Thursday, June 24, 2004
Worcestershire Sauce, Adding Zip to Dishes Since 1838
By ROGER M. GRACE
One day in 1861, Gilbert and Hester Van Camp sold their first can of baked beans. The dish they encased in a metal cylinder was an established one, baked beans having been served (cold) by the Pilgrims, and probably by native Americans before then.
Tomato ketchup predated Henry Heinz; mustard existed before R.T. French’s time; chocolate bars were not originated by Milton Hershey. Few canned or bottled foods which are now staples were unknown to the public prior to the commercial packaging of them.
Worcestershire sauce is one of the exceptions.
Lea and Perrins’ is the most popular brand of Worcestershire sauce. Neither John Lea (1791-1874) nor William Perrins (1793-1867) invented it. But before they started bottling it, there was no such sauce associated with the English town of Worcester or the shire (county) in which that town was located, Worcestershire.
Lea and Perrins were 19th Century chemists who surely never envisioned that that their names would be imprinted on labels of bottles commonly included on the shelves of grocery stores throughout the world in the 21st Century, and probably into centuries beyond.
It was on a fateful day in 1835 that one Lord Marcus Sandys, who had been governor of Benga in the British colony of India, showed up at Lea and Perrins’ small pharmacy on Broad Street in Worcester with a recipe for a fish-based Indian sauce which he wanted duplicated. A batch was concocted.
According to David Burton’s “The Raj at the Table: A Culinary History of the British in India,” “[T]the resulting fiery mixture almost blew the heads off Mssrs Lea and Perrins, and a barrel they had made for themselves was consigned to the cellars.”
The BBC recounts on its Web site that there, in the basement, “it stayed, forgotten, for two years,” continuing:
“When it was rediscovered during spring cleaning, the two men were going to throw the mixture away. They decided to taste it one more time before getting rid of their creation forever. To their immense surprise they discovered that the sauce had matured like fine wine, gaining an aromatic scent and a wonderfully unique taste.
“The chemists quickly bought the rights to the recipe from Lord Sandys, and thus was born Lea and Perrins Original Worcestershire Sauce.”
The BBC advises: “In the U.K., Worcestershire is pronounced ‘woost-ur-shire’ and Worcestershire Sauce is referred to as ‘Worcester Sauce’, pronounced ‘woos-tah’. In many other parts of the world, however, it is referred to as ‘War-sest-uh-shire’ Sauce.”
Commercial distribution of Worcestershire sauce began in England in 1838. Labels proclaimed that the brew was “from the recipe of a nobleman of the county.”
The following year, the concoction was introduced in the New World by John Duncan of New York, who imported the ingredients from England and manufactured the sauce here in accordance with the Lea and Perrins recipe.
It was sold in a round bottles. Square ones were typically used for sauces, but medicine bottles were round and, given that Lea and Perrins were chemists, that’s the sort of bottle they used from the outset. And that’s the sort of bottle used today for their product.
In 1906, Lea and Perrins sued a company called Holbrooks that was marketing “Worcestershire sauce.” The British High Court held that anyone could sell a sauce named after that county, but that Lea and Perrins had the exclusive right to represent their product as the “Original and Genuine” Worcestershire sauce.
That description remains emblazoned on the brown wrappers encircling the bottles.
The ingredients, as listed on the Lea & Perrins’ bottle, are vinegar, molasses, high fructose corn syrup (you just can’t avoid that junk these days), anchovies, water, hydrolyzed soy and corn protein, onions, tamarinds, salt, garlic, cloves, chili peppers, natural flavorings (of unspecified nature), and shallots.
Those are not the original ingredients, as might be discerned from the fact that high fructose corn syrup and hydrolyzed soy protein are modern concoctions, not available to Broad Street chemists in the 19th Century.
Worcestershire sauce is an indispensible ingredient in inumerable dishes, including oyster-based ones previously mentioned here, such as oysters Kilpatrick (oysters baked in the half shell with bacon). Bloody Marys rely on it (pairing tomato juice and vodka), as do bloody bulls (with beef boullion) and bloody Ceasars (with Clamato juice). Calves liver with bacon or onions calls out for a splash of the tang-giving condiment, and a batch of steak tartare without it would be deficient. For pouring on stakes, it’s a worthy rival to A-1 or Heinz 57 sauce.
Worcestershire is, by the way, a place that no longer exists. In 1974, Worcestershire and Herefordshire merged to become the “County of Hereford and Worcester.”
Copyright 2004, Metropolitan News Company
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