Fish ‘n Chips and Pork Pie Heaven

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Yum! Yum! Here’s one from Eric Sanderson to make your mouth water

Fish ‘n Chips and Pork Pie heaven

By Eric Sanderson

This isn’t a uniquely East Leeds tale but East Leeds did have it’s fair share of both of these culinary delights.
It’s difficult to find a single person who dislikes fish and chips . There surely will be some, it’s just that they’re unknown to me and, it seems to me, to be unfortunate in being unable to enjoy one of the most lip smacking treats known to mankind.
These days, for me it’s a rare but enjoyable occasion though as it’s no longer a cheap option for a family meal, especially in a speciality restaurant, it may well be so for many.
The humble fish ‘n chip shops were almost certainly this country’s earliest and probably still are the most popular “takeaway” outlets, each district usually having several competing establishments. Styling themselves as “fisheries”, each had it’s coterie of fiercely loyal devotees, not necessarily to the nearest one either.
I recollect five within fairly close walking distance from where I lived, with several more in the vicinity and almost invariably, a long queue was to be expected, especially on Fridays, due in part to the large Catholic community for whom fish was a must on Friday, meat generally being a no-no.
Yorkshire fish and chips are thought by many to be the best in the country (and arguably anywhere) due to the preferred method of frying in beef dripping, giving the batter a unique crispness, colour and taste of savoury beefiness. A visitor that I know to these shores from the USA who is quite a fussy & frugal eater, has no hesitation in making an early beeline to the local chippy & will happily devour a substantial portion, often on more than one occasion. If any further evidence is needed as to their wide appeal, just watch the seagulls on the East Coast, they love them so much , they’ll snatch them from your grasp as soon as you emerge from the chippy.
Fisheries used to sell little other than fish ‘n chips, perhaps the odd pickled egg or breadcake but now, an extensive menu of extras is there to tempt the palate and, if you’re feeling peckish, what can beat the welcoming aroma wafting from a F&C shop in full swing even though when that chippy is closed & cooled down, the reek from congealing chip fat is far less heartwarming.
Fish or chips ??. Which is the most important, the key ingredient? Are the chips to be thick or thin?. Is it to be Cod or Haddock?. All vital considerations in your choice of favourite establishment.
The fat, soggy, undercooked chips looking like Wichetty Grubs are to be avoided at all costs ( why would these monstrosities appeal to anyone ?)and the crispy, golden, sizzling variety are the ones to be sought after.
A popular favourite for many in the 50’s was Maggie Walker’s, which wasn’t the normal commercial “shop” but was in fact a converted, mid terrace, back to back cottage, just off East Park drive in one of the Glensdales. Others in the close vicinity were Knight’s (Temple View Rd); Quarmby’s (East Park Drive); East Park & Ivy Fisheries.
Maggie Walker herself was a small, bustling, beady eyed lady who supervised everything in her single range establishment & there was invariably a queue, often extending beyond the doorway & along the street. But, they were worth waiting for, my, were they good – I can almost still taste them.
The proprietors also seemed to know their clientele because if your favourite chippy closed for a couple of weeks summer holiday, they could be quite sniffy & sometimes downright rude by accusations of only patronising them because your preferred choice was temporarily closed.
Then there was the iconic Harry Ramsden’s, a venue for a day or evening out & in it’s heyday, enjoying an outstanding reputation, so much so that the inevitable queue, snaking back through the car park usually meant a long wait before being allocated a table. It went quickly downhill though following a change of ownership which tried to push the franchise far & wide although, it has quite recently become part of yet another chain, had a facelift & regained a little of it’s reputation but even now, the queues are no longer anywhere near the length they used to be.
Other similar venues, though perhaps never quite so illustrious as Harry Ramsden’s, includes Youngman’s & Nash’s, both in the city, Brett’s & Bryan’s (now the Fisherman’s Wife), both in Headingley , each having their own fan base, as well as the Wetherby Whaler & Murgatroyd’s. Of those ,Brett’s is the only untried one for me but it’s recently had an expensive refurbishment & is said to be very good.
So whilst revelling in the anticipatory memories of many a good feast of Fish ‘n Chips, lets not forget that other wonderful staple, the ubiquitous PORK PIE.
Just as with fish ‘n chips, the question of whose pork pies top the premier league can be a matter for enthusiastic & earnest debate.
The modern pork pie probably contains more wholesome ingredients than in days of yore but even so, the complexities of optimum size & proportions of meat, pastry & jelly, along with the type of pastry; cured or uncured, chopped, minced or potted type meat ; whether additional flavourings such as spices, herbs, cheeses & a host of other seasonings to tempt the palate, even the shape & finish can swing the balance and remains an enigma for which there is no universal consensus.
Some local butchers used to make their own & then along came the mass produced, mechanically recovered meat versions which originally, for many, destroyed the unique flavours originating in closely guarded family recipes, each with their own loyal adherents.
In those days, pork butchers were often separate establishments, presumably on the grounds of hygiene which are no longer deemed to be necessary. The most prominent one which comes to memory was Blakey’s on Temple View Rd.
Mrs Blakey ran the shop – a bubbly character whose physique strongly suggested she may have been over fond of her own products. A visit here wasn’t to be eagerly anticipated as Mrs Blakey could, & usually did , talk the hind leg off a donkey, or in this case, a Wessex Saddleback. There was no question of a quick visit as she would gossip endlessly with all & sundry such that even a short queue would result in a 15/20 minute wait whilst she chewed the fat. However, I suppose many a housewife enjoyed the opportunity of a chat outside the home but for a young lad, standing in a queue for what seemed like ages because of those ahead gossiping, was a teeth grinding experience.
Today, Wilson’s of Austhorpe Rd has acquired a well deserved reputation & “exports” it’s pies to other establishments around Leeds, including an outlet near to where I live.
Others having their faithful & widespread support includes Weegmann’s at Otley; The Celebrated Pork Pie Establishment at Skipton; Bentley’s of Pudsey & Spaul’s at Burley in Wharfedale to name just a few.
The ubiquitous Melton Mowbray with it’s uncured meat filling has it’s afficionados & I once knew an individual who used to send one of his staff from Sheffield, twice weekly, to Melton Mowbray itself in Leicestershire just so that he could enjoy the genuine article.
A local butcher in Pately Bridge ranks pretty highly on my list – his particular delicacy incorporates for me, the perfect combination of crisp, golden pastry, a fairly coarse chopped meat filling & just the right amount of piquant jelly to add a touch of savoury to the sweetness of the meat.
Accompaniments such as English Mustard, Branston, pickled onion, Piccallili (?), tomato chutney add to the pleasure and breakfast always seems a good time to indulge but little beats alfresco dining with a warm, freshly minted pie.
The comparitive merits of both pork pies & fish ‘n chips are worthy topics & I’ve known some, including myself in days long gone by, to enjoy both at the same time. Although pork pies may not be to everyone’s taste, there can be little doubt over the almost universal popularity of what is quite possibly the Country’s favourite dish – fish ‘n chips & I’m willing to wager that many have fond memories of that plate, or even a newspaper parcel, of sizzling ambrosia.

