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The Times 2 July 2005

Wodehouse fans say tuck in and save rarest bacon

Emma Hartley

The only way to save the bacon of the rare Berkshire pig is to turn more of the beasts into rashers, the P. G. Wodehouse Society says.

The breed’s numbers include the prizewinning sow Empress of Blandings, the object of Lord Emsworth’s affections in several Wodehouse novels.

The pig’s future can be assured, the society says, only if people can be persuaded to embrace what has become known as the Emsworth Paradox — eat more of them.

It is thought that there are only about 400 Berkshires left in Britain and they are considered vulnerable by the Rare Breeds Survival Trust.

“The Emsworth Paradox is the only way to guarantee that there will be a Berkshire pig available when our grandchildren feel the need to scratch a broad back with a pensive stick,” Hilary Bruce, chairman of the P.G. Wodehouse Society, said. The society hopes to boost demand for Berkshires and thereby encourage more farmers to rear them. At present they are bred on only 20 farms.

The Berkshire’s decline is largely attributed to the Howitt report, produced by the Government in the 1950s, which recommended that British farmers should focus on just three breeds of pig – the British Landrace, the Large White and the Welsh – to increase the profitability of pig farming.

The strategy was largely successful but resulted in a decline in the numbers of Britain’s rarer breeds.

In her 1861 cookery book, Mrs Beeton describes the meat of the Berkshire as having “a very fine texture, which gives it that melt-in-the-mouth quality”. The pig, say its supporters, has many other fine attributes in addition to its meat. Vicki Mills, vice-chairman of the Berkshire Pig Breeders Club, believes that Berkshires have a “certain confidence about them”, likening them to “the sort of child who walks into a room and expects to be liked by everyone ”.

The charms of the Berkshire were certainly evident to Lord Emsworth. “The Empress was a great solace to him,” Mrs Bruce said. “Whenever Lord Emsworth’s sister and his sons were giving him a hard time he would retire to the pigsty and drape himself bonelessly over the fence to listen to the Empress eating.”

The Empress, who repaid Lord Emsworth’s efforts by winning the Fat Pig Prize at the Shropshire County Agricultural Show three times, was described by Wodehouse as “a captive balloon with ears and a tail, as nearly circular as a pig can be without bursting”.

Mrs Mills said: “We wouldn’t want them quite as fat as that these days.

“We want the succulence and the creaminess for good crackling, but if you wheeled the Empress into a show ring now she would probably be regarded as too big. Fat is just not fashionable – witness the fact that we no longer have fatstock shows at meat markets.”


Maggie Todd, who keeps Britain’s largest herd of Berkshires, at Smallicombe Farm, near Honiton, Devon, says: “To get the best out of a joint of Berkshire, dry the rind of a leg or loin of pork with kitchen towel, score it and rub in some Maldon salt and fresh rosemary. Roast the joint fat side up on a bed of onions on a trivet or in a roasting tray in a medium oven for 1hr to 1,5hr. The crackling should be really hard and crunchy.”

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