Cooking was a minority interest sport in my house when I was a child. My mother needed to learn the top and bottom of a kitchen following the death of her father when she was just twelve years old, resulting in her being the only person of the four of us who knew a saucepan from an egg cup. Of all the memories of my mum – who sadly passed away herself three years ago – I can see and smell most clearly the kitchen with its constantly in-use oven and piles of cook-books, mostly the hardback glossy front cover Delia’s of course..
Her mother came to Preston in 1945 and worked at every low-paid factory job the place had to offer, and as a result her cost-cutting in the kitchen became something of a family legend (I know little about the genuine classics, mind, something involving bread in milk and actual sugar butties.) Both mum and gran would cook for the rest of the family/the men almost every day from New Year’s Day to New Year’s Eve, and although the bad sticks with me (oh my gran’s hate/hate relationship with deep fat fryers) it’s the good which I remember most fondly. Amongst those good are two items of food that often send people hurrying to the bathroom at the very sound of their names, but I learned to love and still eat them today; the humble black pudding and the even more humble tripe.
I know that these days the former is most likely found in stacked form inside gastropubs, but gran was far more simplistic and ordinary. To this day I still love taking a boiled black pudding straight from the pan, covering it with vinegar, and filling myself up with all that wonderful stodge. Yes nostalgia comes into it, but I’ve heard enough from ‘sleb chefs and TV cookery types to know that the enjoyment of food comes from feeling good, so one plate of hot black pudding swimming in vinegar chef, please, I need my hit.
The latter food stuff needs a lot more justification and pleading, I suspect. Food writer Jay Rayner gives it a very good go with his plea for people to give tripe just one more go. As with black puddings, my introduction to tripe was not through something fancy (insofar as one could, in 1980s Lancashire, do anything particularly grown-up with offal.) Many years later an A-Level English tutor would fall into fits of laughter as I tried to explain the concept of “Friday treat nights”, during which I would settle down after school to watch CBBC with a wide plate on which sat honeycomb tripe covered in vinegar and salt. Back then there was also tripe and onions, of which I have had mixed attempts to revisit down the years, which leaves the tried and tested basic straight-from-the-fridge version my go-to fave (and go-to I still do, although the 250g of honeycomb is these days bought alongside various cheeses and meats to avoid looking quite so destitute. I am, it has to be noted, by far the youngest person at the counter ordering tripe, and at 33 that’s quite the observation.)
Perhaps obviously, my continuing love of fresh, cold tripe smothered in malt vinegar does not compute with friends who did not know my family very well. It sort-of, kind-of, almost became normal to see a teenager in the 1990s surrounding the modcons of the era with the whiff of post-war make-do-and-mend. How close did I skirt the opportunity of abandoning school for a life of writing poetry about the forlorn youth scoffing the lining of a cow’s stomach in front of Byker Grove or whathaveyou, how near to being the Prestonian Morrissey did I become? I may never kno…Well I do know, because I’m here, and for all my eating northern classics, such fate did not fall upon me. (There you go, that’s how you start writing Smiths lyrics.)
All the stacks and crusts and foams of modern day cookery have been awarded to the black pudding, leaving tripe to be marginalised to the point of ticking all the boxes for a culinary industrial tribunal. I believe tripe can be treated in tempura batter, or so the Internet may have told me once. However it is saved for future generations, I hope it is. A plate of tripe can always make me feel better, and always more proudly northern. Nowt wrong with that, however you feed theesel’ doing it.