Gentlemans Relish, Hertfordshire

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Including Gentleman’s Relish – or Patum Peperium to give the product its alternative name – in a list of British food heroes is slightly problematic, given that it was actually devised in Paris, albeit by an English merchant named John Osborn. Mr Osborn, who came up with the recipe in 1828, repatriated it a few years later, and it became a requisite part of tea-time for many male members of the British upper and professional classes from the middle of the Victorian Era .
Patum Peperium is made in Elsenham to a still closely guarded secret recipe, though some ingredients are obvious: it is predominantly made from anchovies, with the bones removed; there is surely nutmeg and/or mace; at a pinch I’d say cayenne and black pepper give the thing its kick; and the herby notes – could they come from tarragon, or perhaps dill, possibly even the tiniest hint of celery seed?
Sold in a little round box, the product is not cheap, but it is very good value – a little goes a long way: ideally it is spread very thinly on thin slivers of buttered white toast, which undoubtedly taste better when cut diagonally. The salty, fishy, slightly spiced flavour merges beautifully with melting butter, the surprisingly smooth texture of the paste contrasting nicely with the crunch of good toast.
In the imagination this is quintessentially an Edwardian thing: nibbled by noteworthy bankers in tailcoats as they draw near an open fire in the City ; a taste of home for army officers in far flung foreign fields; the savoury to end a Pall Mall club dinner. The savoury is a rather lost art in need of revival today, simple and elegant, such a lovely full stop to a meal, and Gentleman’s Relish on hot toast makes one of the best.

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