Meat the Dicksons

The Dickson family of the famous North East butchers has at its heart a passion for food, as Jane Pikett discovers.
Were Elena Dickson to chronicle her family history, a good place to write it might be the kitchen table, within easy reach of the family recipes which lie at the heart of the story.

Elena is a Dickson of Dicksons Pork Butchers; a North East institution, its sausages and pies, ham and pease pudding as much a part of our fabric as Newcastle Brown Ale.
But if her heart beats with the family business, her blood also runs with a Mediterranean passion for food and cooking passed down by her Italian mother, Marisa (pictured right, in the kitchen with Elena).

Elena’s history is food; her parents’ union bringing together two families who had each made their name in it. Her Italian grandfather owned an ice cream parlour, her paternal grandparents, Irwin and Helen Dickson, founded Dicksons Pork Butchers. Her childhood was one of big family meals; one day an Italian feast, the next a traditional English roast. And there was ice cream, of course. Lots of ice cream.

Ask Elena, who learned to cook at her mother’s knee, if her greatest passion is for the traditional English cooking of her father’s family or the Italian feasts of her mother’s, and there is a long pause. “That is so hard to answer,” she says, “but I guess I’m more Italian in the kitchen. It’s a close-run thing though,” she adds, and while I can’t vouch for her spaghetti carbonara, her corned beef pie is certainly once tasted never forgotten.

“Food has always been important in the family,” she says. “My mother’s roast dinners are every bit as good as her Italian dishes, and I’ve always had a passion for good food.”

Elena’s family has a tradition for the celebration of good food. Her grandfather’s Sunderland ice cream parlour, Notarianni’s, is now sadly long gone, but Dicksons Pork Butchers, founded in South Shields by her grandparents in 1953, prevails and continues to grow under the direction of Elena’s father, Michael and her Aunt Christine. Elena is the firm’s marketing manager.

In 2010 Dicksons was named Coutts Bank UK Family Business of the Year and all major decisions are taken to the family council, which includes Elena’s sister and two brothers. So crucial is the direct involvement of the family in the business that its constitution decrees no non-family member can inherit shares from a Dickson.

Dicksons famed sausages, pies, hams and pease pudding are made to family recipes with proper regard for good, fresh ingredients. The passion of the family for the business, and the grit displayed by Elena’s grandmother, father and aunt in building it up after the early death of Irwin Dickson is at its heart.

Helen Dickson died some years ago, leaving Michael and Christine at the head of the business which now boasts 20 shops. Elena’s sister Daniella has three young daughters who, along with any more children born to the Dickson siblings, will inherit shares in the business plus, no doubt, their parents’, grandparents’ and great grandparents’ passion for good food.

“They are learning to cook just as we did, with their mum and our mother, who is a fabulous cook,” says Elena. “That’s how family life should be. It’s good to see that appreciation for good, home-cooked food passed through the generations.”

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