Tuesday, January 1, 2008

What a Fishpickle! That Lea & Perrins

The New Year lies before you
Like a spotless tract of snow
Be careful how you tread on it
For every mark will show.
~Author unknown~

It all began in a pharmacy...On January 1, 1823, John Wheeley Lea & William Henry Perrins two chemists from Worcestershire, England decided to go into partnership. Neither John Lea or William Perrins actually decided to invent Lea & Perrins Sauce. They didn't invent it at all. What they did do was, produce it, when no one else was. As legends go, Lord Marcus Sandys, the former governor of the province of Bengal in the British colony of India, who had returned from a trip to the Orient, requested a compound for a fish-based Indian sauce which he wanted duplicated. The recipe was a secret blend of spices and seasonings that lent to food a "new savor and delight." From this recipe, Lea & Perrins created the fish sauce, bought the rights to the recipe from Lord Sandys, and thus was born the sauce that later became Lea and Perrins Original Worcestershire Sauce; the brew from the recipe of a nobleman of the county.

According to David Burton’s The Raj at the Table: A Culinary History of the British in India,"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.” “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. Pleasantly surprise, they discovered that the sauce had matured like fine wine. From this mishap, they learned the sauce needed an aging period in wooden casks, and needed shaking before it could be used.


Worcestershire sauce is made from dissolved fish I ponder. Garum, a fish sauce similar to the oriental versions we find in some local grocery stores, was in the pantry of Apicius. It was very powerful and as they say, a little went a long way. I have read,
...if you've ever eaten Thai or Vietnamese food, or if you've ever doused a steak with Worcestershire sauce, then you've had it: fish sauce made of tiny oily anchovies, steeped in brine, guts and all, for a long, long time until the whole mess dissolves into a salty, fishy syrup. 

The Roman concentrated fish pickle sauce was called “garum”. Garum or Liquamen, existed in many varieties such as oxygarum (mixed with vinegar) and meligarum (mixed with honey). It was considered by the Romans to be an aphrodisiac, and was usually only consumed by the higher classes of society. Although it enjoyed its greatest popularity in the Roman world, it originally came from Greece, gaining its name from the Greek words garos or garon, which named the fish whose intestines were originally used in the condiment's production. The sauce was generally made through the crushing and fermentation in wine, vinegar, pepper, oil, or water, and the innards of various fish such as tuna, eel, and others. It was served as a condiment or accompaniment with a wide variety of dishes. Although this was its main use, it also was employed as a medicine or for cosmetics. While the finished product was apparently mild and subtle in flavor, even when compared to modern Thai fish sauce, the actual production of garum created such unpleasant smells as to become relegated to the outskirts of cities so that the neighbors would not be offended by the odor. source

Fish sauces are made from a variety of fish. These include raw fish, dried fish, some from only a single species; others from whatever is the catch of the day, including some shellfish; some from whole fish, others from only the blood or viscera. Some fish sauce contain only fish and salt, others add a variety of herbs and spices. Fish sauce that has been only briefly fermented has a pronounced fishy taste, while extended fermentation reduces this and gives the product a nuttier, cheesier flavor. source

Garum is frequently maligned as being bad smelling or rotten. For example, it has been described as an "evil-smelling fish sauce" made of fish ranging from tuna, mackerel, and moray eel to anchovies. This attitude derives in part from ancient authors who satirized the condiment, but mostly from the fact that fish sauce was generally unknown in the Western world until very recently. The truth is quite different, and in fact garum only smelled when it was being made. Once the process was complete it produced a pungent savory aromatic scent and a wonderfully unique taste for as long as it was usable. source

Athough no longer made with the original ingredients, (known ingredients include Tamarind from India, African chili peppers and Anchovies from Mediterranean waters. The original never employed artificial sweeteners, coloring or additives.) Lea & Perrins Worcestershire Sauce British and American recipes differ slightly. The British recipe uses malt vinegar while the American version uses distilled white vinegar, giving the British version a slightly deeper flavour. Also, the American version uses high fructose corn syrup, while the British version has sugar. The British version is sold in Canada. Lea & Perrins uses a distinctive paper wrapper for the version sold in the United States. In the UK, the iconic bottle is well known to consumers for both its shape, and also the orange and black label. Okay, stop I have a confession to make right here and now! I never can pronounce the stuff. I say what ever comes out of my mouth at the time. Here, I'll try right now. Pass the woochester sauce. Wait, I'll try again. Get me the worchesshire sauce out of the fridge. That one I typed as it came out of my mouth, yelling over at the fridge:) According to BBC, 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.” Perhaps, I should just say, "Pass the Lea & Perrins" or is that already being used for mustard? I'm curious, does anyone else want to confess how pronounce Worcesrershire Sauce source

The recipe below was gleaned from a recipe booklet titled Lea & Perrins Book of Recipes. The copyright date is 1929 by John Duncan's Sons, New York, NY. Quite frankly, the book is more of a collection of recipes popular of the era. The difference being, when ever the opportunity lends itself to the addition of Worcestshire Sauce, it is included. I realize, most advertising recipe booklets were and still are guilty of promoting their intended product, but this booklet goes a bit overboard. I suppose it makes sense. John Duncan's Sons was one of the only, if not the only purveyor of the sauce.

