Most folk in the U.K have a favourite ‘Chippy’ (shop selling freshly fried fish and chips) and will argue passionately that ‘theirs’ is best . Some are quite famous such as ‘The Magpie’ in Whitby and deservedly so. In my home town, the most famous one of all ‘Harry Ramsden’s – the world’s largest fish n chip shop’ was created by Harry in a shed on the edge of town at a place called ‘White Cross’. It has now been taken over by another concern, but in its golden era, it was a huge fish n chip restaurant, silver service, waiters, chandeliers the works ! I can’t remember if they served ‘scraps’ (free bits of deep-fried batter formed by the cooking process, real artery-clogging stuff) but the ketchup and mushy peas were brought to table in silver-ware.
We didn’t get ours from there, because Mum said they were rubbish ! (there was a conventional take-away part too) We got ours from the one on Victoria Rd, ‘Victoria Fisheries’, and still do. A rather modestly grand corner building built in the 1930’s and painted black and white. It ebbed and flowed with regard to its local standing depending on the owner/fryer and is currently rated highly.
The poem is factual snippets of recall. For our overseas friends I’ll explain a bit. In the past deep fried fish and chips, see picture, were quickly wrapped in 1 sheet of greaseproof and 1 sheet of plain paper before being expertly wrapped in old newspapers to keep them warm until back home. You were always asked how you wanted them wrapped, separately or together. If there was say just two of you it would be separate so back at home you’d eat them out of the paper and save on washing-up ! If for a family it would be together, mum insisting we have plates and cutlery, and the large parcel would be placed on the table, unwrapped, intently watched by drooling kids, and shared out. It was, and I guess still is, an expensive family meal for many and so for us it was a treat only now and again, which made them taste even better. Before wrapping you were asked if you want them with salt and vinegar.
The fish of choice in Yorkshire was Haddock. It’s regarded as tastier and used to be, maybe still is, cheaper than Cod. Though oil is now used to fry, in’t olden days beef fat was used in Yorkshire. This produced a much tastier dish that was championed by the natives of this great land, right up until they got out of breath stirring their tea and got shooting pains down their arm. A ‘special’ is a larger fillet of fish and has to be ‘ordered’. In other words you’d walk in and immediately bellow your request while your fellow customers looked sideways at you muttering ‘Oooh get Mr La-di-dah with his specials’. And there was always an old lady who wanted a fish ‘lightly battered’ and cooked to try avoid indigestion, while asking for ‘just a few chips cos’ I don’t eat much now’, the sub-text being ‘I don’t want to pay for them and you can spare a few’. It was common practice to do this then, now however the shop will sell 1/2 portions.
Finally, the classic side order would be ‘mushy peas’, famous as a side with pork pies they are simply large marrowfat peas, soaked overnight then boiled until they’re, well, mushy ! This process is aided sometimes, by the addition of bicarbonate of soda to the soaking water, too much would spoil the taste and increase the already significant ability of this delicacy to produce gas. Yes a delight to be indulged in moderation ! The quintessential fish and chip meal then would include salt and vinegar (and tomato ketchup if you were feeling avant-garde ), bread and butter, mug of strong tea, heaven !
*Although the poem and the above preamble are about the past, really very little has changed except now you get your meal in a polystyrene box and a gossamer thin plastic bag but there’s still the ‘specials’ bloke and the old lass ordering a pensioner portion of chips and folk still drop their keys while covering their meal with salt and vinegar.
Victoria Rd Fisheries
It stands on the terrace end, painted black and white.
At the bottom of Cuddy Hill as the road veers right.
I still see the dour Fryer intent on his frying,
chivvying chips that in hot oil are lying
and lifting out fish-cakes to drain in the top,
while behind stood odd bottles of ketchup and pop.
And the little wooden forks loved by we kids
near to the pots with their stainless steel lids
that covered extras like thick mushy peas
under a sign about someone’s lost keys.
The man who asked with a superior grin
if they could put a couple of ‘specials’ in
and the old lass, 80yrs but still quite sprightly
wants just a few chips and her fish battered lightly.
The newspaper parcel brought home by dad,
eagerly unwrapped by a hungry young lad,
inside is where both fish and chips meet
for a family feast, a now and then treat.