When I was a child HP sauce was ubiquitous. I abhorred it. I tolerate it if it’s there and I’m faced with a particularly bland sausage. I wanted to like their tomato sauce, Ketchup too, largely because the colour looked striking on fried egg. Similarly disappointing, sweet, slightly vinagery and a touch of something else you can’t put your finger on. Tomato possibly.
And then last year, I had a moment. St Paul discovered Jesus on the road to Damascus. I discovered Oxford Sauce. I’m still in search of the former.
It was a Christmas stocking filler for my daughter from an imaginative aunt and it lasted almost a year. Because of its richness, a little goes a very long way—which is just as well for it is a damned hard thing to find. If you're lucky, you may find a bottle in obscure village shops in the Cotswolds or the occasional delicatessen. Our last bottle was bought in Moreton in Marsh – unsurprisingly the last bottle on the shelf – though the lady informed us there was a bottle in Stow-on-the-wold. They are rarer than unicorns though Unicorns are notoriously tough, else melt like fairy dust on the tongue.
Just examine the ingredients on the bottle below and imagine the impact of them on the tongue. Apparently the decimal point on the chilli content was mis-read at the time of conception.
For those who fail in their quest for the Grail, the Unicorn or Oxford Sauce
Stokes Brown Sauce comes a reasonable second, though it does leave a residue of grunge on the top of the bottle according to one acerbic reviewer. It has body, but less subtlety, consisting of vinegar , date puree and black treacle with various spices.* But to show you how even brown sauce can arouse strong passions just read a review I discovered on one supermarket site:
Stokes is real brown sauce for people who knows what that means. It doesn't tolerate blandness in any way. It's spiky zesty taste grabs your tongue on a full out assault and then knocks you forward into breakfast. Full on, powerful a hefty dose of real time food trembles on your plate. You taste it again surely you were mistaken but no; there's molasses sweetness which punch in hard with the spicy aftertaste. It's as if it is on a full on competition with your sausage uppercut savoury and undercut sweet. Round one knockout this is a sauce that doesn't mess about and neither should you. Do your family a favour and buy some Stokes!!
And all I can say, is if he (I'm assuming it's a 'he,' women tend to be less obsessional) thinks Stokes is that good I'd expect no less than the Iliad should he ever experience Oxford Sauce.
Malt Vinegar (from Barley), Unrefined Raw Cane Sugar, Tomato Puree, Date Puree (9%) (Dates, Water), Black Treacle (8%), Cornflour, Seasoning (Coriander, Ginger, Clove, Cinnamon, Pepper, Cayenne Pepper), Sea Salt, Preservative: Sorbic Acid
It boasts a closely guarded secret recipe, which it then prints on the bottle.
HP Sauce has a tomato base, blended with malt vinegar and spirit vinegar, Sugars(molasses, glucose-fructose syrup, sugar), dates, cornflour, rye flour, salt, spices and tamarind.