Tripe Tales – Food Nostalgia

Food can evoke so many strong memories of childhood. Pie and peas and I’m back to the excitement of bonfire night. Mum’s sherry trifle and it’s family Christmas parties when I’d always try to sneak a double helping of the top two layers of thick, yellow, sliceable custard heaped with cream; spaghetti bolognaise and I recall the first meal I cooked for mum and dad. Dad hated it as he couldn’t get to grips with the spaghetti, and he couldn’t make a sandwich from it. Whereas our dog craned his head upwards to suck in the sauce-coated strands; the tang of salt and vinegar doused fish and chips and I’m transported to carrying home the piping hot, greasy, newspaper-packaged taste of heaven from Cudworths, the local chippy. Fish and chips twice, a fish and a cake. For a treat as kids we’d sit on the back doorstep, abandon cutlery and eat the chips with just our fingers straight from their newspaper wrapping. The ultimate finger food.

And then there’s tripe. Yes, utterly unique tripe. Slimy, white, rubbery, incomparable. We’d have it cold with salt and vinegar. Lots of vinegar in my case to try make it halfway palatable. It didn’t work. If fish and chips were heaven, this evil stuff was pure hell. I’d chew and chew and chew, scarcely able to swallow the offensive gobbet. The texture lingers in my mind to this day and, even now, recalling it I shudder.

Tripe at Cross’s Pork Butchers, Dewsbury Market – Photo by Jane Roberts

The name of the ‘cut,’ depended on which chamber of the animal’s stomach it came from. Think about it. How repulsive does that sound? Honeycomb is the thing I remember, along with blanket. We’d also occasionally have it with an equally noxious substance called elder, (cow’s udder, I believe). It was the stuff of nightmares.

An article in the Leeds Mercury of 3 June 1913, confirmed my fears about its deadly capacities:

CHOKED BY TRIPE
AGED BATLEY MAN’S DEATH IN STREET

The sudden death, under remarkable circumstances, of Alexander Richardson, seventy-four years of age, of Old Mill-Lane, Batley, who has followed the occupation of a Cooper, was enquired into by Mr. P. P. Maitland yesterday.

On Saturday night Richardson was proceeding along Henrietta-street eating tripe, when he suddenly collapsed and died. A post-mortem examination revealed that a piece of tripe, three inches square, was blocking the entrance to the wind-pipe, causing suffocation.

A verdict of “Accidentally choked” was returned.

Yet, perhaps I am maligning it. Tripe dresser is an occupation you may come across in your family history. This worker was engaged in preparing the product for ‘human consumption’. A quick 1911 census search using ‘tripe dresser’ reveals over 1,500 of them – seven in Batley alone. Tripe stalls abounded, selling this bleached-white cows stomach lining.

And in Batley a boy was even driven to crime to get money to buy this tasty treat, as reported in the Batley News of 13 March 1915.

STOLE MONEY TO BUY BANANAS, TRIPE, ETC. – In the Juvenile Court a boy of 12 admitted obtaining 1s. 6d. by false pretences from Thomas Sykes, hay and straw dealer, Old Mill Lane, Bankfoot, and with stealing a white metal watch, worth 3s. 6d., from the house of Mr. Wilfrid Haigh, 9, Bankfoot, Batley. The boy obtained the money under the pretence it was for someone Mr. Sykes knew. Defendant stole the watch last November. He told the Magistrates he went to the pictures and bought bananas and tripe with the money. Inspector Riplet said the boy had kept company with a lad who was last week sent to a reformatory. Bound over, under the probation of Mr Gladwin.

Others swore by its health-giving properties. Like Dewsbury man John Carter Garforth who ate a stone of tripe every week, attributing his longevity to it. As reported in the Yorkshire Evening Post of 21 September 1951:

TRIP WITHOUT TRIPE

Dewsbury firm’s Grand Old Man off to London without his parcel

When 1,000 employees of the Dewsbury firm Wormalds and Walker, Ltd., [blanket manufacturers] leave for a trip to London next week, the grand old man of the firm will go with them – for the first time without a stone of tripe wrapped in a parcel under his arm.

He is 81-year-old John Carter Garforth, who has been employed by this woollen firm for 70 years. He still does a full day’s work and has two great loves – tripe and his piano. “I eat a stone of tripe a week,” he told me, “and I’m the best customer of a tripe shop in Dewsbury.”

“Twice a year I go to London to see my daughter, but I always take a parcel of tripe. They’ve no idea how to cook tripe there so I take my own.”

I asked him why he wasn’t taking any with the trip next week, “Well, it’s only a day, so I’ll do without and have a double ration when I come back,” he said

Mr Garforth’s recipe for long life? “Plenty of tripe, an occasional smoke and no drink. I’m 81 and I get plenty of fun out of life still following that recipe.”

