As most of you know by now, I have been a vegetarian since I was but a wriggling foetus in Ma Hog’s womb. As such, I have learned to accept that certain foods are (and always will be) off limits.
I’ll never sample bacon with maple syrup, I’ll never try Heston Blumenthal’s intriguing-looking ‘Meat Fruit’, and – until they remove the gelatin from their recipe – I’ll never be able to bite the heads off Jelly Babies.
It’s annoying, yes, but that’s that, and on the whole I get by without too much bitterness.
Even so, some things are harder to overlook than others, and one thing I’ve always yearned to taste is Lardy Cake.
For those of you who’ve never seen it in your local bakery, the Lardy Cake is a rich and sweet concoction: part bread, part dried fruit, and – you guessed it – part lard. It’s a particular speciality in my family’s neck of the woods, where you will often see huge chunks of it glistening in bakery windows.
In theory, I know, it sounds disgusting. But in practice it has always looked so tempting: gooey, soft and luxurious.
Given the overwhelming presence of pig fat, however (not only in it, but often all over it), even the slightest mouthful would amount to cannibalism for a Pud-Hog such as myself. My normal routine is to see it, mutter, and walk by before the disappointment gets too much.
I say all this in order to help you imagine my feelings when, on Saturday, I saw a small sign in the window of Leakers Bakery. Upon this sign was a phrase I’d never even dared to conceive as a possibility.
Vegetarian Lardy Cake, it said. £1.70 a slice.
I have never gone into a bakery faster.
It was like I’d stumbled into an alternative universe – a universe in which I could eat everything. And for the rest of the day I was as high as a kite.
Come evening, when it was finally time for dessert, I ran around the kitchen squealing, like a piglet in the brown stuff. The slab I’d got from Leakers was both thick and enormous – enough to feed myself, the Man and Ma Hog, with even some left over.
As I plated up our portions, the smell that reached my nostrils was divine: a thick haze of sugar and fresh bread.
Saturated with what I guess must have been butter, the dough squelched under my knife. Expectations were soaring.
After more than a quarter-century of deprivation, it was finally time to take the plunge.
My tastebuds went into overdrive. There was so much butter and sugar that the cake seemed almost alcoholic; so much grease that my fingers struggled to keep it in place. These were both things I had expected (and hoped for). But there was something else too – something that came as rather a big surprise.
There, in the middle of it all, was a wedge of solidified sugar and fat so thick that it hurt my teeth. It was like a portion of Scottish Tablet, only harder and more grainy.
For a moment I thought this was what Lardy Cake was supposed to contain, and continued to crunch away, wincing at the abundance of barely-melted sugar.
Then the Man put me right. He’d never had a Lardy Cake like it, he said. This filling was just darn weird.
In a sudden stroke of genius he opted to extract it, advising me and Ma Hog to do the same.
In one fell swoop the cake became amazing: moist, rich and doughy, without being sickly. At last I could taste it properly – the hints of yeast, spice and salt. It was lovely. Everything I’d imagined it would be, in fact.
Of course, it was still full of fat. Of course it still wouldn’t win any prizes for healthy eating. But now, at least, my teeth could continue unhindered.
Which they did. For as long as they could.