The Gentleman’s Relish

The Victorians and Edwardians had a real thing for what they called savouries, which were small dishes served alongside or after the dessert course at dinner. We don’t do this any more, all that survives is the cheese option one sometimes finds on the pudding menu at restaurants. I expect the gout is to blame. Savouries need a whole post to themselves so I won’t go into them here…

For me, Gentleman’s Relish is the savoury that really conjures up romantic images of that era, I think just for the name alone. I can just imagine the bank manager or maybe a member of the British Raj eating a slice of toast, relish melting and seeping into it, as he reminisces of home.

Gentleman’s Relish is essentially potted anchovies that are heavily spiced – it also goes by another name Patum Peperium which is Latin for ‘pepper paste’, and it should only be used “very sparingly”.

It was invented in 1828 by John Osborn an expatriate living in Paris which, when he unveiled it the Paris Food Show in 1849 and again in 1855, won a Citation Favorable. High praise indeed. It is still made now in Elsham, Hertfordshire, but what exactly goes in there is a closely-guarded secret.

FYI: the company have started making a salmon version called Poacher’s Relish. I’ve never tried it, but I am sure it is wonderful too.

Now, Patum Peperium is not to everyone’s taste – saying it is piquant would be doing it a gross injustice – it is very fishy, very salty and very spicy, so some may consider it totally foul. However, I love strongly tasting robust food like this. To show it off as its finest, it should be scraped thinly across hot toast. When you first try it, the first thing that hits you is the fishy odour, then you take a bite and find the fish taste is actually a perfect marriage between anchovy, salt and spice. You can’t have a marriage between three things can you? Make that a love triangle between anchovy, salt and spice. It is addictive stuff; if it is to your tasting, like Marmite, you either love it or hate it.

Gentleman’s Relish is a cooking ingredient in its own right: the fish, salt and spices all provide a great seasoning to stews, especially lamb, and is great stirred into scrambled eggs. It can be melted upon steaks, or used as a simple sauce with pasta. It is also used to make another amazing savoury called Scotch Woodcock.

After doing a bit of research I found that major players in the spice mix seemed to be nutmeg, mace, Cayenne pepper and black pepper – all classically Victorian, the amounts used vary from pinches to teaspoons, with the spices sometimes mixed equally, other times, one spice dominated.

Here is my recipe – the dominant spice here is Cayenne pepper, because it provides a good punch of chili heat and not that much other flavour, which the other – what are often called warmer – spices do magnificently. You can include less of the mix in the relish, or change the ratios or even the spices to suit your own taste.

Ingredients

For the spice mix:

1 tsp Cayenne pepper

1/4 tsp ground cinnamon

1/4 tsp ground nutmeg

1/4 tsp ground mace

1/4 tsp ground ginger

1/4 tsp ground black pepper

For the relish:

2 oz (50g) can of anchovies, drained

4 oz softened butter

1 tsp spice mix

Start off by mixing together the spices. To get maximum flavour it is best to freshly grind your spices, but it is not essential. What is essential, however, is to cook your spices. Do do this, melt between 1/3  and 1/2 of the butter in a small saucepan. When hot and bubbling fry the spices for around 30 seconds; mind the butter doesn’t burn though. Now mix it with the anchovies and the remaining butter. The idea is to produce a paste – there are several ways to do this: blender, food processor, pestle & mortar or fork will do the job, it is a trade-off between how homogenous you like your relish and how much washing up you can be bothered doing. Spoon the mixture into a small pot, cover with a lid or some clingfilm, and allow to cool.

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58 Comments

Filed under Britain, food, General, history, Nineteenth Century, Recipes, The Edwardians, The Victorians, Uncategorized

58 responses to “The Gentleman’s Relish

  1. Kathryn Marsh

    The spice mix seems bang on working through it in my head but while your recipe looks good it doesn’t look as salty as the real thing to me – a quick check in the cupboard and session with the grill to produce melba toast confirms that the salt content of Gentleman’s Relish is much, much higher than simply using drained canned anchovies. I’d say the original probably used those wonderful anchovies packed in salt one can occasionally still find in the very best Italian grocers and can only use in tiny amounts – I suggest one needs at least the same weight of salt as anchovy if using the tinned kind. And I think there is less butter in the original – but of course one uses butter on the toast as well. First time i’ve actually eaten it for breakfast. It very rarely appears here in Ireland so I have to stock up when visiting the UK.
    Good on Bath Olivers which are also hard to get here

    • I reckon it is salty enough for me – I don’t think extra butter is required so it evens it out. Have you tried the Poacher’s Relish yet?

