October 10 2005

It’s a shame, don’t you think, that science hasn’t come to grips yet with the problem of worn out tastebuds?
We’ve got lenses for long and short sight, miniature gadgets to compensate for cloth ears, but, so far, nothing to sharpen a blunt tongue.
The thought occurred a few days ago after a fellow Staffordian who runs the shop in the next village joined me in lamenting, the way codgers do, the vanishing character of the town. We ran up the usual list: the old communities have disappeared; everyone’s moved out to the suburbs and even though they’re building new homes in the town centre, locals won’t be able to afford them; pubs ain’t what they used to be; food doesn’t taste the same.
In no time, we were swapping favourite butcher stories.
His had a shop in Marston Road and sold the best pigs’ trotters ever boiled. His uncle, as a boy, disappeared once on an errand to buy half a dozen for a family feast. He eventually turned up with a neat excuse for his worried mum.
“You told me to check they were all right,” he explained. “But most of them were left ones.”
You had to be there; these things never look as funny written down.
I’d almost forgotten pigs’ trotters until this encounter, although they were once a regular part of our family diet, a cheap and cheerful delicacy requiring patience and not a little skill.
It was the decadence I enjoyed. Those sticky lumps of skin and bone had to be tackled bare-fisted like Charles Laughton doing his Henry VIII bit. There was, of course, more meat on his suckling pig, but you get the idea.
Until the mid 50s there was a butcher in Eastgate Street whose shop near the entry to Cope’s Buildings specialised in all things offal, presumably because families round about couldn’t stretch to the more expensive cuts.
His window was stuffed with pigs’ feet, heads, hocks, spicy pork pies, faggots (savoury ducks, he called them in an effort to impress the odd posh customer), tripe and chitterlings.
Wonderful, but whatever became of all that stuff?
I drew the line at sweetbreads and brains and my appetite for tripe was dulled somewhat by a landlady who fed it to me three times a week for the year and a half I was in digs with her because I’d foolishly mentioned it was a favourite.
But I’d happily give my last fillet steak for a plate of chitterlings with a touch of vinegar and just a dusting of pepper, or a few slices of brawn made from an Eastgate Street pig’s head. Either would go down nicely with bread and butter and a glass of cider.
Nostalgia, I know, is a dangerous yardstick and without doubt my tongue isn’t what it was, but the fact that life has lost many of its flavours can’t all be down to ageing tastebuds. It’s simply because many of them are no longer around.
And that’s a pity.
Sensibly, the Continentals still enjoy the bits we English throw away, so maybe, if we’re serious about ever becoming real Europeans, it’s time for a reassessment. Bring back the  pig’s trotter. Chacun a son gout and all that.


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