It is the year 1455. Blood stains the streets of Bury as Yorkshiremen and Lancastrians battle to defeat their rivals. As the hours grow late, ammunition begins to deplete, and finally the warring factions must resort to throwing food as their weaponry in a desperate bid to defend their rightful place to the throne.

Perhaps this is the War of the Roses, or perhaps it is the World Black Pudding Throwing Championships held annually in Ramsbottom. Now, over 560 years on from the food fight which allegedly took place between the House of York and the House of Lancaster, opponents no longer fight for the throne of England, but for the honour of the Black Pudding Throwing Champion title. On the second Sunday of September every year since the 1980s, thousands gather on Bridge Street outside the Royal Oaks pub for the event in which contestants hurl black puddings, a Lancastrian speciality, at a pile of Yorkshire puddings, in a (literal) throwback to the medieval legend.

Strict rules allow for a fair contest. The black puddings – made at the Bury Black Pudding Co – must be six ounces and are swaddled in ladies’ tights. Thrown puddings are directed at a pile of 12 Yorkshire puddings elevated on a 20-foot scaffolding plinth. Contestants pay a pound for three attempts, throwing underarm, to dislodge as many as possible, and whoever fells the most Yorkshire puddings is the winner.

It’s especially fitting that the championships are held in Ramsbottom because, according to John Ayto in An A to Z of Food and Drink, Bury is the black pudding capital of the world. However, black puddings are also an international delicacy. Called marag dubh in Stornoway, boudin noir in France, kaszanka in Poland, and blutwurst in Germany, the blood sausage is a European staple. It’s rich in iron and efficiently utilises the blood produced during slaughter, preventing waste. There is even a black pudding collective in France, the Confrerie des Chevaliers du Goute Boudin (or The Black Pudding Fraternity of Lovers of Good Food), which dates back to the Middle Ages. The knights still host an annual international black pudding festival in Normandy, promising to uphold black pudding traditions and eat black pudding every day.

In Book 18 of his Odyssey, Homer refers to a stomach filled with blood and fat and roasted over a fire and has Odysseus fight around the fire for the prize of the blood sausage. In the Ramsbottom championships, the black pudding has travelled from its Homeric origins in a war fought over food, to its present-day manifestation in a war fought with food. But while the black pudding’s literary heritage goes as far back as the 10th century BC, where the blood sausage initially came from is contested. Some have held the fanciful belief that it was invented in a bet between two Bavarian butchers, drunk on absinthe during the 14th century. However, Homer’s reference clearly dates the pudding’s creation further back in time. The Larousse Gastronomique, a famous food encyclopaedia, attributes the creation of the dish to Aphtonite, a cook of ancient Greece, while the oldest written recipe is found in De Re Coquinaria (On the Subject of Cooking), compiled sometime between the 4th and 5th century. One theory suggests that it was either the Romans who brought the blood sausage to Europe or the Moors of North Africa following the Romans, and it has been suggested that the Spanish word for black pudding (morcilla) and the French town which hosts the international black pudding festival (Mortagne) derive their names from the Moors. Evidently, the history of the black pudding – like the War of the Roses – is a battle of origins.

Since its beginning the black pudding has been a subject of controversy and in the 17th century it even became a point of division amongst the Church. Some Christian scholars, particularly Methodists, claimed it should not be eaten because the Apostles had ruled in Acts 15:28-9 and 21:25 that Christians must not eat blood. In 1652, the Bishop of Lincoln, Thomas Barlow, wrote the “Triall of a Black-Pudding”, and even Sir Isaac Newton pitched in to condemn the black pudding. Some Christians today still find its consumption questionable.

Thus, certainly contentious, arguably delicious, the black pudding – like the House of Lancaster – has in its history divided and conquered. However, at the Ramsbottom championships, old rivalries and controversies are both wryly nodded to and swiftly forgotten. Niall Wilson, a psychologist from Woodsmoor, who attended the event last year, claimed, “It’s quite a big thing locally, but in an ironic, knowing kind of way. It’s great fun. The event plays on the whole Wars of the Roses Lancashire Yorkshire rivalry – tongue firmly in cheek.” Niall reported that lobbing the puddings is “surprisingly anxiety-provoking, and for all the silliness people get quite competitive,” so perhaps some things don’t change.

The next Black Pudding Throwing Championship will be held this year on Sunday 11 September. Bloody great.

Ella Bucknall