A look ahead to the 2013 Aughton Pudding Festival
PUBLISHED: 00:00 09 August 2013
August might not be the conventional time for a heavyweight plum pud unless you live in a tiny Lune Valley hamlet. Sue Riley reports.
When the team behind Heston Blumenthal’s television show quizzed Sandi Haythornthwaite about giant puddings she refused to crack. After all, as a future cook of the Aughton Pudding, which glories in the title of the world’s biggest plum pud, she hardly wanted to go down in history as the woman who revealed the secret recipe.
This August Sandi will act as assistant to her mother, Mitzi Hayhurst, who was responsible for the record-breaking three-tonner in 1992. Although the whole hamlet of Aughton, near Lancaster, helps out it’s the Haythornthwaite family who have been the keepers of the secret recipe since the tradition started in the 18th century.
For some reason lost in the mists of time, the pudding festival only happens every 21 or 22 years. The last one was a whopper that got them into the Guinness Book of Records. This time, they have decided to cook one just a third of the size. Mind you, it’s still likely to weigh in at about a ton. ‘It’s a lovely tradition for the village,’ said Mitzi, 74 ‘The last one was so big simply because we wanted the record.’ She recalls sleeping close to the pudding as it cooked for no less than five days. ‘It was such a massive stress.’ Sandi adds: ‘If someone steals the record, and it’s highly unlikely, then we might try and get it back next time.’
Folklore has it that the festival has been in existence since 1782 after the village took delivery of a boiler to help strip the bark from willow growing along the banks of the Lune. Someone commented that it looked like a pudding could be cooked in it and the rest is culinary history. The festival stopped in 1886 amid claims it had caused ‘rancour in the village’ and only started again in 1971. For that occasion Luneside Engineering in Halton created a boiler which has resided in Mitzi’s barn ever since and it will be used to cook the pud again this year.
Most of the hamlet - Aughton is little more than a handful of cottages, barn conversions and a church - is helping out with the festivities and a committee has been set up. People in the surrounding villages of Halton and Gressingham are also volunteering their time.
Chris Carr is a relative newcomer to the area but says the fame of the pudding has spread far and wide. ‘I had been chatting to a man in Clitheroe and I said I was moving to Aughton and he said “ah, the Aughton pudding!”’ Although Chris, committee chairman, has seen pieces of the 1992 pudding – many people have bits of the 1971 pudding in their fridges and freezers too – this year’s vintage will be the first time he’ll taste it. And it had better be good as he’s even having it served at his daughter’s wedding later this year.
Many individuals and organisations have already got in contact with the committee, like the John O’ Gaunt Morris Men who performed at the last two festivals. ‘I have had all my bedrooms booked by people for the last 10 years for the pudding festival,’ said Sandi. She was living in London in 1992 and just popped up to Aughton, where her family has been in residence for more than eight generations, to witness it. This time round she will be very hands on. ‘It’s meant to be me making the pudding but due to my lack of cooking skills no-one has suggested I do it!’ said Sandi. So it’s down to her mother again. ‘I’m feeling a bit panicky. It’s getting the right consistency that’s important,’ said Mitzi, who says she is now the oldest person in the village but still spends her days tending her sheep on the hills. For her 60th birthday she treated herself to a quad bike.
In 1992 they used a concrete mixer to blend the ingredients, but this time it will just be the family. ‘Mixing of the pudding will be a mother and daughter affair and maybe a blindfolded granddaughter,’ said Sandi. Amid the 250 eggs and 148kg of dried fruit and candied peel is a secret ingedient known only to family members. Sandi was only told what it was (it’s of vegetable origin) when her grandmother died in 1993. Now her 11-year-old daughter Polly is desperate to know. ‘I was 32 when I found out,’ says Sandi. It looks like Polly has a long wait ahead of her.
Pud enough to eat
The festival is being held on August 26, which is Bank Holiday Monday, and will incorporate the annual Aughton Village Show which started three years ago. The highlight of the day will be the unveiling of the pudding which will then be cut into small pieces using a specially made shovel, but there will also be events and competitions for the whole family. There’s no word whether Heston will be visiting, but he did go ahead with his giant Christmas pudding and even set his 6ft creation on fire. Flamboyant it may have been, but it didn’t break any records. In Aughton size really does matter.