140 years of Fortune’s Kippers

Ever since I was a little girl, one of my favourite things to do when at home with my family in Staintondale, a little village on the beautiful North Yorkshire coast, has been to go to Whitby to pick up some of the town’s famous kippers for a scrummy breakfast back home. It was always a major treat and only happened a couple of times a year but almost always on boxing day. It usually involved being taken there by my big brothers – something I just loved, as I was always so desperate for them to come home from university (or wherever else they’d adventured off to) for Christmas. The amazing smell as they cooked in the Rayburn, eating them with home-baked bread (so as not to choke on the mouthfuls of bones) with us all rammed in around the kitchen table and the horrendous lingering fishy smell on our clothes for days after were all essential parts of the experience.

For those of you who thought a kipper was a piece of Jewish headwear and are wondering what on earth I might be doing eating one or complaining they smell of fish, I am in fact referring to delicious smoked herrings. More specifically, those smoked by the Fortune family.

It always felt, and still does, as if we were one of only a few lucky folks who had been let in on one of food’s finest secrets. Fortune’s Kippers are smoked in a magical wee cave of a place, still as enchanting to visit today as it was 20 years ago. Tucked away down a cobbled street in this beautifully unchanged town, the Fortune family have been smoking kippers for the last 5 generations and the business is now run by brothers Barry and Derek. It really is amazing. This year marks their 140th so there’s never been a better time to blow their trumpet. Surely the ultimate of family businesses.

        

The journey from herring to kipper is one that the Fortunes have perfected over many years. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. The herrings are split from head to tail, gutted by hand (taking pro’s Barry and Derek just a few seconds) and then soaked in a brine solution for 40 minutes to helps enhance their unique taste. Once soaked, the fish are taken to the smokehouse, where they are hung on black tarry rods to be cured. The fish are smoked over a series of fires made from a mixture of oak, beech and softwood, with the fragrant smoke gently adding flavour and colour to them naturally. It usually takes about three fires and 18 hours to complete the smoking process. Now, and only now my friends, the herring can finally be called a kipper.

After smoking, the kippers are taken straight next door to the little shop, and sold faster than hot cakes. You can also find a jar or two of Barry’s wife Liz’s amazing kipper paté, made to her own special recipe, which is well worth a try. Mmmmmmmmmmm.

Cooking your kippers

At home, my mum has always served our kippers hot. To do this, simply cut off the heads and tails and place them in an ovenproof dish with a little hot water in the bottom. Cover with tin foil and place in a hot stove for about 20 minutes or until they’re hot through. Herrings are bony little chaps so it’s best to gobble them down with plenty of bread so that any bones that might be left lurking around go down no bother. Goodness me, looking at these snaps I can almost taste them again. Funbelievable.

        

Fortune’s kippers are sold exclusively in the tiny family shop on Henrietta Street in Whitby and are open 7 days a week from 9 ‘til the kippers run out. If you’re ever in the area it’s well worth popping by but it’s reputation precedes it so be prepared for a queue! If you’re further afield and feel inspired to give kippers a try for brekkie one morning then by all means go for it (but I can’t promise they’ll be nearly half as tasty!).