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Worcester sauce


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The nineteenth century was the great age of pungent English sauces based on oriental ingredients. Retired military men who had come to rely on their bracing effect brought home their special recipes and inflicted them on their dinner guests. Most are now ancient history, but the concoction put together by one Sir Marcus Sandys has survived. Even prouder than most of his invention, he took it along to the local Worcester grocers Lea and Perrins and got them to make up a large quantity. Its main ingredients were (and remain) vinegar, molasses, garlic, shallots, tamarinds, and assorted spices. Sir Marcus seems to have tired of his sauce after a time, however, or at least been defeated by the sheer quantity he had had made, for a large amount remained unused. The story goes that when Lea and Perrins rediscovered it amongst their stock, they were about to throw it away, but tasted it first, and found that the period of maturation had been decidedly beneficial. They decided to produce it commercially, and it first appeared on the market, under the name Worcestershire sauce (by which it is still known in the USA), in 1838 (‘Lea and Perrin's “Worcestershire Sauce,” prepared from a recipe of a nobleman in the county,’ announced an advertisement in the Naval and Military Gazette, 1 April 1843). Since then it has never looked back. It is now sold worldwide, used as a seasoning in stews, sauces, soups, vinaigrettes, etc., and has a particular role in pepping up Bloody Marys. Since the mid-nineteenth century its name has commonly been abbreviated to Worcester sauce, or simply Worcester: ‘If Harris's eyes fill with tears, it is because Harris has been eating raw onions, or has put too much Worcester over his chop’ (Jerome K. Jerome, Three Men in a Boat, 1889).

Subjects: Cookery, Food, and Drink.


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