Now I don’t know about you, but I can’t imagine eating a cheese sandwich (mature cheddar, please), without a good dollop of chutney, jam, or better still, some good old relish. A fine red wine would also go well, but that’s for another post.. For those of you still puzzling over the mention of cheese and jam, or even thinking of closing your laptop lid in disgust, let me assure you now (if you’re still reading), that a cheese and jam sandwich is something to be thankful for, not scared of. I was brought up on cheddar and damson jam sandwiches, and there’s nothing wrong with me (he says, twitching in his darkened room). More broadly, the salty, creamy nature of cheese is a wonderful pairing with fruity and spicy flavours. If you don’t believe me, try Wensleydale with cranberry or apricot and ginger. Anyway, this blog post is not actually about cooking, although it is tangentially linked (no tangerines involved though, I’m afraid). What I really want to talk about is Yorkshire Relish. As well as being a tangy treat, for me Yorkshire Relish also has another identity which we’ll come to, completely culinarily unconnected.
The treat of which I speak was invented in the 1870s in Leeds by Goodall, Backhouse & Co., and it was in fact one of the earliest trademarks to be established. According to some sources (or should that be sauces?), it was the best-selling sauce in the world by 1911. To the modern consumer, the recipe would seem very redolent of Worcester Sauce (I promise that will be the last mention of this Other county which can in no way live up to Yorkshire). It contained soy sauce, malt vinegar, garlic and shallots, along with 27 “Eastern spices” (intriguingly not listed and putting in my mind the idea that repeated sales could have been down to the inclusion of something rather stronger than soy sauce). By 1994 it was available in four varieties, the ‘thick’ and ‘fruity’ of which would have gone very nicely on the cheese sandwich mentioned earlier. Sadly, the sauce’s fortunes took a turn for the worse and by 2001 it had been discontinued. Today, the only Yorkshire Relish still being manufactured comes courtesy of Robert Roberts in Ireland.
However, in my day to day life, I find Yorkshire Relish appearing quite regularly in its other guise. That is to say, not in the sauce form, but in the form of a feeling or attitude. For example, the sound a farmer might make when he sees a large Jaguar car getting stuck in the mud on the road near his field, is Yorkshire Relish; the feeling a Yorkshireman has when he sees a southerner running for cover in the rain and tripping when its ‘nobbut a mere shower’ – that’s Yorkshire Relish.
To my mind, there’s an awful lot more relish around in the county of Yorkshire than in almost any other county; you might say some of our townsfolk were almost drowning in it. I once went up to the counter of a greasy spoon café in West Yorkshire and asked (stupidly, I’ll grant you) for a regular cappuccino. The order she called out to the girl at the machine was full, not of vitriol or sarcasm, but of Yorkshire Relish; “One coffee wi’ milk!”
So, the next time you have some Yorkshire Relish, make sure you accompany it with a traditional Yorkshire toast, something along the lines of “Here’s tiv us, all on us, may we never want nowt, noan on us, nor me nawther”.