John Duncan & Sons, aka John Duncans' Sons were the American licensees for importing the sauce from about 1877 until 1930. (In 1930 Lea & Perrins was bought by the company that made the competing HP Sauce brand.) Lea & Perrins' sauce was reportedly imported into the U. S. from about 1877 to 1900 in casks and then bottled by Duncan.  Sometime around 1900 to 1902 the secret formula was given to Duncan and a plant for producing the sauce from imported materials was built in the U. S. source

The following recipe is from a Lea & Perrins recipe booklet copyright 1929 John Duncan's Sons, New York, NY. The address listed as 241 West St. The booklet is rather unassuming except for the colorful cover. The recipes, I feel, are rather mundane but staple samples of the era. It does give a little insight into the qualities of the sauce.

Wherever civilized man has gone Lea & Perrins' Sauce has followed. In the South Seas it appears on the traders' tables. In the luxurious homes, hotels and cafes of Europe it knows no competition. The same is true in America...The greatest chefs in the world have given it their stamp of approval, both by using it consistently and in enthusiastic letters about its virtues...Steamships and Dining cars serve Lea & perrins' Sauce. Restaurants of every class use it in their kitchens and serve it on their tables...
Fritters a la Lea & Perrins
Cut slices of cold boiled ham or tongue about an eighth of an inch thick and trim all to the same size and shape. Lay in marinade for a few minutes, then take out, dry thoroughly and dip into fritter batter below. Fry in deep fat heated to 350-370 degrees. Drain on absorbent paper. Lay a slice of the fried meat on a heated plate, place a crisp lettuce leaf on top and cover with another slice of the meat. Pour hot tomato sauce or any preferred sauce, around sandwich and serve immediately. This makes a good meat item for a "blue plate" dinner.
1-1/4 cups flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1 egg
3/4 cup milk
1 tsp. Lea & Perrins Sauce
Sift dry ingredients, add egg, well beaten, then milk and Lea & Perrins Sauce. The batter should be just thick enough to coat the article intended to cover. If it is too thin, add flour; if too thick, and milk or water.
Marinade: Shake together in a covered jar, 3 tbs. oil, 2 tsp. vinegar or lemon juice, 1 tsp. salt, 2 tsp Lea & perrins Sauce


Because Lea and Perrins were originally chemists, Worcestershire sauce was bottled in round bottles rather than square ones as other sauces at the time, these round bottles had originally been chemist’s medicine bottles!
In the late 1800’s, the sauce was often copied and to prove that it was an original Lea & Perrins bottle, Lea & Perrins had to raise the letters on the bottle.
In the late 1830's, Lea & Perrins arranged to have cases of their sauce on all ocean liners that came in and out of British waters. They paid the stewards to serve the sauce in the dining rooms, which led to passengers requesting to buy a bottle of this new intriguing sauce to take home. Shipping the bottles led to wrapping each in plain, unbleached paper to avoid breakage. Subsequently the fame of Worcestershire Sauce spread very quickly.
By 1839, Lea & Perrins was the only commercially-bottled condiment and the Americans loved it. John Duncan, a New York promoter, imported large shipments. When popularity warranted, Lea & Perrins shipped ingredients to the States for processing to exact British standards.
May 31, 1892, Lea & Perrins Firm registered "Lea & Perrins Worchestershire Sauce" trademark
1904 - granted the rare Royal Warrant by King Edward VII
1906-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.
1916-granted The Spanish Royal Warrant by King of Spain

On June 11, 1930 Leas & Perrins Worchestershire Sauce was acquired by House of Parliament Foods (HP). After the original chemists died Lea & Perrins became part of the HP Foods company that was recently bought by Heinz.

I would like to share with you a paper leaflet I have which is undated. As in all images here, it will open in a larger window for viewing.

Inside the leaflet is an introduction to H. P. Sauce by Sarah Field Splint. There's more about Sarah Field Splint over @ The Food Company Cookbooks blog. 

H. P. Sauce is made and bottled in the Land of Sauces; England. It has a rich thick, fruity quality of rare bouquet. Its smooth, mellow flavor is obtained by blending seventeen choice fruits, vegetables and oriental spices with a special malt vinegar matured two years in the wood. No wonder H. P. has been "London's Favorite Thick Sauce" for generations.

