Midsomer Murders History Header Albert Plummer‘s Relish

Albert Plummer in India


(Caution: Contains spoilers for Episode: 08×07: Sauce for the Goose)

 

Sam Hardwick guides a small group through the Plummer’s Relish factory where he worked until his retirement – past the desks and assembly lines where the work is done. He tells us that Albert Plummer was a young man in the Punjab when he discovered and fell in love with a relish. When he returned in 1851, he had the recipe for the relish with him and made it. It became a big hit.

It is not known how Albert Plummer came up with the recipe for this delicious relish, which Tom Barnaby also enjoyed. The only clues we have are the year 1851 and the region of Punjab.

It is possible that Albert Plummer was a soldier in the Second Sikh War. Or he was a trader who expanded his network there immediately after the conquest of the Punjab and came across the relish. Or he was both: a soldier who later discovered the relish and noted it down to make some money back home in Little Upton.

 

India as a British colony

Second Sikh War
A short history of the Sikhs by Payne, C. H. (Charles Herbert) Publication date 1915?]. Public Domain.

India had been a colony of the British Empire since the 18th century, administered by the East India Company. The Company’s expansion took two forms: First, the outright annexation of Indian states and the subsequent direct administration of the underlying regions, which collectively became British India (including Punjab, North-West Frontier Province and Kashmir, following the Anglo-Sikh wars of 1849-1856).

Second, Indian rulers recognised the company’s hegemony in return for limited internal autonomy.

The Punjab, a region that is now part of India and part of Pakistan, maintained an uneasy alliance with the East India Company until the mid-19th century. But after the death of Punjab’s Maharaja Ranjit Singh in 1839, his empire fell into disarray and the East India Company began to build up its military strength on Punjab’s borders.

Rising tensions eventually led the Sikh army to invade the East India Company’s land. As a result, Patrick Vans Agnew of the Civil Service and Lieutenant William Anderson of the Bombay European Regiment were ordered to Multan, where they were killed by insurgents in the spring of 1848. Both the Governor-General of India, Lord Dalhousie, and the Commander-in-Chief, Sir Hugh Gough, felt that the British East India Company’s forces lacked sufficient transport and supplies, and delayed revenge for a few months.

The war lasted from November 1848 to March 1849 and resulted in a British victory and the fall of the Sikh Empire, which was annexed by the East India Company. Albert Plummer could therefore have lived in the Punjab for a maximum of two years, as it was not yet part of the colony.

 

Cultural transfer of flavours

Economically, the British Empire and its colony in India were closely linked. British goods were sold in India without tariffs and duties, but domestic Indian products were heavily taxed. Heavy taxation also applied to imports of Indian products into the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, but not to raw cotton. This was imported, processed in British factories and then sold on. The colony was thus both a supplier and a market for cotton resources.

The same was true of food, since British food was very bland and India had many spices unknown in Europe. Yes, the conquest of India as a colony was not primarily for the land, but for direct access to flavours and spices, and thus to new sources of trade.

British people – whether they came to India as traders, troops or officials – learned about the culture and the food. Sometimes they settled and traded from India, or brought new spices and recipes back to the British Isles after a few years in South Asia. Like Albert Plummer.

These included curries, but also chutneys and relishes. These canned mixtures of onions, brown sugar, spices and fruit or vegetables were a way of livening up their own unexciting cuisine. The difference between the two is that chutney is a jelly-like sauce, while relish is more like mustard.

 

Film locations

Branston Pickle
A spoonful of Branston Pickle Relish, which looks very similar to Plummer’s Relish. Photo by LearningLark: Branston Pickle, 2013. CC-BY SA 2.0. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Branston_Pickle_close-up.jpg

Branston Pickle, a popular condiment in Britain, may have been the inspiration for Plummer’s Relish. But the film was actually shot in a fruit canning factory. The Plummer’s Relish factory has two locations, as the exterior scenes were shot at The Maltings in Amersham, Buckinghamshire, and the interior scenes at Tiptree, Essex. Both buildings are typical 19th century factory buildings.

The Britannia Fruit Preserving Company in Tiptree was founded in 1885 by Arthur Charles Wilkin and two other men. Their idea was to make jam without glucose, colouring or preservatives, but with all the flavour. They were successful. The company’s success was boosted by the rail link between Kelvedon and Tollesbury via Tiptree. I can’t find any reference to the interior, and it may well have been heavily modified for the filming of the episode.

The Maltings is, as the name suggests, a malt house founded in 1818. The two-storey, rubble-brick and slate-roofed building was built in 1829. But exactly 100 years later the brewery had to close. The building has been on the National Heritage List since 17 May 1984 and is used alternately as shops and offices. In 2021, a new owner was sought for the building, according to several websites, but it is also in need of renovation.

 

The real secret

Albert Plummer’s carefully guarded recipe in the safe actually has a story of its own. Anselm Plummer admits that he was looking for the Plummer’s relish recipe in the safe. But what he doesn’t know is that it’s worth nothing, because the relish Albert Plummer created poisoned his housemaid. It was not he who created the recipe, but his cook.

And after all that has happened, even the new recipe for Plummer’s Relish is inedible for Tom Barnaby.

 

Read more about Midsomer Murders & History

The Chronology of Midsomer County by Year or by EpisodesDeep Dives into Midsomer & History.

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    Petra Tabarelli has studied history and has earned an international reputation as an expert on the history and development of football rules. But she is also a big fan of Midsomer Murders - and that's why this website about history and nostalgia in and around Midsomer exists. She was looking for such a website, couldn't find it, so she created it. For others who, like her, are looking for the website, and now can find it.

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