History of pork scratchings

Very little has been written down about the history and origins of Pork Scratchings and due to the amount of questions we are regularly asked, we decided to put together a short history, made up of contributions and opinions from people in the trade and from members of the general public who remember Pork Scratchings from earlier days.

Where do they originate from?

The general consensus of opinion is that they originated in the West Midlands or Black Country.  The Black Country is named after it’s roots in the industrial revolution and continuing role as a centre of heavy engineering and mining which in days gone by was said to cover the area in grime and soot.

Pork Scratchings was a food of the working classes with origins back to the 1800’s where families kept their own pigs at home, feeding them up for slaughter. With food scarce no part of the pig was wasted and either by design or by trial & error the famous Pork Scratching was discovered.

Comments and Reminiscences

One lady who we contacted believed her grandmother who was born in 1846 used to make them.  The method she used was to take the rind off the pig leaving a layer of fat on. She would then cut up the rind and cook in a heavy bottomed saucepan.  The rind was cooked slowly at first until a liquid was formed.  The temperature was then turned up with the rind and fat being stirred to avoid sticking.  The scratchings were then taken out and eaten with salt and the remaining fat used to fry chips.

A lady from Oxley stated that Pork Scratchings were made by rendering down the rind in a low oven to produce pork dripping.  The remaining rind was placed back in the oven on a high temperature to produce crisp Pork Scratchings.  They were then eaten with salt.

Just outside Wolverhampton, Scratchings were made by the mother of a gentleman we spoke to.  His mother was aged 40 around the 1930’s.  They were considered a delicacy at weekends when they had them for tea with plain bread and salt.  The leaf of the pig was sometimes used, which is the layer of fat around the kidneys.  The leaf was boiled, the top skimmed off which produced the Scratchings, they were very crispy and served with salt.

The leaf was mentioned again by a lady from Cradley Heath whose daughter liked the softer Scratchings produced after making lard.

A lady from Wordsley also remembered people keeping their own pigs during & after the second world war when meat was rationed.  Local butchers would come round to slaughter and prepare pigs on request.

Pork Scratchings on the High Street

A gentleman who’s father was working in the Black Country around the turn of the century remembers his father talking about buying little strips of bacon rind that were salt dried and sold in paper bags. Perhaps this was the forerunner of today’s great pork snacks.    .

In the 1930’s Butchers started selling Pork Scratchings commercially on a wider scale. One lady from Cradley Heath told how her local Butcher in Cradley Road would cook Scratchings in large aluminium barrels and sell them in quarters or 2 ounces loose.  They called it Crackling and it was soft underneath and crunchy on top.

Today Pork Scratchings are big business within the snack industry and over 20 million bags a year are being sold via supermarkets, pubs and a host of other outlets throughout the UK. New products have been developed and added to the range such as Pork Crunch and Pork Crackling and these have encouraged new consumers to become fans of this classic British snack.

Pork Scratchings a British Icon

Celebrities such as Chris Evans, Al Murray and Matthew Wright have helped thrust Pork Scratchings back into the limelight by declaring their love of this snack on their national TV and Radio shows. Chris Evans also used Pork Scratchings as a star prize on his primetime Radio Two 6 o’clock show.

Pork Scratchings can often be seen behind the bar on TV soaps such as Eastenders and Coronation Street with pubs like the Queen Vic and The Rovers Return recreating a real pub atmosphere.

With the explosion of the internet in recent years there are now a number of sites found on the web who specialise in all things Pork Scratchings.

They have also inspired an American author named Greg Gutfeld who has written a book called “Lessons from the Land of Pork Scratchings: A Miserable Yank Discovers the Secret of Happiness in Britain”

Around the World

Britain has it’s beloved Pork Scratchings but many other countries around the world also enjoy similar products with their own local twist.

The Americans love “Pork Rinds” which are particularly popular in the Southern states. There are a wide range of styles and flavours available, some of which will seem rather unusual to British consumers such as Jalpeno & Cheddar and Sour Cheese & Chives.

Nearer to home in Europe the Spanish eat a range products made from various cuts of pork rind as part of their famous Tapas appetisers which are often eaten in bars and cafes along with a lunchtime or early evening drink

An alternative theory concerning the origins of Pork Scratchings came from a gentleman who contacted us to to say that his father’s family originated from the south of Spain (a little village called Villanueva de Algaida), where they kept livestock, including pigs. The pigs were allowed to wander free in the orchards, where they ate fruit and acorns, which helped produce the classic taste of the great Iberico ham. These pigs would often rub themselves against the trees, to rid themselves of dry skin. One year, when the harvest had been particularly bad, the hungry swineherd noticed the swathes of dry pig skin hanging off some low branches. The hot sun had made it all crispy, and he tentatively tasted it. To his surprise, it was delicious and the rest they say is history.

History of Pork Scratchings was researched & written by Julie Openshaw and Alan Barnes