Mr Garforth

It was also lauded in the 1907 edition of Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management as “the most digestible of meats, and specially suited for invalids”.

The “Diabetic Foods” section included a recipe for tripe soup, reproduced here for those who wish to try it.

Ingredients: ½ a lb. of tripe, 1 pint of milk, 1 pint of stock or water, 1 small onion, 1 clove, 1 oz. of butter, ½ an oz. of flour, salt and pepper.

Method: Wash the tripe, blend and drain it, and cook it in the milk and stock or water, with the onion and clove, for an hour or till tender, then mince the tripe finely and add it to the broth. Melt the butter, stir in the flour, dilute with 1 gill of milk, stir till it boils and add to the soup. Boil for 10 minutes longer, season slightly and serve.

Time. 1½ hours. Average Cost, 7d. or 8d.

This recipe is of particular interest to me. In these pre-insulin days, was this the type of dish my diabetic great grandfather Jonathan Rhodes ate?

But more than invalid food, tripe was also regarded as a cheap, nutritious meal for the working classes. Tripe and onions was probably the signature dish. Again, if you want to give it a go here’s the recipe from the same Mrs Beeton’s 1907 book:

Ingredients. 2 lb. of dressed tripe, 2 large onions, ½ a pint of milk, ½ a pint of water, 1 tablespoon of flour, 1 teaspoonful of salt and pepper.

Method. Cut the tripe into 3 inch squares; put them into a stew pan, cover with cold water, bring to boiling point, and strain. Replace the tripe, add the milk, water and salt, boil up, put in the thinly-sliced onions, and simmer for 3 hours. 20 minutes before serving have the flour mixed smoothly with a little milk, pour into the stew pan, stir until boiling, and simmer for 15 minutes. Season to taste and serve.

Time. About 3½ hours. Average Cost, 1s. 8d. Sufficient for 4 or 5 persons.

You could even utilise the discarded water in which tripe was boiled. In Beeton’s Housewife’s Treasury of Domestic Information, a companion tome to Mrs Beeton’s Household Management, there is a section entitled ‘Children and what to do with them.’ Among the pearls of wisdom it contains advice about ‘eruptions,’ saying they

….will frequently appear on the child’s face, and sometimes sores, or what is termed to use a homely phrase “a breaking out.”……….and the water in which tripe has been boiled is a safe and reliable wash for them.”

What unimaginable horror. As if the ignominy of a spot-covered face wasn’t enough, but then being forced to eat boiled tripe and wash in the discarded water as a punishment ….sorry remedy. Yuk.

Your taste does evolve over time and things you didn’t like as a child you may come to love as an adult. Yoghurt is my case in point. As a three-year-old, and egged on by an older child, I peeled the top off a doorstep yoghurt delivery of a neighbour and dipped my finger in to taste it. It was vile. How could adults eat this? I promptly disposed of my ill-gotten gains in a puddle in the end between the two rows of terraced houses. It’s probably one of my earliest memories. Especially as Mrs Kirby discovered the crime and confronted me with it. Now I love yoghurt.

However, I accidentally discovered my hatred of tripe is not an example of this phenomenon. In Brittany on holiday a few years ago I decided to try a local speciality – galettes à l’andouille et aux champignons. I hadn’t a clue what andouille was. Suffice it to say it was like eating vomit. One mouthful was enough. To use a Yorkshire term, I was reduced to gipping (for those not from ‘God’s Own County’ that’s the dialect term for retching). I discovered later andouille is a tripe sausage. Another food memory etched on my mind and a delicacy forever struck off from future holiday meals.

However, if I am tempted to buy tripe it is available far closer to home – at Cross’s Pork Butchers stall on Dewsbury market. I bottled buying some today, sticking with potted beef. But maybe I’ll give it one more go using Mrs Beeton’s Fricassée of Tripe recipe for that continental feel.

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4 responses to “Tripe Tales – Food Nostalgia

  1. My grandmother was a tripe dresser in Rochdale. She lasted a day and vowed she would never go back, it was regarded as an offensive occupation and regulated as a result. We never ate it as a family after her experience, thank goodness. I often wonder why it was relished so much and if this is true, or was it down to marketing? We certainly have food poverty now – but not much tripe consumed in our diet. I ate tripe in Spain – urrgh – it has a really strange flavour.

    • Talking to mum about it today and she said we’d have on a Friday because it was a cheap meal. I guess dad didn’t bring home his weekly pay until Friday evening, too late for that meal. So what we had for Friday tea was determined by how much money was left in the budget at the end of the week.

  2. Michael Bloomfield

    I was talking tripe only last week with another old codger! Will send him these recipes.

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