Lovely ladies and the invention of the crisp sandwich

I thought that the first photograph I saw on the packet of British Rail’s complimentary crisps was serendipity: these lovely acrobatic ladies on the beach advertising lightly sea salted crisps made from a variety of potato called Lady Rosetta. 

But today, on my train journey back from Wales to London, the girl in the buffet car gave me the Cheese and Chive flavour, the packet decorated with another, no less lovely in their time, I’m sure, group of women:

Champions of cheese-making perhaps, or cheese-tasting, or maybe they’re the judges at a WI food market. So it seems that Tyrell’s marrying of potato variety, Lady Rosetta again, and photograph is deliberate.

I have yet to research (or Google, as we say these days!) if they make any other flavours using the  same potato variety and whether those packets also bear vintage photographs of groups of women engaged in an appropriate activity.  Or whether there’s a male equivalent. King Edward? Red Robin?  

The first crisps of my childhood were Smith’s. They were plain in a way that kids today could not conceive of: crisp potato slices, nothing else. But there was the excitement of searching in the packet for the little twist of blue paper containing salt so you could season to your own preference. The ‘twist’ became a sachet and then that disappeared too (except for a brief  revival in 1979 of Salt n'Shake) with the introduction of ready-flavoured crisps. Perhaps my early limited crisp experience has resulted in ready salted, or lightly salted, crisps remaining a favourite. Smoky Bacon, Roast Chicken, Prawn Cocktail —I tried them because of the novelty but the flavour never lived up to the promise written on the packet. They were, and maybe still are, heavy on the taste enhancers that found their way into every little gap in your teeth and hunkered there for ages afterwards. 

Occasionally I had Cheese & Onion crisps. They were my mother’s favourite but she never ate them when my father was around because he didn’t like the smell.


Salt & Vinegar crisps were the star of one particular December afternoon just before Christmas in the mid 1960s. These were the days of milkmen, bread vans, door to door rent collections and insurance men calling round to pick up premiums and my mother always had the weekly payments ready, counted out into plastic bags and tucked into a kitchen drawer.

Aunty Beryl-next-door had already alerted her to the over-excited insurance man who’d been toasting Christmas at a number of houses as he made his way down the street and by the time he arrived at no.73 he was, to be 1960s polite, rather worse for wear, but to use the vernacular of today, completely off his face.

Drunkenness wasn’t a state I was familiar with. I vaguely understood how ‘tipsy’ revealed itself. Or, if it was a man, ‘one pint too many’. But he had attained a state of jollification I had never witnessed in an adult. And he was giving away money – big pre-decimalisation bronze pennies stamped on the tail-side with Britannia. I was enchanted and couldn’t understand why my mother insisted that I give them back.

These were also the days before drinking and driving restrictions and offering a little Christmas drink and a few crisps was de rigeur behaviour but my mother also did her best to ply him with as much black coffee as she could.
‘Let me make you a sandwich too,’ she said.

And he accepted the bread and butter and proceeded to show me how to construct a crisp sandwich. My sandwiches had always come in single varieties from a predetermined list: cheese, corned beef, cucumber, tinned salmon. They were soft and flat. But here were sandwiches breaking the rules, noisy sandwiches, their filling crushed flat in his big hands and equally as noisy in the mouth. I joined in enthusiastically.

I couldn’t wait for him to call again the following week, the funny man who made crisp sandwiches, threw pennies around the room and made me laugh.

‘Do you remember what you did last time?’ I said cheerfully, when he came into the kitchen, receiving the weight of my mother’s glare, his sheepish downward glance, and the raw slap of having said something I shouldn’t have all at the same time. The fun was over.

And so was his job. As far as I can remember someone else took over his round shortly after that. We never saw him again. If he’s still alive I wonder if he remembers that afternoon? If he does, is it with regret, embarrassment or indifference? Would it mean anything to him that his story remains with me, over 45 years later and that I smile every time I remember him?