"Save our Sauce"

As was the case with Lea & Perrins Worcester Sauce, H. P. Sauce also has its share of legends. In the case of H.P. it seems to be interrupted by a Mr. Palmer. Here is an excerpt from a British Newspaper; May 10, 2006

The original recipe for HP Sauce was invented in 1899 by Harry Palmer, from whom the initials 'HP' derive. He called it Harry Palmer's Famous Epsom Sauce. But Mr Palmer, an avid gambler at the Epsom races, was forced to sell the recipe to cover his £150 debts to F G Garton, a grocer from Nottingham. F G Garton's Sauce Manufacturing began to market the brown sauce at the site in Aston, Birmingham, in 1903, shortening the name to HP after he heard that a restaurant in the Houses of Parliament had begun serving it.

It was said to be so popular among politicians that it was dubbed 'Wilson's Gravy' in the 1960s and 1970s after the then Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson. In an interview, his wife Mary said: 'If Harold has a fault, it is that he will drown everything with HP Sauce.'

In a pun on the name, Private Eye's parliamentary news section was named 'HP Sauce'. In the 1990s, the sauce was promoted on TV by boxer Frank Bruno, along with commentator Harry Carpenter...In 1988, British firm HP Foods was sold to French Danone for £199million, before being taken over by Heinz in June 2005 for £470million.

And this one from the British Telegraph

HP Sauce is a popular brown sauce produced in Birmingham, England. It has a malt vinegar base blended with fruit and spices. The original recipe for was invented and developed by FG Garton a grocer from Nottingham. F.G. Garton's Sauce Manufacturing began to market HP Sauce in 1903. Garton came to call the sauce HP because he had heard that a restaurant in the Houses of Parliament had begun serving it. Garton sold the recipe and HP brand for the sum of £150 and the settlement of some unpaid bills to Edwin Samson Moore. HP Sauce became known as Wilson's Gravy in the 1960s and '70s after Harold Wilson, the Labour Prime Minister who, it was alleged, used to cover his food with the sauce. The allegation was neither confirmed nor denied by Wilson.

I find the most interesting rendition at brownsauce.org dated February 6, 2007 titled, The Debate – What DOES HP Sauce stand for?

“HP Sauce does indeed stand for “Houses of Parliament”. In the late 1800’s Edwin Samson Moore (founder of the Midland Vinegar Company, Birmingham, later to become HP Foods) visited the Nottingham grocer F.E. Garton who had an outstanding debt with the Midland Vinegar Company. At the time, Mr Moore was actively seeking a good sauce recipe to expand the business. While visiting Mr Garton, with his son Eddie, they spotted bottles marked “Garton’s HP Sauce”. Mr Garton had created a sauce and was then selling it to the local market. It was a perfect fit and was exactly what they were looking for. Within minutes, Mr Moore settled Mr Garton’s debt and bought the recipe for £150. When asked what the name stood for, Mr Garton told him that he had heard a rumour that a bottle of his sauce had been seen in the restaurant of the Houses of Parliament. Mr Moore instantly loved the idea and the name stuck. It was sold for some by the Midland Vinegar Company as “Garton’s HP Sauce” and later changing to simply “HP Sauce”.”

The "Save our Sauce" campaign was initiated when Heinz announced that it wanted to move production from its factory in Aston to Holland by 2007, with a loss of 125 jobs. Here's an exerpt from the article in the British Telegraph dated 2006.

Liberal Democrat Lorely Burt has tabled a motion criticising Heinz for continuing to use the "British symbol" of the House of Commons on the sauce bottles despite the fact it is no longer to be made in the UK.
The motion reads,
"This House deplores the retention of the picture of the House of Commons on HP sauce labels following the decision by new owners Heinz Plc to remove production from the historic Aston site to Holland, making the 125 employees redundant."

Lea & Perrins sauce came through WWII in tact, even though key personnel went away to serve in the armed forces. Necessary ingredients were scarce, as well. After WWII, the HP Company decided no one person would know Worcestershire Sauce’s complete list of ingredients. The list would remain secret. It was broken up and put into code. The list is still a mystery. However, copycat and non-original recipes, are always available.


  • 1. Pharmacy-the mother of invention?
  • 2. Heinz: Art of Flavor
  • 3. British Wikipedia (HP Sauce)
  • 4. The Travel Lady
  • 5. The British Telegraph
  • 6. The sauce of it! HP is quitting Britain for Holland
  • 7. Sarah Field Splint (A Tattered but Loved Cookbook)

1 comment:

  1. I am the great-great grandson of Edward Eastwood and Edwin Samson Moore who established their Midland Vinegar Company in 1874 at Aston Cross Birmingham. In 1899 they purchased the secret recipe and rights to Frederick Gibson Gartons HP Sauce under mysterious and dubious circumstances. HP Sauce My Ancestors' Legacy ISBN 9781481797030 is the history of the sauce 1874-2013. Nigel delves into the history of his families involvement with this iconic British& world wide food brand and dispels all the myths and rumours that surround the acronym HP and reveals for the very first time the true meaning of HP, its not Houses of Parliament or Harry Palmer or even Harry Potter. Nigel is the cousin of the celebrated family television presenter and celebrity Fern Britton.


Through this wide opened gate,
none came too early,
none returned too late.

Thanks for dropping in...Louise