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11 Responses to “Fish ‘n Chips and Pork Pie Heaven”

  1. peter wood Says:

    I agree with Eric fish and chips have no equal, closely followed by a good warm pork pie. When we were young lads and really could eat. we would come out of the Star Cinema on York Road and have one portion of fish and chips, I think it was at the fish shop once owned by Doris Storey, when they were finished we would get another lot at the Bertha’s or Ellerby Lane fisheries and he can remember us even having a third lot from Britton’s on Cross Green Lane all with salt and vinager on and out of the paper of coursed – that’s the only way to eat fish and chips.

  2. Eric Says:

    Three lots of F&C in one session !. Now that’s an heroic feat. I seem to remember Bertha’s but can’t recollect just where it was.
    The Doris Storey fish shop was in fact Quarmby’s, on East Park Drive and Doris Storey was, I’m fairly sure, the wife of Mr Quarmby.
    She used to work in the shop from time to time as well & I can remember her training at York Rd swimming baths on occasion where they provided a dedicated lane for her which we oiks weren’t allowed to go near for fear of creating too much turbulence for her liking

  3. Dave Carncross. Says:

    On the pork pie front, I always remember Cardiss’ up Dial Street. The smell of the air from that shop must have contained fifty calories a bucket. Nearest I have come to it in recent times is Weegmans in Otley. I once bought a couple of pies from there intending to take them home for lunch. Unfortunately, I had eaten one of them before I got backnto the car. You can’t just have one bite to put you on as it were – that’s like giving a pig a peanut.

  4. Eric Says:

    Three lots of F&C in one session – that’s some heroic appetite.
    The shop owned by Doris Storey & her husband was in fact Quarmby’s on East Park Drive where she occasionally served in the shop. I also remember her training at York Rd swimming baths where she had a dedicated lane and us oiks were allowed nowhere near it so as not to make any turbulence which apparently disturbed her training

  5. Brenda Wood Says:

    In the 195os we moved to Hebden Bridge from Castleford unbeknown to my mum dad had purchased a fish and chip business. In Castleford they ran a Fruit and Wet Fish business. I can remember they sold a bag of çhips at the fish and chip shop for around 2p in today’s money. My Dad had brought a few boxes of apples left over from Castleford and he took them to our new school Stubbings in Hebden Bridge, the kids there didn’t like me and my brother Ralph because they said we talked funny (castleford accents) I think they thought they were better than us they compbained the apples stank of fish
    The business didn’t fair well and Dad soon sold the business and got a job the new owners just turned the premises into a bungalow that really narked my mother as she wanted to buy a bungalow down south we ended up in rented accommodation for years.

