Upper Wharfedale is the last place in the country to still have a mole-drying industry. Here’s a late spring catch, desiccating nicely on a rack just outside Starbotton. Wharfedale Mole is a prized delicacy in Southern Europe, particularly in the Pyrenees where the rocky landscape makes the little critters very rare. There are perhaps a couple of dozen of these drying frames remaining in the Dale, though when Daniel Defoe passed through here in 1724 writing his A Tour Thro’ The Whole Island Of Great Britain, Divided Into Circuits Or Journies there were several hundred. He wrote:
“Wharffe Dale is famed for moles, and they make a sort of dried meat here for the Spanish and the Porto trades; and though their moles here may not be as fine as Welsh, they told us their meats are as good. But that is not my business to dispute, the Welsh moleers deny it; and so I leave it as I find it. But there are rackes as far as a man can see, and a good living can be had by a skill’d moleer. The people here are dressed better than any London Dandy, tho’ they suffer terrible from molegut if they do over indulge.”
The local producers co-op is making tentative steps toward getting the likes of Waitrose to stock it as ‘Yorkshire Biltong’. I’ve never tried it myself, but I was once chatting with an old farmer who swore by dried mole as the secret of a long life.
“What does it taste like?” I asked.
“A bit like cat.” he said.