Memories of Calderdale

Those Were the Days


Wallace Brown

Now living in Canada, I spent my formative years in Yorkshire. I spent the war and post-war years [1938-1949] in Huddersfield. I was a sixth former at Heath [1949-1952], and lived in Halifax until I went to the USA in 1958. My father was Principal of the Halifax Tech.

At that time, most homes did not have a refrigerator (or telephone or car), and most housewives did not work outside the home. Supermarkets were an American rumour. Many women shopped locally every day except Sunday.

In Halifax, my mother walked about 50 yards to the four local shops: grocer/news agent (sold newspapers and magazines); green grocer/ fish monger; family butcher; post office with telephone kiosk (also sold some groceries, stationery etc). The proprietors were all family men, normally living in their shop, or rather the adjoining living quarters. The fishmonger-come-greengrocer made early morning visits to the central, Halifax wholesale market to buy fresh fish and produce that arrived daily.

Shoppers developed very personal relationships with their vendors, especially butchers who cut most items to order from carcasses in their fridges. During the war and for some years afterwards, a period of severe rationing, jokes about ladies who traded sexual favours for a nice bit of rump roast were rife.

Most home kitchens (nearly all tiny) contained a large chip pan that contained a suspicious solera of drippings from countless roasts and fry-ups. Danger of food poisoning was far surpassed by the all too likelihood of chip pan fires.

A notorious meal was bread and dripping, a sandwich filled with cold fat that could be quite tasty if made with mucky fat, meaning fat heavily flecked with those brown meat bits that enrich gravy.

A ten minute walk from our house, uphill towards Halifax brought us to a larger shopping area on King Cross Road, where stood three memorable businesses. One was a thriving tripe shop. Tripe comes from the first three stomachs of a cow – the stomachs of other animals can be eaten, but I think my shop sold only beef tripe. Tripe was very popular in northern England where it served as cheap protein for the working class masses spawned by the Industrial Revolution. The classic dish was Tripe and Onions, a nutritious stew of tripe, onions, milk, butter and seasonings. It was a firm favourite of my father, whose kitchen skills were an eclectic few. He served it with boiled potatoes. I ate it, but, apart from the spuds, never loved it.

Later in life, however, I immediately took to Tripes à la mode de Caen, which is beef tripe, a calf's foot, veggies, herbs, calvados, cider and wine slow cooked in the oven. I remember long ago enjoying this dish in a restaurant in Manhattan said to be frequented by French Line employees on shore leave, desperate for an affordable French meal. I could see Tripe and Onions making a comeback among trendy, snout-to-tail foodies. You heard it here first!

Next door to the tripe shop sat Wright's Café, the pie and (mushy) pea place, eat in or take out. All kinds of meat pies, still a glory of British commercial cuisine, were to be had, including my favourite, meat and potato. We lads often joined the queue when the pubs closed on Saturday, and we wanted a change from fish and chips. Both Huddersfield and Halifax had some excellent chippies. Their secret: very fresh haddock, lard as the fat, and proper two stage frying of the chips or freedom fries if you will. I doubt much lard is used today.

The third great shop was a pork butcher. A live pig was delivered at the back, and in due course appeared in the front shop as roasts, chops, trotters, sausages, rissoles, head cheese, cold pork pies with jelly, and everything else you can do with a porker. I believe the butcher's family had arrived after the failure of the 1848 uprisings in Germany.

© Malcolm Bull 2021
Revised 10:26 / 30th May 2021 / 5670

Page Ref: M_32

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