  6. Eric Says:

    I had a friend who was an accountant, and like many, used to “do the books” of small businesses on the side as a way of enhancing his income. He told me that F&C shops were often very profitable but the owners could only stand it for so long because however hard they tried, they couldn’t rid themselves of the miasma, especially if they lived over the premises. One even had an air curtain installed between the shop & their living quarters but to little avail.
    So, being a customer was , and is, a wonderful experience, but living with the process may not be such a thrilling occupation.
    That would be a new experience Brenda, apple pie with a hint of haddock, sounds like a Michelin recipe to me.

  7. Doug Farnill Says:

    Oh Eric, now you have done it. I was beginning to salivate as I read about the fish and chips, but when you got to pork pies I was in full flood and drooled all over my keyboard – probably need another one now. My biggest complaint after migrating to Oz was that one could no longer get good East Park Road fish and chips. In the late 30’s and early 40’s Mum used to send me down to get a fish and a pennuth four times, with scraps. During the war we had to take our own newspaper for wrapping, or a basin. I would invariably sneak a few chips on the way home. Nothing compares to good old English fish and chips, worth a trip “back home” for some.

  8. peterwwood Says:

    Moving on to pork pies. Every year around Easter time when they have erected the big cross on the top of the Chevin, I park at the Royalty pub and walk down the Chevin into Otley where I make for Weegman’s pie shop, which is booming more than ever, they have now taken over the shop next door and there is always a queue. I buy about half a dozen pies and go and sit on the riverside and consume a couple – the rest are for favoured friends at home. Then I have to tackle ‘Jacob’s Ladder,’ the line of steps that go from bottom to top in a straight line. I’m getting slower every year and I have to take many stops (to be honest I have cut the pies consumed at the river side from two to one – I haver my other one at home, it’s hard enough getting up there with just one pie inside you) If I’m still alive when I reach the top I think ‘I’m set fair to last another year.

  9. aussiepom Says:

    Yummy, yummy, yummy Eric. Pork pie at Christmas especially good. Not so popular in Australia though. Pies containing meat have got to be hot. On one trip to Leeds when both my kids were teenagers they would have had Doris Storey’s fish’n’chips for every meal if I’d let them. Fascinated by a take-away shop covered in white tiles like a bathroom they stood in the queue with me and horror struck when I asked for scraps to be added to our order. Scraps here are vegetable peelings added to the compost heap. The horror look turned to one of delight when they tasted the crisp scraps of cooked batter and one of ecstasy when they started to eat the fish. It took me long time to find out how to make batter as crisp as Doris did. Just add a pinch of Bi-Carb to plain flour and water and cook in smoking hot oil. We have cooking shows galore on T.V. and I laugh at recipes for batter and how they fiddle about adding eggs, lemonade, ice cold water and the techniques involved mixing it. A bowl, a fork and tap water, a quick mix and ready to go. No culinary degree required

  10. Edward Blackwell.. Says:

    My Grandmother on my Mums side lived in Ascot Street almost opposite cross Ascot street that connected through to Ascot Terrace, as a very small boy I used to be looked after by my Gran whilst Mum was at work, during the was years of course, I remember very clearly a small Fish and Chip shop on the corner of cross Ascot street and Ascot street that was owned by old Mr Quarmby, it was one of those old coal fired ranges that had to have the fires stoked, and I recall being served by Doris Story, just after she was married, I recall her saying to me by your a big lad I bet your a good swimmer, I’d can’t remember what I replied, but I remember as a small boy I thought she was stunningly beautiful, they did in later years buy new premises down East Park Drive as Eric rightly pointed out….I’ll always remember those little triangular shaped bags of Chips where the vinegar used to run down your arm…….great chips though…

  11. Edward Blackwell.. Says:

    I live in Crossgates now and I’m very fortunate to have three great Fish and Chip shops within walking distance, with the added bonus of Wilson’s Butchers on the doorstep, where they make fantastic Pork pies, thank you Eric for your story which makes me realize how very lucky I am to live in this location.. We had a large Pork pie from Wilson’s last Christmas and it was delicious, I think it’s time for another which I will purchase tomorrow…lol..

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