The Great Suet Hunt

14 12 2008

Since my report on 4th December, I am delighted to tell you folks back home that there will be Christmas Puddings in the Queen household after all. There is this store in Halifax owned by Pete, who started out with a market stall in the Victorian Market in Nottingham. He moved to Canada in 1979 and now owns a national award-winning specialty grocery store. Pete’s Frootique is a store within a store, specializing in deli, produce, bakery, meats and fish and more. There’s a friendly atmosphere and often a musician playing a baby grand piano.

We found this store on one of our first trips to Halifax and were delighted to be able to buy such exotic foods as Walker’s oatcakes, Frank Cooper’s vintage marmalade and Heinz baked beans!

Louise and Cameron were at Halifax last week-end and popped in to stock up on real Bisto and real HP sauce. Louise noticed these packets and bought one, not sure if it was what I wanted.

atora-lightI was looking for suet, but never dreamt I’d be lucky enough to get vegetable suet here. Pete’s Frootique turns up trumps every time.

Louise and I set to on Monday and we have now 2 very fine Christmas puddings made with Mrs. Beeton’s recipe.

Where has all the suet gone?

4 12 2008

I know I should have had my Christmas puddings made by now, but somehow I didn’t get round to it and then decided that it would have to be done this week. First of all I had to search for pudding bowls as I’d thrown out all my specially made, just the right size, Glenshee Pottery pudding bowls. I managed eventually to find what I wanted in the local Pharmacy! Then I set off to Sobey’s with my shopping list. I had a bit of trouble finding currants and sultanas till I realised that they are all raisins but currants are Raisins de Corinthe, sultanas are Sultana Raisins and raisins are Thompson Raisins. I’d crossed the first hurdle but the next fence was a far greater obstacle. After a complete search of the store I went to the ever helpful Customer Service. The girl there looked at me as if I was speaking in a foreign language, other than Scottish and called over another older assistant. She too looked blankly at me, but thought she knew someone who could help. She led me to the main store ‘orderer’ and said ‘This lady is looking for’ and turned to me to finish the sentence with ‘suet’. He didn’t look completely ignorant of the word and thought we would get it at the meat counter. This totally confused the assistant as she asked, ‘Oh, for the birdies?’ I told her it was not suet for the birdies but for Christmas Puddings. Again, I received a look of disbelief. The chap at the meat counter took us to a freezer where there were trays of sort of minced suet. I have been brought up with suet being Atora Suet in a packet and was not too keen on this – obviously fatty layer from an animal. I declined the offer and the assistant said she didn’t blame me she wouldn’t eat that either. But now she knows what suet is.

Atora - just as I remember it.

Atora - just as I remember it.

I have started a search online for Atora and came up with this information which I think is absolutely useless but interesting.

Suet (clarified beef fat) had one of its first mentions in a recipe of 1617 as a key ingredient for ‘Cambridge pudding’ served to students at that university. At this time, suet was time consuming to use and prepare, and involved removing the fat from beef, clarifying it over heat, and chopping it ready for use.

Through time, it was common to be able to find blocks of suet at grocers, however, it was not until 1893 that the first pre-shredded suet became available. It was the brainchild of Gabriel Hugon, a French man living in Manchester. He observed his wife struggling to cut blocks of suet in the kitchen and set about to create ready shredded suet.

He called his product ‘Atora’, derived from ‘toro’ the Spanish word for bull. To reinforce this connection, up until World War II, the suet was transported around the country by painted wagons pulled by six pairs of Hereford bulls.

The brand was bought by Rank Hovis McDougall, the millers, in 1963, and along with the rest of the group, became part of Premier Foods in March 2007.

And I just took ATORA for granted.