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The Flat Cap on ... Crisps

At least once a week The Flat Cap has a check of his fridge freezer and kitchen cupboards. Then he writes down a list of the comestibles he has run out of, or is low on, and begins to compile a food shopping list. He used to have a magnetic notepad that adhered to his fridge but it kept falling off so now he just uses any old piece of paper to scribble on. This week was no different and The Flat Cap noticed that he was down to his last bag of crisps. Crisps are part of Bert’s staple diet and he is especially fond of making crisp sandwiches; usually when he can’t be bothered to cook. Having added crisps to his shopping list The Flat Cap began thinking about his unremarkable diet and in turn the number of crisps he eats in a single week. Rather than do the maths, and possibly depress himself, he thought it would be more fun to find out more about crisps and how they came to be introduced.

Crisps are either an English invention or an American invention, depending on which history book you believe. In England a chap called William Kitchiner was writing about crisps as early as 1822 and included a recipe for them in his book The Cook’s Oracle. When he wasn’t writing recipe books Kitchiner was busy being an optician and inventor of telescopes. Over in the United States there was a bloke called George Crum. And in 1853 Mr. Crum is said to have invented potato chips (the American word for crisps) almost by accident when trying to appease an unhappy customer who wanted his potatoes sliced more thinly. George Crum was actually born George Speck but he figured a crum (sic) was bigger than a speck and so adopted the latter name. Anyway Mr. Crum wasn’t even born in 1822 so The Flat Cap is happy to go with crisps as a British invention.

One of the best things about crisps, apart from being British, is that they come in lots of different flavours. But this wasn’t always the case. Although crisps began in 1822 it took more than a century for them to progress beyond ready salted. The culinary breakthrough occurred in 1957 when Irish crisp makers Tayto unleashed cheese ‘n’ onion on a unsuspecting world. After that it was gloves off for the food scientists, and their laboratories and imaginations went into overdrive. Some of the wackier, and lesser known, flavours weren’t really crisps at all. Things like Monster Munch, Wotsits, Nik Naks and Frazzles aren’t what The Flat Cap would call crisps. And neither do they make for a proper crisp sandwich. They are what they are – snacks, a bit in the same way as Doritos or Hula Hoops. Quavers aren’t crisps either but you can, at a pinch, use them to make crisp butties; even though they’re not technically crisps.

Having defined what is or is not a crisp The Flat Cap thought he better get along to his local supermarket and begin to buy the shopping. He was also low on washing powder and toilet rolls, so he put them on his list too. And he made a mental note to buy a new pair of oven gloves if he saw any that weren’t too garish or effeminate. Having missed one bus he finally made it to the big Tesco superstore, and it was whilst he was in the savoury snacks aisle that he bumped into his old friend Cyril. His chum said he had also been researching the history of crisps for his granddaughter’s school project. Cyril likes an excuse to show off and he shared the following crispy facts and figures with The Flat Cap:

  • As well as setting out the recipe for the world’s earliest crisps William Kitchiner’s The Cook’s Oracle also included recipes for eleven different types of ketchup

  • Frank Smith, the seventh son of a seventh son was Britain’s first big crisps manufacturer. In 1913 he was churning out a thousand bags a week and was so good at it that by 1920 he had opened a factory to increase weekly production to half a million bags

  • Today the UK consumes more than six billion bags of crisps annually

  • Smiths Crisps used to have a little blue bag of salt inside the crisps bag. This was removed when the company was bought out by an American food giant. The bags, or rather sachets as they became, returned in response to popular demand. Celebrations of their reappearance included a sack race refereed by television legend and former BBC newsreader Michael Aspel OBE. Cyril said Aspel was also quite good when he used to compere the children’s television programme Crackerjack but never as funny as comedy heavyweight Bernie Clifton who also went on to present the show

  • Today the UK’s biggest crisp producer is Walkers. Cyril says this is purely because former footballer and Match of the Day host Gary Lineker helps advertise them. By comparison veteran football commentator John Motson, who used to appear on the same football highlights show, is only ever offered jobs advertising corn plasters or mobility scooters

  • Although they look nothing like your kitchen kettle, 'kettle chips' have begun to catch on in recent years. They’re big crisps and a bit thicker. They also cost more than ‘regular’ crisps and generally come in bigger bags that you’re meant to share with family whilst watching the latest Star Wars film. But if you’re at the cinema popcorn is still a better option, and not quite as noisy

  • Crisp manufacturers don’t want a bad name so in recent years they have reduced the amount of salt and saturated fat contained in their products

  • As a young boy Gary Lineker would practise his shooting skills by trying to hit empty crisp packets that his father had sellotaped to the fence at the end of the family’s garden. This crisp packet pinpoint accuracy helped Lineker win FIFA’s Golden Boot at the 1986 World Cup held in Mexico

  • In addition to being a popular brand of crisps Golden Wonder is also the name of a fish, a type of tree, and a high grade gold deposit

  • If all the air in the UK’s annual six billion crisp packets were extracted it would fill 170 million size five footballs (the same type of ball Gary Lineker scored his goals with in the 1986 World Cup finals)

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