Wodehouse fans say tuck in and save rarest bacon
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
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
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.”
HOW TO COOK
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.”