Almost meeting Myrtle Allen
About 10 years ago I was asked to be on the judging panel of a small contest among various types of food products. Each competed in their own category so we had a number of preserves, chutneys, soda breads, and so on. All branding had been removed from the products so we did not know if the products before us were from a large-scale production facility or a small artisan maker.
So, around the room we went, tasting and umming and ooing and so on, in an effort to discern the best product in each category. It’s not as easy as you might think, my friends, and I will admit that in some areas I was struggling to tell much of a difference between some the entrants.
Luckily for me, Myrtle Allen was also on the panel, and as we went about our business with an independent air, I was, of course, keeping an eager ear out for any hint of preference from Mrs Allen, so that my opinion might be duly informed. She kept her counsel to a great extent but when it came to the time to judge the best black pudding she declared quietly to her companion “Oh this one I think!” in a way that gave the impression that she had no doubt whatsoever that one product was clearly superior to the others.
Soon after that, the judging was completed and Mrs Allen made her excuses and departed before I could approach her awkwardly and introduce myself. And anyway, what could I have said to this small, elderly woman who had changed the way people think about Irish food so fundamentally in the space of a generation! In her quiet persistent way, by leading by example, she asked us to be quiet and look for quality in our food, that the quality of ingredients is the most important thing and that wonderful food is all around us in Ireland, if only we will seek it out.
The winner of the Best Black Pudding that day was Nora Egan’s Inch House Black Pudding.