At one time every market had at least one tripe stall. Today it’s more difficult to find this once-loved dish. ANDREW BALDWIN took up the search
WHEN Honley madcap Mick Madden had to give up eating tripe because of an allergy the food lost a good customer.
There was a time when the offal went together with flat caps and whippet-racing as a symbol of northern-ness.
Wartime wives loved the cuts of white meat – taken from a cow’s innards – as they were cheap, nutritious and readily available.
Since ration books disappeared and cooks gained access to a global meat market, the dish has dramatically fallen from fashion.
Mick Madden reckons to having eaten thousands of pounds of the stuff before being forced to stay away from it.
His passion for tripe has seen him eat the delicacy on 1990s TV show The Big Breakfast, appear at the 1996 Comic Relief show with Dame Edna Everage and The Spice Girls and even promote it on German and American TV screens.
But it remains decidedly out of favour with Britain’s households, despite his best efforts and those of celebrity chefs Gordon Ramsay and Rick Stein, who have both extolled its virtues.
Anyone wanting to give it a go will find it hard to get in the shops, a marked difference to the days when every market hall had at least one tripe stall, and probably more.
A small-scale industry surrounded the food, with specialist tripe dressers who bleached, cooked and processed the product before distributing it to the shops.
They still shift 200lb of the stuff a week at Quality Butchers in Huddersfield’s Queensgate Market.
Owner Nigel Beecroft happily serves it to customers, but doesn’t eat it himself. “It’s all right, but I prefer a pork pie,” he says.
White tripe is ready bleached and actually a cooked meat, so most people eat it as it comes, with a good dollop of salt and vinegar.
Nigel sells plain and thick seam, black fat and other types when he can get them.
But he explains that honeycomb is by far the biggest seller because of the holes in it which soak up the salt and vinegar into the tripe.
It’s older people who buy it most, but one or two younger ones come in as well to the shop.
Nigel says: “Some people cook it, but most have it in the state they buy it. They might heat it up in colder weather.
“Some get it from us and walk round town eating it. It’s quite refreshing in summer.”
Tripe is widely eaten in Continental countries. Callios, a national dish in Spain, contains tripe and is served in a spicy stew flavoured with tabasco sauce.
And France holds an annual festival to celebrate the use of tripe.
It is viewed as a healthy choice and an excellent dish for slimmers as it is high in protein – 18% compared to 12% in a prime beefsteak – and low in calories.
Nigel says: “It’s got really good properties. It’s also supposed to be good for the digestion.”
And quite cheap, at £1.59 a pound for seam and £1.76 for honeycomb.
Nigel’s wife, Yvonne, is not a fan of the taste and positively turns her nose up when I decide to have a go.
But she says: “We’d never stop selling it. There’s a lot of people who still want it.”
The couple get their tripe from R Hey and Sons, whose address is the delightfully named Ideal Tripe Works at Meadow Lane in Dewsbury. They are one of under half a dozen suppliers in Britain.
I try some plain seam and a portion of black fat, laced with salt and vinegar. I take to it straight away. It’s not bad!
Could it be the start of a new diet which will also include cow heel, udders, chitterlings and trotters?
A quick taste test back in the office fails to get off the ground as most colleagues won’t even have a try. And I daren’t mention what the vegetarians said!
Perhaps it means tripe does not have a future in the long term.
It’s an attitude which puzzles Ken Ware, 73, from Lockwood, who was buying some tripe from Quality Butchers.
“It’s what we used to get in the war and I’ve carried on eating it from there,” he says. “I usually get honeycomb and will occasionally have it with onions and sometimes as my main meal.
“It goes down quite well with a bit of bread and butter.”