Konrad’s last day

P1050841 Konrad Kempka in the shop 21-01-2017 13-28-41 improved pic 21-01-2017 13-28-41

Konrad Kempka and his bacon slicer

IT’S Konrad Kempka’s last day in his Abbeydale Road, Sheffield, butchers shop, and he might be forgiven for looking a little bit sad. But he isn’t.

There has been a steady stream of customers all morning collecting their orders, already bagged up, which have been phoned and texted in that week.

Less than two years ago this blog and local media were celebrating the shop’s 60th anniversary, a business founded by his Polish father Frank who fled the Nazis in World War Two and found sausages and love in Sheffield.

Earlier this year Konrad and his wife Pat reckoned they’d had enough of spending their days in a cold shop and planned semi-retirement. Konrad put himself out to hire as relief butcher and the shop was opened up on Saturday mornings only to regulars and anyone else who walked by and fancied the best bacon you’ll get in Sheffield, sausages, a few chops or a pound of mince.

Now Konrad has an operation looming on his shoulder. “Surgeons also get it,” he says cheerfully, putting it down to all those years swinging his cleaver and sawing through bones.

So I, like lots of other customers, are stocking up. I’m buying several pounds of rind-on bacon, smoked and unsmoked, for the freezer before the shop closes for the last time.

It will be sad not seeing those home smoked hams hanging in the window at Christmas or the dark red kabanos sausages on the counter.

But Konrad is not quite leaving the world of pork loins and tomato sausages, a Sheffield speciality. After the op he will be working for the butchery at Whirlow Hall Farm, there for a couple of days a week, and is thinking of taking the antique bacon slicer with him. After all, it’s older than he is and older than the shop. It couldn’t be scrapped. It’s a museum piece.

Things are a bit hazy at the moment but hopefully he will still be curing his bacon at Whirlow. And making those celebrated pork pies.

P1050676 Hams in the window at Kempka's 22-12-2016 11-58-37

Christmas hams in the window at Kempka’s








Giving a fork about your pork


Konrad Kempka at the 70-year-old bacon slicer



At first sight F J Kempka & Son’s butchers shop on Abbeydale Road, Sheffield, could be a TV set designer’s recreation for a series set in the Sixties. The name is written in elegant flowing script across a red and white fascia conveying a subtle message: these are the national colours of Poland.

‘Pork Butchers’ it says underneath and, as if you need reassurance of the fact, there are sides of mahogany coloured just-smoked bacon hanging in the window, their residual warmth faintly misting the windows.

You walk though the doorway with its metal flyscreen and see the pork pies, coils of sausages, the old fashioned bacon slicer which, at 70 years, is older than the shop, pork chops, slabs of glistening liver and the faintly racy ‘I Give a Fork about My Pork’ poster on the wall and think, ‘This is how I want a butchers shop to look.’ It smells that way, too, with whiffs of woodsmoke and garlic in the air.

There’s a whiff of history in the series of faintly blurry black and white photographs on the walls. The butcher in the picture is Polish-born Frank Joseph, a dark haired man with a look of concentration on his face as he strings a row of gleaming black sausages – perhaps just the ones he used to sling into the pannier on his cycle and pedal all the way to Thurgoland to sell to the Polish miners living there.

“When he took over the shop it was not doing well so he started smoking bacon and making Polish sausages and would cycle over in the afternoon with them. Even today, I get third generation families coming to buy them here,” says Konrad Kempka, the ‘& Son’ on the fascia.

This month sees the 60th anniversary of his father starting the business, hence those old photographs. It’s quite a story. Young Frank was a 17-year-old apprentice butcher when the German tanks rolled into his village, just 15 miles from Auschwitz. “They put everyone in a German uniform or shot them,” he adds drily.


The shop opened on 5 January, 1957

His father was sent to the Russian front then, when that was going badly, to France, where he, like others, escaped to join the Free Polish Army and fight in Italy. When the war was over he was given the choice, Canada or Britain. He found himself in a Polish camp at Hardwick Hall and while some went to work in the steelworks, he took up his old career as a butcher, working for Roneys on Sharrowvale Road, then for Cyril Rackham, who had a string of shops in the city. Dad worked at Heeley Green but when Rackham retired he sold him the shop on Abbeydale Road.

In the meantime Frank had met a local girl called Jeanne at a dance at St William’s Church Hall on Ecclesall Road and married. With the Communists in charge in Poland there was no chance of going back.

As for Konrad, he ‘just fell into’ the butchery trade, from keeping watch on the shop to helping out his Dad. For a time it seemed he wouldn’t. At 21 he went to Los Angeles, working illegally as an engineer, but the pull of Sheffield was too strong. There wasn’t enough trade in the shop so he bought a lock-up butchers on Greystones Road, taking over when his father retired.

He’s seen some changes. “I probably sell less continental stuff these days but at one time we were the only people who sold garlic in Sheffield. Now garlic is in everything. And we sold buckets of sour cream, local people couldn’t believe it! And at Christmas we used to sell carp from Poland in blocks of ice. You couldn’t do that now.”

