Henderson’s Relish

“If you slice any Sheffield man in two, you’ll see
“Henderson’s” running through him like a stick of rock.”

(Overheard in my local pub)

I’m not sure I like the idea of cutting people in two (although on second thoughts maybe I could be tempted to think of one or two potential candidates…), but I have to agree about the Henderson’s. Its status in Sheffield is legendary.

So what exactly is it? Like most people attempting to describe Sheffield’s version of the elixir of life, I’m reduced to the following somewhat underwhelming description: it’s a bit like Worcester sauce, but the flavour is different and somewhat sweeter.

According to the label on the bottle, the “spicy Yorkshire sauce” will add extra flavour to meat, fish, soups, pies, casseroles and vegetables. The flavour isn’t what I would describe as spicy, but of course in this area, “spice” means “sweets”, so the label may well be referring to the slightly sweet flavour. It is made with vinegar, sugar, caramel, salt, tamarinds, cayenne pepper, cloves, garlic oil and (oddly) saccharine. It also contains water; in fact some people claim that Sheffield’s water contributes to the distinctive taste of the relish.

Henderson’s is also approved by the Vegetarian Society (unlike Worcester sauce, which contains anchovies), which has helped it find favour with some of Sheffield’s temporary student residents.

Invented over 100 years ago by Henry Henderson and made in Sheffield pretty much ever since, Henderson’s has somehow become more than just a condiment in the eyes of its many fans. Why? Well probably because most native Sheffielders were brought up on the stuff. Whether added during cooking, or sprinkled liberally over food, just about every meal cooked in post-war Sheffield seems to have included Henderson’s Relish. The result is that Sheffielders, particularly the men, just can’t seem to get enough of it.

The Henderson’s factory itself is something of an enigma. If you stand directly outside you will notice that the smell of the relish is quite strong and the frontage of the building is in reasonable condition, but if you look at the ramshackle buildings behind it you’ll be left wondering how they are still standing. And who works there? Why is no one ever seen arriving or leaving?

No wonder then that the famous relish and its factory are often the subject of rumours claiming they are closing down. This often sparks panic buying among Henderson’s addicts; one friend told me how his Dad bought a lifetime’s supply of the stuff and stored crates of it in his garage, just in case.

Happily the rumours seem to be unfounded; Henderson’s Relish continues to be produced. If you live outside Sheffield, you’ll find it a challenge to get hold of the stuff, but it’s selling as fast as they can make it (and sometimes faster) in the supermarkets, grocers and chip shops of South Yorkshire.

Links:
The official Henderson’s site, with a guide to the company’s history, recipes and celebrity fans.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Henderson’s!

An un-official fan club, with an interesting explanation as to how Henderson’s Relish is brewed.

1 comment to Henderson’s Relish

  • Elliot Mattu

    Fascinating, thank you! I spent my childhood in Yorkshire in the UK, and I’ve been trying to find a recipe for this delicious pie I remember eating all the time, but can’t remember what we called it!!! Do you know any famous pie recipes from Yorkshire?

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