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Issue 81 - Black Pudding

Scotland Magazine Issue 81
June 2015

 

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Black Pudding

Sue Lawrence celebrates the Prince of the Hebridean breakfast

In Arthur Herman’s book The Scottish Enlightenment, there is a description of the Highlands in the early 1700s and the deprivation of the typical Highlander, particularly in winter. “Highlanders often had to bleed their cattle, mixing the blood with oatmeal and frying it in the fire. Sometimes cows were bled so frequently they could barely stand.”

This is similar to the ritual certain African tribesmen (such as the Suri or Masai) continue, bleeding their cattle directly into a vessel to drink the warm, almost coagulating, blood ‘fresh’. At least the old Scots cooked theirs with oatmeal, as a primitive type of black pudding. But thank goodness, nowadays when black pudding is made, the beast is no longer sentient.

After a hearty Hebridean breakfast of porridge then black pudding, perhaps only the serious black pudding lover would want to see the latter being made. But since I was in Stornoway and just down the road from Charles Macleod, producers of some of the best black pudding in the land, it certainly made sense to a pudding fanatic like me.

Round the back of the butchers shop where fabulous Hebridean lamb and venison are sold alongside the long, fat rolls of puddings various (black, white, fruit), Coinneach (Gaelic for Kenneth) the pudding man chops, mixes and stirs. When his predecessor began working here some 35 years ago, they were producing 300 black puddings a week; now production has increased enormously and can scarcely keep up with demand.

For Stornoway black pudding is so well known and respected, it is synonymous with quality. And, of course, only the best ingredients are used to make this product that is both earthy yet sophisticated, homely yet stylish.

Though most people in the Western Isles, just like elsewhere in mainland Scotland, confine black pudding to the breakfast table, there are more and more cooks serving it up for lunch and dinner.

One of the Stornoway butchers’ family, Shona Macleod, likes to stuff mushrooms with it, dip in a garlicky batter then deep-fry until crunchy, tempura-style. Or she serves it on one of her Granny Jessie’s famous pancakes, with bacon and scallops (known as clams locally). Sister Ria and cousin Rona like it primarily for breakfast with bacon and eggs, but they also are partial to using it as a stuffing for chicken.

You can also serve it with bacon on a tattie scone, with tomatoes in a savoury tart, with pork in a hearty casserole; or just grill a slice and then clamp into a morning roll with a runny fried egg.

Times have changed from when most crofts made their own ‘marag dhubh’ (Gaelic for black pudding) after a sheep was killed. Nowadays sheep blood is not used. But there is still a distinctive Hebridean taste to it, whether Stornoway black pudding is eaten in the Western Isles or in a chic London restaurant. Perhaps not everyone shares my curiosity to see it being made, but once tasted, whether at breakfast or tea, it is never forgotten.

Stornoway black pudding is available by mail-order from Charles MacLeod. Telephone +44 (0)1851 702 445. www.charlesmacleod.co.uk
Other fine Scottish black puddings are:
www.ramsayofcarluke.co.uk
www.sausages.co.uk

and a venison one:
www.seriouslygoodvenison.co.uk

Mushroom risotto with black pudding & truffle oil

You can leave out the truffle oil if you like but it does add a good earthy taste

approx. 900 ml / 32 fl oz chicken stock
50g / 2 oz butter
1 small onion, peeled, chopped
small glass dry white wine
300g /10 oz risotto rice (arborio / carnaroli)
2 tbsp parmesan cheese, grated
2 tbsp freshly chopped parsley
2 tbsp olive oil
6 slices black pudding
200g / 7 oz button / chestnut mushrooms, sliced
truffle oil

Bring the stock to a simmer, keep hot.

Heat 25g butter in a large pan, cook the onion until soft. Add the rice, stir until coated then add the wine; cooking until evaporated. Add the hot stock ladle by ladle, stirring, only adding another ladle once it has been absorbed. You may not need all the stock; cook until the rice is al dente. Remove from the heat, stir in the parmesan then remaining butter. Cover, leave to stand for 5 minutes then stir in the parsley and taste for seasoning.

Meanwhile, heat 1 tbsp oil in a frying pan, cook the black pudding then place on a dish to keep warm. Add another tbsp oil to the pan, fry the mushrooms then remove with a slotted spoon.

To serve, ladle risotto into warm shallow bowls. Top each with some mushrooms then a slice of black pudding then a shake or two of trufffle oil.

Smoked haddock with black pudding & bacon

Serve with a tomato salad

2 undyed smoked haddock fillets
2 thin slices of black pudding, skin removed
2 rashers dry-cure back bacon
olive oil

Roll the fish so the thin ends are tucked underneath: you want a parcel of 3 layers. Top with the black pudding, wrap in the bacon. Place on lightly oiled baking sheet and drizzle with oil.

Place near the top of a preheated oven ( 230C / 450F / Gas 8) for 15 minutes until the fish is just cooked.

Serve hot with pan juices poured over.

Black pudding & apple pots

Serve as a starter with bread

500 g / 1 lb 2 oz cooking apples, peeled, chopped
the juice of 1 lemon
25 g / 1 oz caster sugar
25 g / 1 oz butter
2 heaped tsp horseradish sauce
12 slices black pudding, skinned

Place the apples in a saucepan with the lemon juice, sugar and 10g butter, bring to the boil, cover, and simmer until soft. Mash with horseradish sauce then cool.

Butter 6 ramekins.

Place a black pudding slice in each ramekin, spoon in the apple sauce then, place a slice of black pudding
on top.

Melt the remaining butter, brush this over the tops, place on a baking tray. Bake in the oven (200C /400F / Gas 6) 15 minutes, or until piping hot. Serve at once.

Meet the Producer

Charles Macleod of Stornoway

The most famous and arguably the best producer of Stornoway black pudding is Charles Macleod, the butchers opened in 1947 by Charley Barley. He was so-called from school days since everyone on Lewis, or so it seems, was called Macleod. After his untimely death in 1967, sons Iain and Charles took over the business and built it up from a tiny shop to large premises that includes an extensive delicatessen and full mail-order facilities.

Now it is the sons’ children – the original Charley Barley’s granddaughters – who run everything. Charles’ two daughters, Shona and Ria, and Iain’s daughter Rona, are now fully in charge of this thriving family business. Shona runs operations and the production side of the puddings; Rona runs finances and
quality management and Ria is the marketing manager.

It is not only unusual for three women to run such a successful family business, but for three such young women to be doing so. They are all in their 30s, but having grown up surrounded by the other family members working for the business, it seems only natural to assume the mantle themselves.

Charles – Shona and Ria’s father – has always run the family farm on Lewis; Iain – Rona’s father – ran the shop. Now all three young women are in charge of not only the shop and website sales but also the production of some of the best black pudding in the world.

Stornoway Black Pudding was awarded PGI (Protected Geographical Indication) in 2013. This means it can only be produced if it is made in the town or within the parish of Stornoway.