Thursday, 22 November 2012

Pigs may fry - a recent history of pork scratchings

I know, I know I have been remiss in keeping the blog up. However, I've just agreed to blog for the Perfect Pint website. And here's my first go. It's on a subject dear to my heart.

For me it was love at first bite – the hard skin the melting fat, the saltiness. And above all the certain knowledge that the scratching was doing me no good at all.
If there is a world centre of scratchings it has to be the Black Country. Every pub worth its, err, salt has a range of crunchy porky snacks. I still remember standing at the bar at the Bull and Bladder in Brierley Hill thinking I had died and gone to heaven with a choice or three brands of scratchings and three varieties of pork crunch (scratching’s inferior cousin).  And if you are lucky the pub might offer home-cooked scratchings. On a rare warm day in July I enjoyed a packet sitting in the garden of the White Lion in Bridgnorth. Wonderful!
You might think that drinkers have been breaking their teeth on scratchings for centuries. Surprisingly, however, they don’t seem to have appeared behind the bar counter until the 1970s.
In June 1977, the Sunday Times Prufrock Column reported on “an unlikely product with a distinctly unpalatable name that has become the latest delicacy in pub grub.” Their journalist interviewed John Vizko of Birmingham’s V&T Products who said “We can’t make enough. It has definitely got some people addicted.” Vizko proudly mentioned a lady in Eastbourne “who was clamouring to have scratchings sold in the town.”
But not everybody liked them (and the world is definitely split between fans and haters). A drinker told the Prufrock column they were: “unappetising.. fatty… a poor companion for a pint of real ale. Awful.” 
And scratchings really don’t have a good reputation. One can sort of see why.
But their image is being buffed up with help from trendy food writers Tom Parker Bowles, Matthew Fort and Rupert Ponsonby who have launched their own brand of Mr Trotter pork scratchings. Oops, they insist that they selling pork crackling made from the pampered skin of superior British pigs (most scratchings come from pigs reared in Denmark). 
Personally I find them slightly unpleasant, rather cloying on the palate. Which is perhaps just as well as Mr Trotter’s crackling is sold at frighteningly high prices at Fortnum and Mason, Chatsworth House, and several gastropubs.
But perhaps they ignore the whole point. Scratchings are best in local pubs accompanied by a pint of local ale.