Of all the blood puddings the world has to offer the Stornoway black pudding is definitely one of the finest. In fact, no sitting on the fence here; it is the finest.
The Spanish morcilla and its regional variants – some with pig’s blood, rice, onion and paprika – is a real treat, and welcome on any tapas menu; boudin noir from the charcuteries of France, where sausages are an art form, is a delicacy that’s often laced with the classic French ingredients of Cognac and cream; and no-one can say that Germany’s blutwurst from the Rhine Valley is not appealing: but there is something about the coarse, almost crumbly texture, and depth of peppery flavour that sets Stornoway’s black pudding above all others. And that’s saying something. In Great Britain and Ireland, both County Cork and Bury , Lancashire , are noted for their black puddings. The question is, why is Stornoway’s rendition of such a classic delicacy, such a winner on the plate, one which is now turning up with regularity on the menus of Scotland’s top restaurants?
Indeed, what was once a staple of a full breakfast – certainly a hearty breakfast, the sort you feel you owe yourself on a Sunday morning or when on holiday – is now found in fritters with apple compote, or stuffing chicken breasts. That incredible meaty richness, the very essence and definition of savoury, has been found out, and rediscovered as a natural partner to fowl, game and seafood. Scallops, Stornoway black pudding, and a maple syrup, make for a most indulgent starter – a scattering of rocket adding a little greenery on the plate.
For such a seemingly utilitarian foodstuff, essentially a breakfast sausage, it has become an ingredient for the avant-garde, its makeover accelerated by chefs and restaurateurs looking to rediscover and re-brand our cherished indigenous dishes. The black pudding may have originated in ancient Greece, but its British vari-ants are easily recognisable on the plate. As early as the 17th Century, blood puddings were championed for their taste, but if we are put the black pudding into a historical context, this is most definitely a renaissance period. In the gastronomic revolution which has gripped the UK in recent years, the coup d'état was delivered live on air by celebrity chefs brandishing sauté pans and new ideas about what we should be eating. Sue Law-rence has been one of the most evangelical endorsees of the Stornoway black pudding, with recipes for lamb stew with Stornoway black pudding crust helping to elevate its status as a luxury comestible.
According to Charles Macleod, producers of Stornoway black pudding for over 50 years, staying faithful to a family recipe has won the hearts and minds of the nation’s foodies. Pork blood, oats, spices, beef suet and vegetable fat all go into their ‘Charlie Barley’ puddings – in what order and in what quantity; only they know, but it, like other blood puddings, will be stuffed into its skin and boiled. W.J. Macdonald are another Stornoway butcher whose history has been intertwined with that of the black pudding. They go back even further, and were established in 1931 by a former gaucho, Shonnie Bhraggie (John Smith) – an Achmore boy who, after returning home from the Argentinean cattle fields, opened a butchers in Stornoway. W.J. Macdonald’s have made their name in black puddings.
Perhaps it is Stornoway’s blissful isolation, sitting on the eastern flank of the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides, that lends it subtle nuances on the palate. Sure, Stornoway is the administrative centre for the Outer Hebrides, but with a population of about 8,000 people it is hardly New York: Stornoway’s pigs can get fat and happy in the cleanest of air with a minimum of fuss. Known as marag dubh in the Scots Gaelic, perhaps it is the Hebrideans’ undying love for the black pudding that makes theirs so special.