Talking tripe in the vanished world of the UCP
Published at 00:00, Friday, 08 December 2006
I HAPPENED to be in a butcher’s shop in Lancashire at the weekend – and found myself in offal heaven.
For instead of fancy doodads like balti sausages and garlic-laced fricassee, there were just joints of unadulterated meat, sausages – and trays and trays of tripe.
Now regular readers of this column may feel that my links with tripe are too strong as it is, but there was something so wholesome about this antarctic expanse of snowy succulence.
To the outsider, tripe is tripe, but to the aficionado it’s a delicacy as delightful as the finest porterhouse steak.
To the uninitiated, to say you had tripe for lunch is the equivalent of confessing to having eaten a baby, washed down by the contents of a spittoon.
Tripe is the stomach linings of an ox, and the very thought of eating such a thing tends to bring non North-Westerners out in a cold sweat.
Those same people are oblivious to the fact they regularly tuck into chicken embryos and unborn fish, and regard them as a treat.
Rather than just being a disgusting piece of viscera, tripe actually comes in various grades, a different one from each of the beast’s multiple stomachs.
The first stomach’s lining is called blanket, the second honeycomb and the third thick seam.
They all taste the same – only the appearance is different.
Tripe is seldom seen in Tynedale, but what you do see is already dressed and parboiled for the table.
It can be boiled with milk and is traditionally served with onions, but when I was a lad it was sold cold and clammy at every chip shop worth its salt and vinegar.
Indeed, there was an entire empire devoted to the edible rumen, along with its associated bovine bellybuster, cow heel, a glutinous jelly-like substance which was supposed to be good for you.
My mother worked in one of the 146 tripe shops and cafes run by United Cattle Products, or the UCP as it was formally known. In their day, the black and white clad UCP waitresses vied with Betty’s of Harrogate for being the last word in elegance.
UCP cafes were every bit as popular as McDonalds and Burger King are today throughout the North West in the 1950s and 1960s, with youngsters as well as mill workers.
Sadly, tripe has proved a turn-off for a generation which prefers pizza and elephant leg kebabs to a chunk of thick seam.
As far as I'm aware only one UCP cafe survives, in the evocative setting of the Poultry Hall Abattoir in Salford.
Lost in my reverie, my hand was in my pocket to purchase a slab of honeycomb, when Mrs Hextol steered me firmly out of the shop by the elbow with her “Don’t even think about it” expression firmly in place.
We went to a nearby cafe, where I was somewhat surprised to find that tripe ’n onions was not on the menu.
However, I espied another of my favourites lower down the laminated sheet, and confidently ordered liver and onions.
“No-one does liver like they do in Lancashire,” I assured Mrs H, as she weighed up the quiche and coleslaw options.
My plate duly arrived, brimming in gravy in which thick chunks of onion breasted the waves like Arctic ice floes.
I speared a piece of liver on my fork, and waited for the explosion of gustatory bliss – and it never arrived.
It was beyond a shadow of a doubt the toughest, most unyielding, and most inedible piece of food I have ever put in my mouth.
George Best hadn’t made as much of a mess of his livers as the cook at this cafe.
It was so bad I actually checked the waitress’s footwear, convinced that the limp she had was down to the fact she had donated one of her grubby galoshes to the stew pot.
I chewed manfully for many moments, without appreciable effect on the morsel in my mouth – and there were many others to follow.
I considered protesting, but a glance towards the kitchen revealed occasional glimpses of a tab-smoking, string-vested, belly-scratching giant of a man, whose demeanour did not suggest he would take kindly to criticism of his culinary efforts.
So I ploughed on, forcing most of the awful offal down, but contriving to drop one or two sizeable chunks on to the floor, where presumably it still serves to stave off rats.
Published by http://www.hexhamcourant.co.uk