Hungry Writing Prompts
  1. Write about a group of women all doing the same thing together.
  2. Write about serendipity, a ‘happy accident’.
  3. Write about a drunk.
  4. Write about having fun as a child and having fun as an adult.
  5. Write about your favourite sandwich.

Testing ground

When I arrived in Wales this week my great-niece told me about a blindfold taste test she was due to have in school as part of their science curriculum. They’ve already done ‘scents and smells’ during which she learned that sniffing too hard at a pile of curry powder isn’t something you want to repeat. 

The taste test wasn’t something she was looking forward to as a 6 year old whose tastes are rather regimented (although if anything comes with a Hello Kitty wrapper she’s more likely to try it) but the test was cancelled, much to her relief, and the class are moving onto ‘materials’ next week. I wonder if ‘Elf and Safety’ had anything to do with that?

‘Why don’t we do our own taste test?’ I suggest.
‘No,’ she says without a moment’s hesitation.
‘Come on,’ I coax. ‘I promise I’ll only give you things you’ll like.’
‘Okay,’ she says.
‘Sunday,’ I say.
‘Is that the day after tomorrow?’ she asks.

I made a list of things I know she likes and wouldn’t be alarmed to find at the end of a spoon: nutella, strawberries, grated parmesan. And then a list of things that she hasn’t tried before, or has refused to try, but I’m pretty sure will be a hit, or at least acceptable: ripe peach (without the skin), green pesto, honey.  I want to respect the trust she has placed in me, a trust I wouldn’t want to shake in the slightest, but at the same time I want to encourage new experience.

But today she changed her mind. ‘I don’t want to,’ she said. So we didn’t but then she tried the dessert I made, a mixture of tastes she hadn’t tried before, so we are now back on for the Great Taste Test sometime this week. Watch this space...

This is the dessert:

If you’re a regular follower you might remember that I posted the recipe earlier this month but forgot to take a photo of the finished dish! So if you’re avoiding desserts this early in the New Year, just enjoy the photo. Or click here to make your own.

Hungry Writing Prompts
Write about wearing a blindfold.
Write a list of all the things you like to eat.
Write about an occasion when you did something for the first time.
Write about changing your mind.
Write about abstinence.


Home from home: Roast Lamb with Marsala

I started the hungry writer in France when identifying a sense of home seemed more urgent, being much further from either Wales, the country of my birth, or England, my adopted country. Each week I tugged on a thread of memory from my childhood and pulled myself towards home.

France feels very far away now, emotionally, even though it’s only been less than three months since we moved back. I spoke to a friend in Antibes yesterday and she told me about l’hiver incroyable they’re enjoying: 18 degrees during the day and the usual Mediterranean blue sky. I thought I’d miss the easy climate, the light, the sea but the British winter has been so incroyablement mild too with lots of clear skies, and I get to see the sea every month during my trips to Wales. And there are not many better beaches than this in the world. Forget about heat, palm trees, sunbeds. I’m talking about good sand, space, the sense of being swallowed by the sea, the noise of a high tide at night hitting the sea wall. 

It doesn’t matter anymore that the Steelworks is at one end. Gone are the days of jumping little oil slicks and coal dust on your journey to the shore. Stricter regulations have enabled the beach to gain a Blue Flag rating. It’s tractored and cleaned every day. It really is a heart-opening experience to stand on the Prom and breathe. 

Finding home since I’ve been back has taken on a number of identities. The home I need to feel in my writing environment has eventually been achieved after living with boxes for 10 weeks with new shelving and a desk to replace ones left in France:

And I feel spoiled with homeliness as I travel between Kent and Port Talbot in South Wales too. A true home from home experience.

Foodwise, I am delving into home with lamb. There is nothing to compare to Welsh Spring lamb. I can’t even enter into a debate about it. Case closed. I’ve made this twice since I’ve been back, once for family and once just for me and Tony. Eating what you love with someone you love has to be right at the top of the list of good things to do, and the list of what makes you feel at home.

