June 15, 2021

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Retro column: Attempts to make fish and chips trendy, not like the old days of newspaper wrapping

5 min read

The surge in popularity of the takeaway deliveries from local, often Indian and Chinese businesses. Although, not always after dark, as you can order afternoon tea boxes, special Valentine’s Day boxes and very soon Mother’s Day boxes. You can often order a Sunday lunch from the hostelry where you would previously have enjoyed a long and som etimes boozy Sunday. And it seems that in the first three months of 2020, Just Eat alone saw UK orders jump 58 per cent as demand for takeaways surged.

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Even if some people are reluctant to order food in, there is no doubt that fish and chips have long been the favourite takeaway or ‘fast food’, in our country, but there has be en an attempt to make it a trendier dish. It hasn’t always worked, as Brits are traditionists and really the one th ing I’ve noticed that is different is the upmarket little boxes and containers they are served in, and of course the price which can be extortionate sometimes!

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The way we’re served fish and chips now isn’t like it used to be

Some years ago, when asking for fish and chips in a rather upmarket hotel in Liverpool, I was amazed when they came wrapped in a copy of the ‘Daily Catch’, a fictitious newspaper, with the chips in a little pail and the mushy peas in a small china dish. Now it was initially quite interesting. I’m the sort of person who reads the labels on sauce bottes, sad I know, but it was a little bit difficult to read the history of fish and chips when most of the chips were stuck to the greaseproof paper!

However, the idea of serving them in newspaper may have been popular with foreign visitors to the city thinking it something typically British!

Of course, fish and chips were cheaper in the old days when the fish were caught by trawlers in the North Sea, and Brexit may have a lot to answer for. I think in the days when the average weekly wage was around £10 a week, it was possible to buy a fish and chip supper for 3d – chips and 7d fish. Purists may argue that things are not the same now most of the cooking is with oil and not dripping, but with 80 per cent of the British population having visited their local chippy weekly in happier times, and a good proportion of them still doing so, it does not seem that we are getting fed up (no pun intended) with our national dish.

Winston Churchill called them ‘The good companions’, John Lennon covered his with tomato sauce, and Michael Jackson loved them, but only with mushy peas. Even George Orwell in ‘The Road to Wigan Pier’ puts fish and chips amongst the home comforts that keeps the working-class masses happy.

We all have fond memories of dark winter nights, coming home from the cinema, calling at the chippy, lashings of salt and vinegar, greaseproof paper, and newspaper, with the chips so hot that they burnt our fingers.

During the 1950s there was a custom called ‘cobbing’, certainly with school children, when small white loaves were purchased from the bakers, the bread from the middle scooped out and then presented over the chip shop counter where it was filled with chips and scraps!

Some Sheffield fish and chip shops have been around for a very long time. The ‘Two Steps’ on Sharrowvale Road boasts of being the oldest in Sheffield dating back to 1895. Opened originally by James Bolton, one of its more recent owners were Nan and Graham who ran it for thirty-four years up to the 1980s.

The name originates from the Second World War when there were soldiers stationed in the area. There were at that time, five chip shops locally and so they identified their favourite by referring to the two steps leading up to the shop.

Customers can learn a bit of Sharrowvale history by looking at the old photos while they are waiting.

Another well-known purveyor of our national dish was ‘Chip Shop Tony’ who had a considerable number of shops dating from the 1950s. Today, Richard Pearce with an excellent fish and chip restaurant/takeaway in Attercliffe is the third generation of the family whose Great Aunt Eliza opened their first fish and chip shop in Sheffield in the 1930s, using a special batter recipe that is still used today.

Tales are told of the long-gone chippy in the row of shops leading down to Pond Street Bus Station where it was possible to lean on the wall and drop chips down onto the unsuspecting passers-by!

In Sheffield chips especially are immortalised for ever by the ‘Greasy Chip Butty Song ‘chanted at every Sheffield United football match and of more recent times heard over the sound system in the absence of live fans!

Originating in 1985 and to the tune of John Denver’s ‘Annie’s Song’ the song waxes lyrical about many of the dubious delights of Sheffield, like Magnet Bitter (unfortunately no longer available!), Woodbines which were very strong cigarettes, Wilsons Snuff, made for many yearsin Sheffield, and of course chips in a butty, which is local dialect for sandwich. Unfortunately, there was no room in the song for Henderson’s Relish!

There is no doubt that the thought of mouth-watering moist white fish in crisp golden batter served with a generous portion of hot fluffy chips is one of the things you most look forward to when you come back home from a holiday overseas, although now we’d be happy with the holiday part.

In these confusing and worrying times, local journalism is more vital than ever. Thanks to everyone who helps us ask the questions that matter by taking out a digital subscription or buying a paper. We stand together. Nancy Fielder, editor

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