There I was pottering around the Clitheroe Food Festival in bright sunshine. There were lots of good things on show – several cheese makers, beers, sausages, chutneys, hog roasts, cakes, potted shrimps from Morecambe, some terrific breads, including one made with Thwaites beer and so on and so on. It was difficult not to get overexcited and overloaded.
I made a slight dogleg to take a look at the regular market, and pretty impressive it was, too,not huge, but flourishing at a time when some of the old traditional markets are struggling. As I peered to left and to right, my eye was caught by something nestling among the display of Hacking, the butchers. Some things to be exact, pinky-white, gleaming, soft and oval and about the size of a goose’s eggs. ‘Fries’ said the sign, which, as the world knows, is code for testicles (unless you happen to be in Wales, where they’re known as sweetbreads in some parts, and that can lead to unfortunate misunderstandings. I’ll tell you the story of goolie gateau one day), ram’s testicles in this case.
Look, I know balls aren’t everyone’s cup of tea or supper snack, but I’m very fond of these particular delicacies. And delicate they are, mild, refined, and faintly mushroomy, with a firm texture like that of a ripe peach. They’ve got no fat, are full of goodness and are easy to digest, the perfect contemporary food, in fact. I see them for sale so rarely I promptly bought ten for a princely £7, and took them back to Gloucestershire and made myself a light supper of two of them when I got in. The rest are tucked away in the freezer waiting for another offal fiend to come to stay. You need two balls per person. I’ve made the recipe for 2, because I think it’s unlikely that you’ll serve this for a dinner party of 8, say.
4 rams’ testicles, peeled and cleaned
50g unsalted butter + tbsp vegetable oil
250 ml sherry
250ml chicken stock
Several leaves of sage
Juice of ½ lemon
Finely slice the onion and carrots. Heat the butter and oil in a sauté or large saucepan until foaming. Pop in the balls, season with salt & pepper, and fry until golden brown on both sides. This takes 3 or 4 minutes. Take out and keep warm. Add the sliced onion and fry until soft. Add sherry and allow to bubble away for a minute or so. Add the carrots and the chicken stock. Pop the balls in top of the carrots, clap the lid on and stew very gently until the carrots are softened but not too soft. Turn up the heat to reduce the juices until they’re as you want them. Don’t over reduce. You don’t want to kill the flavour of the balls. Add the lemon juice and swirl around. Chop and scatter the sage leaves. Put the lid back on and leave for a couple of minutes before serving up.
Ps. Anyone curious about a more comprehensive treatment of testicles, I can do no more than wholeheartedly recomment Testicles – Balls in Cooking and Culture by Blandine Vie, translated by Giles MacDonogh (Prospect Books)