    • Barry wilkinson

      I worked for the company that bought Elsenham Foods back in 1997.
      My work consisted of the manufacture of Patum Relish. the correct salt content should be 25%. (Donot forget the Bay Leaves)

      • 25%!! That is nuts. I’ll try some bay leaves in my next batch. Cheers Barry!

      • Hi there
        25% salt… That was measured at the filling point in the process. Don’t use 25% at the ingredient stage. The Anchovies used to be matured in brine, in barrels and they retained a lot of salt content after washing repeatedly to remove it.
        On the question of bay leaves… Back in 1971 when Elsenham bought the rights from the retiring Osborn brothers they were demonstrating the secret production process. Towards the end, one of them rolled up a sleeve and fished around in the big vat of spices and picked out a bay leaf saying, ” you can use these twice”. That was a reflection of the fact that their factory was in a built up area of London. However, we were in the middle of the countryside and had many orchards full of fruit and among them were bay leaves galore.l How do I know this… I was there at the demonstration as a Director of Elsenham. By the way, the name “The Gentlemans Relish” is a trade mark and was in my day protected in forty nine countries where we sold the product.

      • I sell Gentleman’s Relish on my artisan market stall and also served it up at my last pop-up restaurant, I call it Patum Peperium of course, just in case….

        Thank you so much for your insights into this enigmatic foodstuff!

      • You say that you call the product by its original name “Patum Peperium” This also, is a trade mark. You might like to know that when these trade marks were maintained by me, they were both functional and were registered, as I said, in forty-nine countries. Unless you have had them assigned to you then you are in danger of infringement.
        Kind regards
        David

      • Blimey. Well I doubt I am a threat somehow!

      • I know what you mean about hardly being a threat but a trade mark is a trade mark and may only be used with permission. Damages can sometimes be punitive.
        Don’t shoot the messenger…
        Kind regards
        David

  2. I’ve tasted a lot of things in my nearly 60 years of adventure, but I can’t recall anything as surprisingly sublime as Neil’s Gentleman’s Relish, melted into his own sourdough toast. The salt is just right, the fish strong, the spices a final credenza. It is fabulous and totally unexpected. I can’t wait to make some of my own. I will need to run out and get some mace.

  3. musk

    How can you write about English food while wearing a baseball cap and t-shirt?

  4. I tried a modified version of this recipe today, exchanging the mace for nutmeg on account of not having any mace around, and halving the amount of butter and of cayenne pepper. The latter turned out to be a mistake – it could well have been a bit spicier, but overall it worked very well. Enjoyed a nice afternoon tea with the relish spread on warm toast. Thank you, sir.

    • I am very glad you tried it! It was a good idea to swap the mace for the numeg seeing as they’re not a million miles away from each other in flavour. My recipe is not quite as salty as the proper version, but I think mine is salty enough!

      Cheers,

      Neil

  5. Anthony

    You keep talking about salt…but I can’t see it mentioned in the recipe above?

  6. Fritz

    I purchased some Poachers Relish at Fortnum and Mason when in London a few years ago. It’s not bad but I prefer their Patum Perperium.

    • Hi Fritz.

      I have never tried it either – I recently saw a mackerel one when I was in Harvey Nichol’s recently, but neither have appealed that much…

      • Fritz

        I used 4 oz of anchovies with 4 oz of butter. I found this a bit closer to the Fortnum & Mason version of Patum and I like the stronger anchovie flavor. I may use 3/4 Tsp of cayenne pepper next time, otherwise the results were quite good. The fresher the spices the better.

      • Yes, the freshly-ground spices are the key

  7. Pingback: The Hamburg Hamburger Returns to London

  8. Bev

    Until today, I had never heard of either gentlemans or poachers relish, But my mum brought this intruiging little pot of Poachers relish for me. Of course it would have been so rude of me not to toast some thin sliced brown bread and try it and I am so glad I did, they are not kidding when they say use it sparingly are they? Thank you for your gentlemens relish recipe, because when this little pot runs out, i will be filling it with some of your recipe.

    • I am glad you found me! The recipe I came up with is pretty close to the proper stuff, though less salty, so you might want to add some more….

      Thanks for the post and let me know how you get on…

  9. a.