There are still reminders of the shop’s heritage. Kabanos, long, thin, smoked Polish sausage, are in the display counter, along with two types of Black Pudding, one English, one continental. The shelves are lined with jars of bockwurst, gherkins, sauerkraut and red peppers. In the window is a stack of Ukrainian loaves.


Konrad’s father Frank – see the resemblance?

Kempka’s is still mainly a pork butcher although you can get chicken, lamb and beef. Oxtails will often hang in the windows along with magnificent home smoked hams, a fine sight at Christmas but available all year round. A Kempka’s pork pie is a wonderful thing, always praised when pork pie lovers swap recommendations, and among the biggest sellers, along with Konrad’s smoked bacon. I am, though, one of the few customers who ask for it still with the rind on. You can do a lot with a bacon rind!

He and his wife Pat, who helps in the shop, have noticed that customers have shied away from fatty pieces of meat, But that, we agree, is where the taste lies. “It will come back again,” he says. That is why he always buys bigger sides of pork to include the fat for, unlike some shops which buy in their sausages and bacon, they need it in the manufacture of products.

The shop has seen some 60 years. Konrad, at 63, and always a little hazy on dates, reckons he has done half that. But for how much longer will Kempka & Son keep going? Konrad, serving his second year as president of the Confederation of Yorkshire Butchers Councils, won’t be drawn.

Those of us who like their smoked bacon, a ham to boil at Christmas and a pork pie – ‘hold it upright as it’s still warm and not quite set’ – for tea or, as the poster says, give a fork about their pork, hope it will not be just yet.

352 Abbeydale Rd, Sheffield S7 1FP. Phone: 0114 255 1852


Smoked hams in the window at Christmas


How to make streaky bacon

Cutting bacon into rashers

Cutting bacon into rashers

It was when some white gunk oozed out of the bacon rashers in my pan – and these hadn’t been cheap – that I had finally had enough. I didn’t want gunk, I wanted bacon which tasted like I thought I remembered it did!

That gunk was brine which had been injected into the bacon to speed up the curing and make it weigh and cost more. It wasn’t so long ago that the butchery trade magazines carried adverts for products with the claim: “Make more money, just add water.”

So I decided to make my own. I researched the different cures, wet and dry, and how to smoke bacon. It looked daunting. And there was this curious chemical saltpetre, to make the meat pink. How could I get hold of it and be sure I was using the correct amount for the relatively amount of bacon I was using?

Books like Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s Meat were useful and I soon got the picture. All you really need to cure bacon is salt. You can add sugar, also a preservative, to offset the saltiness and add sweetness. And whatever herbs and spices you want. I don’t bother with saltpetre. My bacon is a pleasantly pinky-grey.

I dry cure belly pork to make streaky. I get my butcher, the admirable Konrad Kempka on Abbeydale Road, Sheffield, to cut a two pound (one kilo) joint for me because that’s the size which fits into the Tupperware box which goes in the fridge. He also obligingly debones it for me. Keep the bones, you can always find a use for them.

My cure for 2lbs of pork is 3oz of salt, 3oz of sugar, Demerara preferably but you can use granulated, which I mix together in a tub. Then I grind up whichever spices take my fancy, fennel and allspice last time, but I have also added bay and coriander. Mix thoroughly with the salt and sugar.

I rub about a quarter of the cure all over the bacon, top and bottom and sides, massaging it in well, in all the nooks and crannies, pop it in the box, leave the lid loose and forget about it for a day. That’s all you do. Simple isn’t it?

Well not quite all you do for next day you will find the pork sitting in a pool of liquid, the water which has been leached out. The joint, floppy the day before, is also firming up.

Drain the liquid, and rub another quarter of the mix into the meat, as before. If it was skin side up first time put it back into the box skin side down. And repeat until your mix is used up. If you forget don’t worry. I have left the bacon in for 48 or 72 hours with no ill effects.

Four or five days later you, or rather the belly pork, is done. It is now bacon. Give it a rinse. If you think it will be too salty soak it for an hour or two. Then drain and dry. I wrap mine in a clean tea towel for 24 hours then replace the wrapping with greaseproof paper.

Cut your slices with a sharp carving knife. If your slices are too thick simply put them between sheets of greaseproof and whack them with a rolling pin. Cook them as you like. I prefer a ridged griddle. Your rashers will shrink more than shop bought ones (less water, no gunk) and this way is kinder than a frying pan.

They will taste good. Mine tend to be on the salty side (you soon get used to it) but you can always soak for longer. The general rule is the bacon will keep for the length of time it was cured so I cut the bacon joint in two and freeze one half.

You don’t have to stick with rashers. The bacon makes good lardons or a substitute for pancetta in Italian recipes. Cut it into steaks, grilled and served with Puy lentils, French-style.

What I really like (moment of smugness coming on) is to serve myself a bacon sandwich made with my own bread (it does have to be white) and my own brown sauce.


Pork belly - the beginnings of bacon

Pork belly – the beginnings of bacon. Rub in your cure

The finished result

The finished result