Smell of chips in vinegar-soaked newspaper

A typical coal-fired frying range
A typical coal-fired frying range
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Tash Tales with local historian Alf Ridyard...

As we wobble our way home on a Friday night down arteries that spread like fingers from our town centres we gaze upon a ribbon of brightly lit worldwide takeaways that sell anything from cardboard burgers and cheek scrapings from cows or pigs purporting to be kebabs.

We also have the usual Indian and Chinese cuisine, half of which will be strewn all over our streets along with the polystyrene packaging its served in.

Nowadays our Northern delicacy, fish and chips, on the way home has been consigned to the dustbin just like the old newspaper that they were served in.

I never recollect any fish and chips being scattered or for that matter the vinegar-soaked paper they came in. Chippys were at their peak in the late 1920s when there were 35,000 throughout the country.

The first chippy in the country was said to be in Mossley near Oldham in 1860, a wooden shed with a vat of boiling lard (although London claims one around the same time).

At the time only fish and chips were sold according to some records, not so according to others, the same Mossley Chippy also sold rag puddings – spicy mincemeat and onion wrapped in suet pastry and cooked in muslin/cheesecloth.

Fish and chips holds its place in British history in many ways over the years, during World War Two it was one food commodity that was not rationed.

Churchill reckoned that it played a crucial role in the war effort as a typical British icon, the fact that fresh cod fish was as rare as hen’s teeth did not seem to matter, many substitutes were tried including whale meat which had absolutely no taste according to my father-in-law.

Another he mentioned as “Snoek” a South African tinned fish again quite disgusting and after the war so much was unsold it was reduced to a giveaway price and used as cat food.

I have no indication as to how the felines liked it, one item that stood the test of time from the war was the spam fritter which became a substitute for fish, still available in a majority of chippys today.

Another plus for the humble fish and chips was used on D-Day when one recognition call sign between British troops at night was to call “chips” the answer being “fish”.

Although our high streets in later years supported fish and chip shops most were in the converted front room in the middle of a row of terraced houses with a shed at the back to prepare the fish and peel the potatoes.

It was usual that the frying range was coal fired with a pile of coal banked up in the corner.

I have no doubt older readers will have a favourite back street chippy and a memory or two.

I have a few myself, one is the plaque on a chain in the window saying “Frying tonight” and on a funnier side “greasy Johnnies” at the Punch Bowl Atherton, his missus would splash copious amounts of salt and vinegar on a “tanner mix” (a bag of chips with a few peas and scraps on the top).

Johnnie would then take his well-worn flat cat off wipe the counter and return it from whence it came.

Another anomaly, English fish and chip shops were not allowed to open on Sundays under British Sunday observance trading laws, yet Chinese takeaways were – but not in those days allowed to sell fish.

This law was removed from the statute book in 1994 but I do not recall the old-fashioned English chippys opening on Sunday after this law change.

Earlier years in fact lots of English chippys did not open Mondays as fresh cod was only available late in the day after the trawlers had put into port in the early hours plus refrigeration was in its infancy.

It’s also said that the 1940/50s economic situation played its part with people eating Sunday left overs on Mondays with finances being scarce.

This has just been a cursory glance at a time gone by but if you do read it, one thing will spring to your nostrils, the smell of chips in a vinegar-soaked paper.