Time to call at the chippie, or do you say chip ‘oyl, for this week’s Retro A to Z of jobs. Ah, fish and chips, a typical British dish, one that kept the country going in the Second World War when it was kept off the ration books.
However, like so many things we love, it’s a result of migration.
Fried fish was first introduced to London by Sephardic Jewish immigrants from Portugal and Spain, probably as early as the 17th century.
US president Thomas Jefferson described eating ‘fried fish in the Jewish fashion’ in London in the 18th century.
Fried chipped potatoes probably originate from Belgium. We were all taught at school that Sir Walter Raleigh brought potatoes back from his voyages, although they were already known via the Spanish.
One theory is that a poor Belgian housewife who couldn’t get fish when the River Meuse froze in 1860 cut potatoes into fish shapes and fried them for her family.
The British innovation was to put fish and chips together.
The National Federation of Fish Friers say that fish and chips were first served together around 1860.
Fish and chips got a boost in the Industrial Revolution as a ready meal for workers.
The development of railways, steam-powered trawlers and better ice-producing technology meant that fish could be more easily transported.
The famous Two Steps chip shop on Sharrowvale Road claims to be Sheffield’s oldest.
James Bolton opened up as a ‘Fried Fish Dealer’ in 1895, recorded in Sheffield City Trades Directory.
The shop gained its name during the Second World War, when soldiers stationed nearby said they were going to the one with two steps in the doorway, to distinguish between several in the area, and the name stuck.
One contribution that Sheffield has made to the trade is ‘cake on cake’, a local fishcake served on a breadcake.
This recipe is from The Star’s own cake on cake enthusiast, Di Stannard.
White fish pieces (cod, haddock etc)
Potatoes sliced 1cm thick and parboiled
4oz flour, tbsp vinegar, pinch salt, 5 fl oz sparkling water, mix to make a batter
Extra flour for coating
Method: place one layer of fish pieces in between two slices of potato and dip in flour, then cover in batter. Deep fry until golden brown.
Liberally butter a breadcake or oven bottom cake, place the fishcake on the breadcake and put loads of salt and vinegar on.
“Cake on cake, mmmm, specially when the butter melts and mixes with the vinegar,” says Di.
Not to be confused with the other fishcake, which Di disparagingly calls a rissole!
Her mum’s auntie Lily Bray even demonstrated the art of cake on cake to a chippie in Skegness.