Cooking on blood; Rusty Pig turns into test kitchen

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The team at Rusty Pig in Ottery St Mary has been busy testing traditional English recipes to help a food writer with her research for an Oxford Food and Cookery Symposium.

Dr Jan Davison is presenting a paper looking at how offal was not always viewed as food for the poor, but was instead served up for the very wealthy, including the royal court.

“Although the principal ingredients in black pudding are seemingly modest, the expensive seasonings used as flavourings indicate it was held in high regard,” Jan explained.

She asked chef Robin Rea to make up the recipes as he is one of the few cooks in the country to still use fresh blood in his own black puddings.

Robin said: “I’ve always used fresh blood as an ingredient; I know some people recoil from the idea but blood is a natural animal product, and as always we only use animals that have been raised in the very best natural conditions, with high levels of welfare.”

As well as Robin, the black pudding ‘team’ included Rusty Pig’s Fran Lea who researched and put together the ingredients, and Steve Williams from Good Game in Topsham. They tested eight recipes using lamb, pig and cow’s blood. Amongst the stranger ingredients were rosewater and strawberry leaves.

“One recipe called for ambergris, which is an excretion from the intestines of a sperm whale, pretty rare – and it proved a little expensive at around £11,000,” explained Robin.

“Another required porpoise as the main ingredient – but we decided not to attempt that one!”

Recipes included one from the 18th century, ‘Blood –Puddings, The English Way’ that Jan found in a cookery book by Patrick Lamb, ‘Royal Cookery or, the complete court-cook’.

Jan, who has also written ‘English Sausages’, a book telling the history of English sausages from the Roman conquest to the present day, said: “It was great fun putting all the recipes to the test and seeing how they turned out.

“My research turns current thinking on its head; we have always thought of offal as the scraps of an animal carcass, and it was clearly a far more respected ingredient in earlier times,” added Jan.

As a result of the tests and a celebration of black pudding, Rusty Pig is holding a ‘Bourbon and Black’ evening on May 13. Guests will have the chance to try different types of Bourbon with the various black puddings – with no porpoise included. To find out more call 01404 815580

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