The curious tale of dock pudding

Updated on 11 April 2013 | 0 Comments

Mmmm... dock leaves, stinging nettles and oats all fried in bacon fat. Andrew Webb explores the fascinating history of the little-known Yorkshire delicacy, dock pudding.

The terrible British weather claimed another casualty this month. The annual Dock Pudding Championships held at Mytholmroyd Community & Leisure Centre, Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire had to be cancelled for the first time since its inception in 1971. 

“There are just no docks about - mother nature has put her foot down and said 'no' this year,” says leisure centre manager Julie Wilby. Over the years the competition has seen its fair share of drama. In 2004 contestant Jette Howard created a vegetarian version using olive oil, onions and mushrooms, serving it up with a pancake. Her veggie effort scooped the title by a single point. The next year 13-year-old twins Clare and Kate Morrison took the trophy. The whole event has a wonderful British charm to it, and is a custom which we should celebrate more.

What is dock pudding?

Dock leavesA dock pudding is made from the leaves of polygonum bistorta (which, though they look alike, is not the same as the common dock leaf used as an antidote to stinging nettles).These leaves are mixed with nettles, oatmeal, onions and seasoning to form a 'pudding'. The traditional accompaniment is bacon and eggs, with the puddings being fried in the fat rendered by the bacon. Some of you will no doubt recognise a similarity to lavabread here.

It's not well known outside the Calder Valley, and isn’t mentioned in Heaton's Traditional recipes of the British Isles, White's ‘Good Things in England, or Hartley's ‘Food in England’

'The Dictionary of Plant Lore' by D.C. Watts states that the pudding was also known in Cumbria in times past. It’s fair to say that such leaves would have offered some valuable fresh greenery during the Hungry Gap, when winter provisions had all but been used up but summer’s vegetables weren't yet ready. There’s also a mention in 'Food and Cooking in Victorian England: A History' of its use as a blood purifier: 

As for the taste, The Oxford Companion to Food states that Dock Pudding - loved by some, loathed by others - has a taste somewhere between spinach and asparagus. 

Previous winners

The 2012 competition was won by Jenny Whitehouse, who used the £30 prize money to buy a round of drinks in the pub afterwards. Jenny was planning to enter again this year: "I was hoping to get the hat trick this year having won two times previously, and then retire from competitive cookery!" says Jenny with a grin. If you want to have a go at home, here's Jenny's recipe...

Jenny’s recipe

  • 1oz butter
  • 6 shallots or 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 8oz young Bistort leaves (sweet dock)
  • 3oz baby nettle tops
  • half pint of water
  • handful of fine oatmeal
  • third of a veg stock cube
  • sea salt and pepper


  • De-stalk the dock leaves and wash well along with the nettles
  • Gently fry the onion with the butter and a little water for 5 minutes
  • Add the docks and nettles with the water and veg stock; add the oatmeal
  • Bring to the boil and simmer uncovered for about 40 mins until the dock leaves are tender
  • Stir regularly to make sure the dock pudding does not stick and, if necessary, add a touch more water
  • Boil off any remaining water, then add salt and pepper to taste
  • Use scissors to chop finely

Jenny says: "It's traditionally served fried up with bacon fat and fried potato, but I have it in a warm pitta with chilli jam - yummy, and very good for you too!"

Finally, although the competition is cancelled this year, the planned car boot sale and craft and charity stall will still go ahead from around 8am in the car park at the leisure centre. 

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