Hungry Writing prompts appear below the photos which are rather like a picture story strip so hardly need any written directions, except perhaps to say that I pour 100 ml of Marsala over the lamb at the beginning of the cooking time and another 100 ml for the last 20 minutes, then I use those juices to make a gravy.
Roast Lamb with Marsala Wine


  Hungry Writing Prompts
  1. Write about the country of your birth.
  2. Write about a winter you remember well.
  3. Write about space.
  4. Write about a book.
  5. Write about someone preparing a meal.


The proof of the pudding

I discovered fountains during my pre-Christmas shopping. Not the water spouting out of a stone sculpture or dancing to music kind, but the firework kind you bung in the top of a Christmas pudding and light so it resembles a bomb you might associate with the Roadrunner and Wily Coyote. You know the type – round, with Acme stamped on it and fizzing with inevitable destruction.

I know, it’s hardly traditional, and I did pick a sprig of holly in the orchard on Christmas morning all ready for the brandy flambĂ© performance. But the firework seemed like more fun. And I’d also had a mishap with flambĂ©ing in my mother’s kitchen a couple of weeks earlier when I melted the edge of her cooker fan (sorry, Mam!).

I think 'pudding' counts as 'soft, non-flammable material'.
 But I'd avoid adding brandy to a Christmas Pudding!
The fountains came in packs of three and I have one left. We liked the first fountain in the pudding so much we decided to light a second one. And this last one is destined for another pudding in the near future. Not necessarily pudding as in round and fruity but as in pudding after lunch or dinner. Dessert.

Words are fun. How we use them, where they come from, what they mean. We all have favourite words too… we do, don’t we? Some of mine are: orchard, kipper, deliverance. Don’t you just love how you feel yourself rolling out to the end of that last one as you say it?

I have treated myself to Mark Forsyth’s The Etymologicon. (It’s a pretty irresistible book as it is but at 99p for the Kindle edition it was a no-brainer for me.) The book springs from Mark’s Inky Fool blog and explores the strange connections between words, which brings me back to puddings.

You know the expression, ‘The proof of the pudding (is in the eating)’? Well, the use of the word proof relates to the word’s Roman origins and how the Romans used to test their theories… and found that they worked, or were found wanting.

A pudding, or dessert, that was thoroughly tested and definitely not found wanting at my dinner party on New Year’s Eve was Triple Layer Apple Crunch. Its greatest fan was a farmer friend who had three helpings; I could almost see his eyes glazing over as the pudding transported him back to nursery teas, grass tickling his little boy legs in short trousers.

For me it’s the textures of the pudding that are a great part of its success: the sweet heaviness of apple puree, a cloud of whipped cream, and the crunch of a cornflake toffee topping. Cornflakes! I hear a distant purist shriek. Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it.

I wish I could show you the completed dessert but I’ve been annoyingly forgetful about taking photographs recently. I start out with good intentions…
…but you’re going to have to imagine the layers of whipped cream and crunchy topping. Although you can see how a glass dish is essential to the prettiness of this dessert. 

I use dessert apples as there’s no need to add sugar but they do take a lot longer to cook down to a puree than cooking apples do. Add a splash of water or apple juice to the pan to get them going, and to avoid them burning, then cook very slowly, stirring occasionally. Leave the puree to cool completely before adding the cream layer.

I whip up Elmlea Double rather than a full animal fat cream as I find it a bit lighter.

For the crunchy topping, melt about 75 grams of butter with half a dozen generous tablespoons of Golden Syrup in a large saucepan. Once it’s melted pour in enough cornflakes to be completely coated in the mixture and pile on top of the cream layer quickly before they start to clump together too much.

Let the topping harden completely in the fridge. It’ll stay crunchy all day so it’s a dessert you can make quite a few hours in advance.

Now… stick in your fountain, light it, and fizzle towards your friends : )

Happy New Year!

Hungry Writing Prompts
  • Write a childhood memory of fireworks.
  • Write about setting fire to something.
  • Write a list of your favourite words.
  • Write about being irresistible.
  • Write about making something for a friend.