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Whitby Kippers, the history of Fortunes Kippers

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Thousands of people visit Whitby for the kippers from Fortunes. They have been smoking and selling kippers for over 150 years and still use the same traditional methods to produce Whitby kippers today.

Fortunes shop and smokehouse are located at the end of Henrietta Street. When you reach the bottom of the 199 steps, you may even be able to smell them! Follow your nose, and as you walk, the aroma of oak smoke will increase steadily until you arrive. Fortunes was founded by William Fortune in 1872. The Fortune family has been managing the business for generations, and its fifth generation is currently running it. They continue to use traditional techniques to create well loved Whitby kippers.

Fortunes Kippers Whitby
Outside the shop, Image credit: Fortunes Facebook.

The smoking process

Did you know the term “kipper” does not refer to the fish’s name? Ok, maybe that was just me! The herrings are first split from head to tail, soaked in brine and then hung on rods to be smoked using a mixture of oak, beech, and softwood. Only after this process do they become known as kippers. Even more fascinating is that kippers’ distinct colour and flavour come from the smoking process, as no other ingredients are added.

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Fortunes Kippers Smokehouse
The smokehouse, Image credit: Fortunes Facebook.

The smokehouse operates three sets of fires to smoke the fish, and it typically takes between 18 and 22 hours for them to be fully prepared for sale in the neighbouring shop. Nowadays, the fish are sourced from Iceland and Norway, as the Common Fisheries Policy imposed a ban on herring fishing in the North Sea back in the 1970s.

Today’s owners, Barry and Derek

When they were young, Barry and Derek assisted their grandparents. Their tasks included collecting shellfish, boiling them, and selling them. According to Barry, they acquired their skills through hands-on experience. The smokery used to be stable for their grandfather’s donkeys, who gave rides on the beach.

Owner of Fortunes Kippers
Image credit: Fortunes Facebook.

The brothers arrive bright and early. One gets to work preparing the kippers that had been smoked overnight while the other splits some fresh herring. They each have a customized knife. They make their knives from old cutlery knives with bone handles; they cut them down to about a third of their original size. After gutting and washing the fish, they soak it in brine (saltwater) for 40 minutes. Then, they open it flat, hang it on two nails, and smoke it for 24 hours. They rely on sawdust from nearby joineries as well as from a local oak beam craftsman. Using both sides of their smokehouse, they can smoke as much as 180kg of kippers daily. The bacon smoking process lasts four days, while salmon only requires a day and a night.

More than just kippers

Fortune’s smokehouse smokes herrings and haddock, salmon, and bacon. If interested, you can visit the attached shop to buy these items and even buy them online if you’re not in Whitby.

Whitby Kippers by post
A selection of products from Fortunes. Image credit: Fortunes Facebook.

It’s no wonder that Fortune’s Kippers have won many awards and have been recommended by top chefs. Even members of our Royal Family have enjoyed them!

Whitby kippers from Fortunes are a true delicacy with a rich history and tradition. Smoking the fish has remained unchanged for centuries, and the dedication to quality is evident in every bite. So, try them for yourself next time you are in Whitby or if you already have, let us know what you think in the comments.

Header image credit: © Copyright Kim Fyson and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

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