Monday, March 23, 2009

The crunch bunch

Hereford roast beef and caramelised onion, it said on the packet. And they were nice, too. But it doesn't matter how much you dress them up, they're still beef and onion crisps. The same goes for Cumberland sausage and red onion marmalade - pure and simply sausage and onion. Or what about cheddar cheese and white onion, sea salt and cider vinegar, Arctic prawn & Marie-Rose sauce? Just cheese n' onion, salt 'n' vinegar and prawn cocktail. There's nothing natural or more interesting about them. They just have a more glamorous name.

You can over-describe all you like, but the fact is - and correct me if I'm wrong - is that the actual base flavours of crisps haven't changed at all in years. The basic flavours are still there. They may be stronger or with less E numbers, but salt and vinegar is salt and vinegar, no matter how much you gentrify it.

Where did all this fancy descriptive stuff spring from? Was it to capture a market that demanded things to be more exciting, or was it a manufacturer who decided his product was a cut above? Even those really nice Burt's crisps that actually use real bacon in their smokey bacon still taste like your bog standard Golden Wonder version.

My favourite used to be Smith's Savoury Vinegar. No one seems to remember them but me. They were 2 1/2p from the school shop. This is 1972, though. They seemed to vanish as quicky as they appeared, but there were tasty. Salt & Vinegar without the salt.

Smith's were king of crisps back then. We always had Bovril crisps after swimming (see posts passim). Golden Wonder had some perhaps more exotic flavours (sausage and onion was a post-paper round Cup-a-Soup-dipping favourite) and we'd never even heard of Walkers. When did they appear? Mid-Eighties?

Of course there are some flavours that are actually all new and exciting, like the builders' breakfast ones in the new Walkers competition range. The duck ones are quite authentic too. And some of the Walkers Sensations Thai and chilli ones are okay too. But there's so much choice. Too much choice can be a bad thing. But they can churn out Vietnamese Blu-tac curry or Black Forest chinchilla to their heart's content if they just revive savoury vinegar for one more day.


fourstar said...

Can I throw in here that some crisp packets are now in landscape format? We had some multi-packs of Wotsits and Quavers this weekend and the printing went the other way. When the hell did that happen?

office pest said...

Round here Walkers were - and are - the king of crisps. Golden Wonder and Smiths were the poor second choices, often over fried and full of potato 'eyes'. Walkers are made in Leicester though so it may have been a regional distribution thing.
Walkers put their salt n vinegar in green packets and their cheese n onion in blue, which is the other way round to most manufacturers. Walkers started making crisps after WW2.


A Kitten in a Brandy Glass said...

I would like to see a map of the UK in the 1970s, coloured in to represent the areas covered by Walkers, Smiths and Tudor crisps (and any other regionalia that I am unaware of), because these things are the basic dividing lines of nostalgia. Tudor were the kings in my ancestral homelands of the north-east, but I don't know how far their influence stretched, if at all.

The two johnny-come-lately crisp flavours that I can see the point of are chilli (not properly new but it was too exciting for the 70s), and black pepper, which I really like and prefer to ready salted by a long chalk. I still don't get where sour cream came from as a crisp flavour and want nothing to do with it.

Ishouldbeworking said...

I used to love a packet of Savoury Vinegar, F-C. They had a sort of pickle-ish tang to them that set them apart.

I always loved Tayto crisps, which you can only get in Ireland, though when I was a student in Leicester in the mid 80s, local brand (now national leader) Walkers came close and were a real revelation.

I agree completely with Kitten about Sour Cream. So wrong.

Planet Mondo said...

In Southend Golden Wonder (with the little man slinging them into his mouth on the back) were the crisp Kings - Sausage and Tomato was a rare treat - as were the original cheese and onion Ringos. But Smoky Bacon has never tasted the same since the seventies..

I remember the Smith's 'Savoury Vinegar' FC. didn't they have weird colours sort of dowdy maroon and a murky green for the logo?

Other treats were Bovril crisps (but can't remember who made them)

M & S Beef and Onion, and their Tomato flavour

Frazzles Egg and Bacon (which only appeared briefly around 78)

Kung Fu Crisps which were Wotsit style puffed crisps but with 'oriental' flavourings..

Smiths Twists..

And I always liked the KP bag with the star logo on the front..

I don't understand the rise of Walkers, who seemed to come out of nowhere in the 80s to dominate - I really can't get my nogging around Walkers Blue for Cheese and Onion and Green for Salt and Vin' - it's just madness..

Five-Centres said...

I know Tayto, they're good. And Tudor I've had on occasion. I remember Twists (the salt n vinegar were favourite, and I loved M&S lamb and mint sauce flavour, first seen late 70s. Don't remember egg and bacon Frazzles but I'm a huge Frazzles fan so that's a shame.

Pork and bean Rancheros? Our German exchange boy ate a whole boxful.

Wil said...

I thought that the new Walkers' Builder's Breakfast tasted like little more than a weak smokey bacon. I've not been impressed with any of their compo entry flavours, unfortunately.
When nostalgia rears it's comforting head it has to be original cheese and onion Ringos for me although any of the Horror Bags would do, too.

Five-Centres said...

I liked the way I got egg and beans and bacon and sausage from those, but you're right Wil, the rest of them are no great (salt n) shakes.

office pest said...

Mondo, re your crisp bag colour confusion; having grown up with Walkers ('printed on clear' packets in the 60s/70s moving on to opaque, then opaque silvered inside ones later) it's perfectly natural to me that S 'n V is green and C 'n O is blue.
The rest of the world's unified colour coding scheme seems quaint, but...disconcerting.

It's like most of the rest of the world driving on the right - a majority, yes, but all on these islands, along with the Japanese, Maltese, Cypriots and Gibraltarians, know that it's just not right.

Puffets, anyone?

Or would you prefer some Outer Spacers? Pickled Onion flavour OS would take the lining off your mouth before fighting it out with yer 'insides'. Probably banned under SALT IV.

Thumper Plowman said...

Those fangs were good - do you remember Bones which were their sister product?

Despite all these fancy names I think the Crisps market could do with a new disruptive flavour coming along to shake things up, like Worcester Sauce did in the late 70s/early 80s. Maybe they can relaunch that "Salt N' Shake malarkey with the bag of salt inside the crisps.

I also agree completely with PM: Walkers willful ignoring of the correct colour coding for crisp flavours is shameful.

Sky Clearbrook said...

Tudor Crisps were a particular favourite, but in recent years I have learned that these were manufactured (*I think*) in the North East of England, so that name might draw a blank in some southern regions.

Used to like Ringos, Rancheros, Skydivers, Farmer Browns ("Farmer Brown, you've got a tasty snack there... Oooh-arrr!"), the original version of Space Invaders/Raiders and pickled onion Monster Munch.

In fact, any variety of pickled onion was a favoutire of mine!

The 1980's "craze" for scampi crisps was a little hard to bear. Oh... the reek.

The Caked Crusader said...

Seeing that bag of Fangs has really made me hungry! I used to love salt and vinegar Bones that came in a black bag with white lettering. They don't make 'em like that anymore!

Five-Centres said...

Yes, Bones, Space Invaders, Ringos, Discos - where are they now? It's time to bin off the posh crisp and bring back the novelty snack.

I had some Roast Beef Monster Munch the other day in the yellow packet and they were just as they were back then. Take the roof of your mouth off AND fill you up!

Beth said...

It's got to be "More" than a "Snack" Seabrooks the Kings of Crisp. Salt & Vinegar for preference. I had a bit of a sulk when they changed the packaging, but I'm back on board now.