Pub Life: the Irresistible Appeal of Pork Scratchings

Pork scratchings on a pub table.

The garden of a Cornish pub on a sunny afternoon in May.

Two men, probably father and son, buy pints of lager and take a table. They sit waiting for someone, checking their messages, peering up and down the street.

After 15 minutes or so their friend arrives. Everyone shakes hands and express their delight at seeing each other. The newcomer dishes out gifts one at a time — cans of Mythos lager, ouzo, olive oil, and more. He is, of course, Greek.

His hosts offer him something in return: a pork scratching from the open packet on the table. He looks disgusted and prods with his finger, peering at the text on the packaging.

‘What is this? Oh, God, no! No!’

The locals shrug and keep picking at the pile of hairy curls in the cellophane wrapper. Eventually, perhaps absentmindedly, the Greek guest does the same. A look passes over his face. His hand dips back into the bag.

After a few minutes he goes to buy a round of drinks. When he returns, performing the traditional three-pint grip, there are two fresh packets of pork scratchings snared between his teeth.

Resistance is futile.

Guinness Pub Snack Ideas, 1961: Sild, Tongue and Fish Titbits

The Guinness Guide to Profitable Snacks (cover)

The other day we told you about Guinness’s drive to get more publicans serving food in the 1960s. Now, as promised, here’s some info on the recipes they were pushing.

The book, more-or-less A5 sized and in hard-covers, has a mix of black-and-white and colour photos, the latter with that particular gaudiness that makes food look faintly obscene in any book published before about, say, 1990. If you follow @70s_party on Twitter you’ll know what we mean although it must be said nothing in the Guinness book is as fundamentally horrifying as most of the excessively ‘creative’ recipes presented there.

It begins with a few double-page spreads like this one:

'Why snacks?' (spread with man drinking beer and bullet point list)

That’s interesting because it summarises where things were at in 1961: food definitely wasn’t the norm and people needed convincing, ideally with a bit of what we assume passed for female-friendly eye candy back then.

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Public Service Announcement: Barley Wine for Stir-Up Sunday

Every year, a week or so before Stir-Up Sunday, we start getting visits to the website from people searching for barley wine to put in their Christmas pudding.

It is a main part of Delia Smith’s recipe which, let’s face it, is therefore the official national recipe. I’d guess from this line…

If you can’t get barley wine (pubs usually have it), use extra stout instead.

…that the recipe was written in the 1970s when Gold Label was a national brand. You probably won’t find barley wine in most ‘normal’ pubs these days, though most supermarkets do carry Gold Label.

There are also plenty of other options.

Barley wine is a term used to describe strong British ales — sometime they’re dark, other times not, but they’re usually at least (these days, for tax reasons) 7.4% ABV.

Fuller’s Vintage Ale is one and this year’s version has just hit supermarkets. Most larger regional breweries (Adnams, Lees, Robinson’s, etc.) make a strong old ale which will do the job. Not many have ‘barley wine’ actually written on the label so just look for anything called ‘Old This’ or ‘Vintage That’.

Most trendy new breweries also make strong ales of one sort or another, although often very hoppy and bitter rather than sweet. If you have a specialist shop near you, and want to use a special beer for some particular reason, ask them for advice.

However, back to the puddings. With several years’ experience in making a family recipe, which just calls for ‘half a pint of strong beer’, I would make the following points:

  • You’re going to be adding spices, sherry and steaming the hell out of it for many hours so you’re not going to taste any beer at all in the final product.
  • The cheapest beer I’ve ever used was a bottle of leftover home brew, and the most expensive was some of the aforementioned Vintage ale — there was no difference in the end taste.
  • If you’re going to follow Delia’s recipe precisely you will end up with two half bottles of different beers. This might be a good opportunity to drink something nice on the side so pick beers that are good in their own right, e.g. Fuller’s Vintage and something like Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout.
  • However, if you don’t particularly like beer, just chuck in the required volume of whatever beer you have to hand — it doesn’t really matter all that much.

HubBox, Truro: Better Beef than Beer

The small Cornish beer’n’burger chain Hub took over trendy bar The One Eyed Cat in Truro last year, having previously traded as a ‘pop up’ on Lemon Quay.

We’ve been to the St Ives branch a couple of times but never quite cottoned to it but, as we were in Truro running some errands, and had recently heard good things about the beer on offer, we dropped in for a look on Saturday.

They’ve certainly gone all in on the makeover, covering the walls in colourful murals and friezes by David Shillinglaw, and paying homage to the previous temporary premises by using chunks of shipping container to form the back wall. Those bits of warehouse chic, along with stripped wood, exposed girders and the ubiquitous Edison bulbs, makes it feel rather like a misplaced BrewDog bar.

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What’s the History of Bar Snacks?

In our email newsletter (subscribe!) we asked if anyone had any questions they’d like us to look into with a view to a series of ‘notes and queries’ type posts of which this is the first.

Q: I wanted to ask about bar snacks and how they’ve developed over time — what have bars served along with beers over the decades? –Kyle, Bolivia

That’s a big question, Kyle, and the answer might fill a book, so we’ll limit ourselves to considering the kinds of nibbles that might have been eaten without cutlery, while standing at the bar. For obvious reasons, we’ve also focused mostly on the UK.

Hogarth's Pieman, adapted by George Cruikshank from a detail in the 1750 painting 'The March to Finchley'.

Henry Mayhew’s London Labour and the London Poor records various examples of people who made their living selling snacks on the street and in public houses, so we know that, in the 1850s, pub-goers were eating pickled whelks (‘not to fill themselves, but for a relish’), boiled green peas, fried fish, pies and sheep trotters. In short, anything that could be sold in the street and didn’t require cutlery was probably being eaten in pubs.

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