Of course, we’re all mad about food. But whilst some food obsessions are undeniably more stylish than others, there are a few that are simply downright crazy. Summer in England may be a time for strawberries and cream on the lawns of Wimbledon and cricketing teas across the nation’s playing fields, but the English summer is also marked by one or two minority foody festivals that owe nothing to quality and everything to quantity – or at least a quantity of madness.
First on our list of flavour-filled offerings is the town of Denby Dale in the picturesque Yorkshire Pennines. Denby Dale is a scenic but otherwise unremarkable small town boasting a population of just 15,000. It is popular with walkers and cyclists and – in addition to these energetic visitors – it is also famous for that most humble of comestible offerings – the pie. Denby Dale is officially ‘the pie village’, an inspiration to pudding fans and poets alike.
The legend is displayed on the signs that mark the town’s boundaries. There is surely no prouder boast.
The small town celebrates its fame and status on an irregular basis by delivering a huge pie to commemorate ‘special occasions’. The meat and potato monster is not baked to a particular recipe. The only stipulation is that each pie should be larger than the one that went before it. It has been baked ten times so far – most recently for the turn of the millennium. That offering measured 40 feet by eight, and included five tons of beef, two tons of potatoes, one more of onions and two hundred pints of beer. Smaller pies are available on a more routine basis.
There are those who contend that where there is pie there must also be gravy. For some it is a matter of faith. Anyone crossing the Pennines and straying into neighbouring Lancashire may find relief close at hand. Gravy is something of a Lancashire speciality. Every August Bank Holiday (August 31st), in the small town of Rossendale, an Annual Gravy Wrestling Championship is held.
It is a gastronomic occasion like no other and fitting of a place in a collection of any of the more offbeat events in Britain. Contestants set aside their chips, their pints and their dignity (not to mention their pies) to get to slippery grips with each other as they bid for the crown of annual champion. No-one remembers who wins.
Summer runs into autumn and September sees the English celebration of the singular quality of their cuisine continue with yet more food-related extravaganzas. The twelfth will see Gloucestershire’sNewent Onion Eating Championship – grown men have been known to weep at it – and the following day the Yorkshire-Lancashire rivalry reaches its climax with the World Black Pudding Championshipsin the attractively named Lancashire town of Ramsbottom.
There are those who think that the best thing to do with a black pudding is to throw it at a pile of Yorkshire pudding, just as there are those who would suggest that the latter delicacy is nothing without a dollop of gravy. Whether or not a hunk of beef should be included in that recipe is – like a great deal else – lost in the slightly mad mists of English folklore.