were talking about. But he was aware that his elders and betters were getting nervous, even shocked. “Garlic’s not natural: we can’t have that,” he heard them mutter.
“Do you want to win this contest, or do you want to be humbled by Lancashire?” Fritz insisted. Lancashire had to be beaten. Garlic, in moderation, was added to the list of sausage ingredients. The lad began to appreciate this health-giving, aromatic bulb blended into his breakfast “trials”.
Normally, in the Yorkshire region, pearl barley is used to give body. Fritz proposed supplementing barley with high quality cornflower. The lad and everyone laughed when Fritz explained “This way, we’ll get chewiness without glueiness.”
The cornflower Fritz was suggesting came from the Friuli region. “Where on earth is that, questioned the lad “North-east Italy, overlooked by the impressive south-eastern Alps,” Fritz told him.
“It’s an area where early summer sees small fields of green maize set off prettily by the terra-cotta of roof-tiles of the farm buildings. There the local people grow strong on a diet of this nourishing maize, eaten ground into golden polenta, and helped along by cheese and boiled beans,” Fritz told him.
From this stage onwards, in the development of the super sausage, a senior chief tester was brought in. Mrs Higginbottom’s main qualification for the post was to be winner of the Huddersfield fat lady contest. She was very large.
Fritz would address this colossos of woman as his “kleinne Oberprufungs Meisterinnnen” (little testing lady master), but the lad himself did not understood enough at that time to appreciate his gentle joke. However, Mrs Higginbottom herself shook with mirth and happily got on with her tasting and testing.
By now, all operations were top secret. At all costs the dreaded Lancashire folk must be stopped from counterfeiting their pudding. The Yorkshire fears were nearly justified. One evening, the lad, on saw sinister movements in the shadows.
He reported the matter when he got to the hail. Brave Yorkshire men rushed out at the dark corner. The lad’s suspicions were confirmed. Two prowling spies, from across the border, were caught in the act.
‘Lancashire Jack’, a well-known miscreant, and his evil accomplice were marched off to the police station. There, the trouble was lack of proof. The sergeant on duty asked: “How can you steal improvements to sausages?’
“But these men are from Lancashire, ” protested the villagers. Unfortunately, the villains had to be released. As he was let go, Lancashire Jack menaced “You’ll see us at Eglise-les-deux-Moutons and you’ll see us WIN !” This threat was enough for the Yorkshiremen further to sharpen their efforts.
Their final version turned out to contain
blood from the Scottish cattle, fattened, as it happened, on lush grassland in central Ireland; the fragrant Brittany onion ; olive oil, for flying the onion (and the garlic), from Tuscany, Italy sage from Sardinia; tangy white Mosel wine from the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg:
the garlic, grown somewhere along a rocky coastline in Portugal beer, brewed by monks to a centuries old formula at a medieval monastery, of soft grey limestone, in southern Belgium (where else?) ; the cornflower from Friuli ; juicy citrus peel, from Seville, Southern Spain ; pearl barley from Ulster;
just a touch of minced bacon, cured with loving skill at a small town in Denmark; butter-fat from contented Dutch cows reared in meadows reclaimed from the sea with prodigious effort ; plus herbs and spices so secret that they can never be revealed, but some from a sun-baked patch of land on one of the Greek islands.
Master sausage expert consultant was, you will remember, our friend Fritz, from the celebrated sausage centre in the Hesse region of Germany. Chief taster was enormous Mrs Higginbottom. Said to be of Huddersfield, Yorkshire, Mrs Higginbottom hid a dark secret of her birth place. This was Bolton, right in the appalling Lancashire! Of course the Yorkshire lad helped from breakfast onwards.
“Having breakfast nowadays is getting to quite a geography lesson,” remarked the lad to his mother one day. “If I had to give those sausages a name, I’d call them ‘federalist’ pudding,” she replied. The lad wondered what she meant as he munched away.
At last, at the international championships, at Eglises-les-Deux-Moutons, there was a splendid ceremonial opening. It included a march past with brass bands, the parading of flags, and a fireworks display. The lad was highly impressed by the magnificent sight of freshly sizzled sausages, glinting and shining their best.
Judges found those from Flanders, northern Belgium to be light and friable … and, ideally, accompanied by the ‘Belgians’ beloved pomme frites (potato chips). Some submissions, flying the light-blue and white chequered flag from Bavaria, south Germany, were dark red speckled with white. The redness was due to fresher than usual blood. The white dots were minuscule cubes of fat, for flavour.
Blutwurst, from Cologne, in the Nord-RheinWestfalen region. It was displayed, in accordance with local tradition, alongside “Himmel and Erde ” (heaven and earth), or apple puree and mashed potato.
After much expert eating by the learned judges, it looked as if the contest were going to be a close run match between the entries from the white and red rose regions, Lancashire and Yorkshire. Then, to intense horror of the lad and his friends, it turned out that the Lancashire pudding could win the day. Appearance was the final criterion. The skins of the Lancashire sausages certainly shone impressively in fact they gleamed like gardsmen’s toecaps. Lancashire Jack gloated openly at the anxious Yorkshiremen.
The Yorkshire lad made an ugly face. Then, to catch his own reflection, he leant closer over the Lancashire entries. Immediately he noticed something that puzzled him. “It’s very funny here,” he remarked. “I can smell something!” Then the frown on his face cleared. “I’ve got it!” he proclaimed. “These sausages smell of shoe polish. They have been polished with shoe polish. Have them checked! “. The laboratory confirmed the presence of the unnatural additive (for sausages).
Finally, on the grounds of sheer excellence, utter worthiness, the noble Yorkshire black sausage was hailed as the most exquisite pudding ever to grace a flying pan. The lad was elated.
Furthermore, jubilation right across the whole of Yorkshire was unbounded. Victory bonfires were lit in villages and town squares over the whole county. On the Yorkshire Broadcasting Corporation news that evening the Yorkshire victory was given pride of place. In fact little else, not even gruesome murders, were reported that evening.
A day or so later at home, the lad was savouring one of the many follow-up radio and TV programs. He smiled to himself as the interviewer question Fred about the “eclectic” contents of Yorkshire’s winning entry. “Well, I don’t know what you mean by exactly by er, that word.” answered Fred
“But, I’ll tell you this straight,” acted the village butcher from Yorkshire: “Thanks to some help from our friends in regions all over Europe, our new diversified recipe certainly makes black pudding that is absolutely s-c-r-u-m-p-t-i-o–u-s
The lad heard Fred continue: “Oh, er, I mean schackhaft, oh, er, sorry, what I really mean is absolutely s-c-r-a-m-p-t-i-o-u-s.
The lad thought: “Come to think of it, I would not know myself what ’eclectic’ means. But after our little sausage crusade. I personally have no trouble at all with delicieux. And as for schackhaft, isn’t that just the word that Fritz uses to mean tastv’?
“What’s more, in this village, now, there are plenty that’d understand the same as me.”
Extracts from Jeremy Woolfe sketchbooks.