    Yummmm! As an anchovy lover, reading this post has made me determined not only to make it, but also to order the real stuff (I’m so intrigued – but I live in the US). Also: please DO do a post about savouries! After reading your little blurb about them I googled a bit and learned that some of my favorite British dishes are in fact “savouries” (e.g. welsh rabbit/rarebit).

    • Thanks for posting a comment – Patum Peperium is very delicious, but you must use the proper stuff very sparingly.

      I keep meaning to write a post on savouries – I’ve been going savoury mad recently. I have a backlog of posts to write, but I shall nudge this one up this list!

  10. Geoff

    I have just found your recipe, and it looks very interesting. I note the discussion above about the salt content, and you seem to be relying on the salt already in the tinned anchovies. I have a source of anchovy fillets in olive oil, which only contains about 2% salt. Do you think this will be enough, or should I add more? I well remember and loved the original Patum Peperium until I was forced to give it up when I became coeliac, so I am very much looking forward to trying out your recipe.

    • Hi Geoff, thanks for the comment – I would probably add some more salt. Even with the high salt content of the anchovies, my recipe is no way near as salty as the real thing. You can always taste the mixture and add more…

  11. Liz

    Very pleased to have found your site as I love patum peperium. However, I hope you don’t mind me mentioning that John Osborn was most likely an expatriate, not an ex-patriot!

  12. Hi there
    The original recipe for “The Gentlemans Relish” – to give it its real name, was a secret recipe and only one or two people at Elsenham Quality Foods had access to it. The main business was in Elsenham Preserves and condiments.
    I was the Design Director Elsenham when they bought the name and recipe to make it when the last members of the Osborn family retired back in 1971. At that time it had only been in the plastic pots for a few years. The older china pots were not vitreous and were no longer allowed for the product. It was my job to commission the redesign of the pots in porcelain. Then a few years later with the changes in food labelling regulations I did a very careful redesign of the graphics on all the pots. Most of these are still in use today including those for Fortnum & Mason, Harrods etc.
    The Poachers Relish was considered for some years but I believe it didn’t get put into production until some time in the nineteen nineties.
    I was with that company for thirty years until I retired back in 1998. At that time Elsenham Quality Foods had recently changed hands and the name Patum Peperium was then used as a company name for the product The Gentlemans Relish and sold off. I don’t know who bought it but don’t think it is made in the village of Elsenham any longer.
    The main business had many changes and the preserves which were first made on that site in 1890 by the Gilbey family ( the distillers ), are as far as I know, no longer available. The site is adjacent to Stansted airport and therefore probably had better potential.

    Note: John Osborn the inventor of the product was an Irishman living in The Rue de Castiglione at the time.
    David J Fright

    • Thanks so much for your comment of the more recent history of Gentleman’s Relish. It’s always interesting to hear from people right at the coal-face of food production and history.

      I still the lovely little pots in places like Selfridge’s and think they are so quintessentially English. Nowhere else could a thing like it flourish!

      Thanks again!

    • Sylvia Atkinson

      Hi, I have a pot especially commissioned for Elsenham quality foods gentlemans relish. It is earthenware with a picture of a large fish on the lid. Can you tell me when this pot was in use/on sale? Thanks

      • Sylvia Atkinson

        ps the pot is 4 1/4 inches in diameter by 2 inches deep and is beige in colour apart from fish on lid.

      • Hi Sylvia
        Elsenham have been making pots like your description for decades, so I can’t be much use I’m afraid. Have a look on ebay and see if any of the photos on there that matches yours.

        Cheers, Neil

      • Hi Sylvia
        I designed the pot that you speak of. I was Design Director at Elsenham Quality Foods for over thirty years and I would place that one at some time between 1975 and 1980.
        I’m away from home at the moment but may be able to get a more specific date by looking at my design archives when I return. If you have a picture of the decoration it might help.
        If you read previous posts by me on these pages you will get some more authentic information about the product.
        kind regards
        David Fright.

  13. Hello from Canada. Getting through the worst winter in decades has for me encouraged time indoors reading some old Naigo Marsh whodunnits, starring her sleuth Inspector Alleyn. In his youth he was apparently enamoured of Anchovy Toast, and the description of it tempted me to track down your wonderful recipe. I just made it this aft – really delicous for a salty fishy snack lover. I have suscribed to your blog, and look forward to many more great discoveries! Beverley from Warkworth Ontario.

