ONCE UPON A TIME, there was a butcher at the heart of every neighbourhood and, probably on a Thursday, he would cook up “savoury ducks”.

These ducks had nothing to do with waterfowl.

These ducks were made of offal and offcuts of pork, minced up and wrapped up in a tasty, fatty membrane. They were best eaten hot with a moist vegetable accompaniment, and they were a cheap working class delicacy.

“Traditionally Thursday was when butchers used to make fresh pease pudding and ducks,” says Dave Race, who began making ducks to his father’s recipe in 1969, and the recipe is still followed today in Darlington Covered Market. “People would go to the butcher with their own bowls to get ducks fresh and hot as they came out of the oven.

“They are an acquired taste if cold; they are better hot and fresh.”

A century ago, there were more than 80 butchers in Darlington, and many of them would have made their own ducks. Since we became interested in the subject a fortnight ago, we’ve only found two in the town that still make their own: Mulhollands in the market, and Todds in Haughton, where the recipe dates back to at least 1912.

“We put onion gravy on ours and they are very popular,” says Mike Todd, whose grandfather Tommy started the butcher’s shop on Haughton Green. “They are based on offal so they have quite a gamey flavour, very different from sausages.”

Over the decades, the make-up of a duck has changed. In the old days, any bit of leftover animal would be sent through the mincer along with the heart, liver and lungs. Rusk, or stale bread, would be added to bulk it out, and then the all important seasoning – in Memories 512 we had an Aycliffe WI recipe for ducks which included sage, mixed herbs and pepper and salt.

A handful of the mince would then be wrapped in the pig’s caul – the membrane which surrounds the animal’s organs – and roasted for an hour.

“The days of wrapping them in the caul – or the kell as we called it which is the local form of the word – ended when butchers finished killing their own animals,” says David. “You just can’t get hold of it now.”

His father, Joe, was the foreman at the Co-op in Crosby Street in the 1950s, which is where the Mulhollands’ recipe originates – although in those days, the seasoning was produced by a company called Spence, of Victoria Road.

Another name for these treats is “penny ducks”, which suggests that at least part of their attraction was their cost (nowadays, a penny duck costs 50p or 60p). The butchers’ ability to cheaply mass produce ducks made them previous generations’ equivalents of a breakfast bun or late night kebab. On Teesside, shipbuilders would have ducks smothered in mushy peas at the start of an early morning shift; in Darlington, when the town’s many cinemas closed, the walk home would be accompanied by a duck in hot gravy.

In other parts of the country, the duck is called a faggot. A faggot is a bundle of things, indicating the varied nature of the ingredients wrapped up in the caul, so why should Yorkshire, Durham and Scotland call them ducks?

Could it be a term of endearment, or could it be that they are the shape and size of a duck’s egg (in cricket, the term “duck”, for someone who was out without scoring, became popular around 1868 because of the duck egg shape of the zero in the scorebook)? Perhaps you have a better idea…

And then what accompaniment should you have with your ducks?

The consensus is Pease Pudding, which does indeed go very smoothly with the ducks that Memories has been sampling in recent days in the name of research.

Let’s turn once again to our 1970 Durham Women’s Institute cookery book, where it says: “Pease Pudding has been served for generations in County Durham, generally with ham as the main dish at feasts and celebrations.”

Pease Pudding has nothing to do with the railway family. “Pease” is the ancient word for more than one pea, although over time it lost its final e and became peas.

Pease Pudding features in a nursery rhyme: cold and hot and nine days in the pot. This is because in olden times, there was a pot of porridgey vegetables constantly on the fire. When the fire died down overnight, it would cool, but it would warm up during the day – indeed, some of this gruel could be bubbling in there for longer than a week.

Here’s Durham WI’s recipe:

Pease Pudding


½lb yellow split peas

½oz butter

Stock from bacon bones or small shank


Soak peas overnight in water. Wash well and tie them loosely in a clean cloth, leaving a little room for them to swell. Cook in bacon stock until tender. When tender, add butter and beat to cream. Tie tightly in a floured cloth and boil for ¾ hour. Turn pudding on to dish and serve hot, or press in basin mould and serve slices cold with pickled and cold meats.

This Durham recipe is much cheaper than the usual pease pudding recipe where butter, or a dessertspoon of cream from the top of a bottle of milk, and eggs are added to boiled split peas.

TODDS butchers on Haughton Green make gallons of their own Pease Pudding to go with their savoury ducks.

The shop was built for the Banks family in 1901 as a butcher’s on the site of three old cottages.

“Mr Banks died prematurely and my grandfather, Thomas, who worked for him, took it over in 1912,” says Mike Todd, who took the business on from his father, Bill.

“When I buy a beast at the auction mart, they still mark it TT for Tommy Todd.”

Tommy had a farm and a slaughterhouse but they were compulsorily purchased after the Second World War so Welbeck Avenue could be built.

Todds still make their own pies, Scotch eggs and sausages at the shop. While they still make traditional dishes like savoury ducks, they are not scared to move with the times: this week they’ve added to their range a smoky bourbon sausage with a whiff of whiskey to it.

THE pig’s caul was different to a lamb’s caul which was part of the amniotic sac. A traditional butcher would display his first spring lambs of the season with caul wrapped around their legs to indicate how young they were. You don’t see that any more, either.

Any other duck-making butchers we should know about? Any other traditional dishes we should be investigating? Are there any other traditional recipes you’d like to share? Please email chris.lloyd@nne.co.uk