Head to head with Hendo’s

Ready to bottle after a year's maturing Sheffield Relish

Deep in a corner of my cellar there is a jar full of murky liquid whose time has come. It has been there for exactly a year and must now be strained, bottled and sprinkled on food as the Nectar of the Gods. Some people make do with Lea & Perrins Worcestershire Sauce, great on a fry-up or in stews. In Sheffield people swear by Henderson’s Relish but I won’t settle for second best. I make my own. I call it Sheffield Relish.

Worcestershire sauce dates back to the 1830s but is another great British brand now in foreign hands, in this case Heinz. The story is that a customer asked chemists to concoct a recipe acquired in India but it was forgotten and matured quietly for years until rediscovered and tasted.

Henderson’s, known locally as Hendo’s, is truly local. It was first concocted by a Henry Henderson in ‘the latter part of the 19th century.’ It is vinegar and water coloured with caramel and sweetened and spiced with cloves, cayenne and garlic oil. The label proudly states that it has been ‘made in Sheffield for over a 100 years,’ or it did until someone unfortunately recently tidied it up grammatically by removing the indefinite article. Both have orange labels although Hendo’s has produced variants for local football sides, sports and pop music stars.

Both are, in essence, flavoured vinegars, although Worcestershire sauce is more complex, with anchovies.

While both can be traced back to the Nineteenth Century the recipe is very much older. Dorothy Hartley, writing in Food in England in 1954, mentions ‘Nun’s Sauce’ made in a Yorkshire convent over 80 years previously. She states: “Most of the large farms in the north made their own relish to eat with meat.”

She gives a recipe of three quarters of an ounce of cayenne, two tablespoons of soy, three cloves of garlic, a tablespoon of anchovies, a few cloves, three or four shallots, a large spoonful of sugar and a quart (two pints) of vinegar. The dried ingredients were pounded together, the shallots chopped and after everything being mixed with the vinegar sealed in a jar and left at the foot of the kitchen stairs.

“Everyone passing up and down to chapel (twice daily) had to give it a shake. At the end of the month it was strained off through muslin into the tall glass bottles in the old fashioned cruet stands.”

This is more or less my recipe although but because there is no chapel in my cellar the jar is shaken less but left longer.

This is the recipe. Chop finely three large onions and put them in a large jar with 10 dried Bird’s Eye chillies, 1 tbsp each of peppercorns, white sugar, Thai fish sauce, allspice, coriander and yellow mustard seed, 1 tsp salt, 3 chopped anchovies drained of oil, 2 tbsps of kekap manis (thick soy sauce), a few bay leaves, two inches of fresh ginger and five whole cloves plus several of garlic. Pour over malt vinegar (I managed 600ml plus a little left over from an empty pickled onion jar. Seal tightly, keep away from light and shake the jar whenever you remember. Leave for a year.

I have just strained and bottled this sour, salty, pungent brew. It is better than Henderson’s, although I would say that. Just note this: mine has no water added. And there is a little more romance in the way I make mine. Some years ago I visited the then factory in Levygreave Road and while I was not allowed into the holy of holys, the bottling room, I noticed plastic drums of various oils and essences so it was a shrewd guess they were simply mixed and that this Relish matures longer on your pantry shelf than in the factory. Today it made in the less romantic surroundings of a trading estate.

Hendo’s stirs the Sheffield heart with pride, has spawned memorabilia, mugs and recipe books, and is bought by the likes of film star Sean Bean and ex-minister David Blunkett. I can’t beat it for image but I can for taste.

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