    • Hi Beverly – thank you so much for your lovely comment. I must say I’m slightly jealous of your bad winter. We’ve had the wettest, warmest one since the 18th century! My allotment is already teeming with slugs and snails!

      I keep meaning to write a post just on savouries – an almost dead food course that usually came before dessert but after the main. There’s 2 more anchovy-based ones that you might like. I’ll try and get on it!

      Neil

      • I’ll be enjoying the anchovy toast for tea in front of a roaring wood fire in about ten minutes. This winter we certainly need the fire – old Canadian farm houses are draughty and hard to heat. I think I would prefer your slugs and snails to our waist high snow! Will look forward to the additional anchovy recipes, and in the meantime I’m tempted by your Yorkshire Curd Tart recipe, which I had always assumed was a secret and hard-to-achieve art. We have often rented a National Trust Cottage at Fountains Abbey, near Ripon where the curd tarts are delectable.
        Thanks for your great blog – will let you know how the tarts work out!

  14. diana

    Hi Neil,
    As a frequent maker & seller of chutneys & relishes, I have been on the lookout for a ‘manly’ recipe to use a wedding favour gifts for the male guests at my daughters wedding in September.
    A friend suggested Gentleman’s Relish, which I had never heard of. My recipe search brought me to you! It looks to be the perfect solution to her request & I can’t wait to give it a test try.
    However, what I would like to know is how long it will keep for if I present it in a small glass jar & perhaps sealing the relish with some clarified butter?

    Diana

    • Hi Diana.

      I sell this Gentleman’s Relish myself and I’ve found that there is no need to seal the pots, so long as they’ve been sterilised. They last at least 6 weeks in the fridge because of all that salt!

  15. kilted

    Thanks for this recipe. Anchovies are a bit expensive for me to try. Do you have a recipe for poachers relish?

  16. Lauren

    Thank you for this most interesting thread on Gentleman’s Relish.

    We are reviving garum back into production here in Florida,USA.

    The website below tells our story.

    http://laurenstacyberdy.com/Garum.html.

    We will also be producing a “garum relish” using the solids from the fermentation known as the “Allec”

    Our salty protein solids (allec) have a bit more depth than anchovies. They taste like a ripened munster cheese. ( which by the way is no longer allowed to be imported here)

    I will keep be happy to keep this thread in the loop

    Investors first then garum!
    Ms.Lauren Stacy Berdy

  17. Beau Harris

    Love the stuff home made or manufactured. Just wish it was promoted as a diet ingredient. PEPs up any bland salad or egg dish. Thank you for suggested recipe will try this week

  18. I once did an evening class on Roman archeology, one of the sessions was on food, where mention was made of fermented fish paste, used to flavour (and disguise) ‘off’ meat. I immediately thought of Patum Peperium at the time. Also the Japanese do a fermented fish thing. Connection? I think cooks in old wealthy households invented their own concoctions for pepping up left-overs: pickles, chutneys, ketchups, brown sauces, Worcester sauce?

    • They absolutely did make their own concoctions, unique to areas and even households. All old recipe books were filled with highly-seasoned relishes and sauces, usually contain a lot of anchovy. The only one that lives on is Worcestershire sauce, however.

  19. Andrew Bradbury

    Hi I’ve been collecting empty relish pots but only those with fish pictured on them eg. trout salmon, perch pike etc. I’ve got them in 2 sizes, 6 of one and five of the other. I’d like to know if I’ve got them all but can’t find a catalogue of the designs. Is there one anywhere?
    Many thanks.
    Andrew

  20. I am surprised there has been no reference to this, but PP used to be called, “Honourable Osborne’s Patum Peperium The Gentleman’s Relish” but I think when Elsenham Foods took it over, that rather old-fashioned term was dropped. I have enjoyed Patum Peperium for over 70 years now!

    • Hi Dave, how strange I haven’t come across this before! What a shame they dropped it as part of the name, let’s hope they bring it back!

      • Yes indeed buttery77, I am in South Africa, and Patum Peperium was first brought into South Africa in the Anglo-Boer War in 1899, and was ‘standard fare’ for British Army Officers who brought it out with them to enjoy ‘a little taste of home’ while fighting that dreadful war. I have just had a new pot delivered to me by a friend who travelled to the UK!

  21. Ray franklin

    I am compiling a history o Elsenham Jam factory/Elsenham Quality foods. Need any info available. Ray franklin (Chairman Elsenham village History society) email raycf@tiscali.co.uk

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