The History of Pork Scratchings (the 1800s)

The History of Pork Scratchings is/are clouded in mystery. The consensus of opinion is that they originated in the West Midlands or Black Country, which is in England. The Black Country commonly refers to a geographical region covering most of the four Metropolitan Boroughs of Dudley, Sandwell, Walsall, and Wolverhampton, and is named after its roots in the industrial revolution and the 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 (which is black).

It would seem that Pork Scratchings were very much food of the working classes with origins back in the 1800s when it was produced as part of the tradition of families keeping their own pig at home then feeding it up for slaughter. Not wanting any waste, all (ALL) the parts of the pig would be used if possible.

The prime part of an animal used for food is meat. Next down the list is Offal (Blood, Brain, Chitterlings, Heart, Kidney, Liver, Lung, Trotters, Snout, Spleen, Pancreas, Testicle, Tongue, Tripe, Intestines, Hooves, Horns, Hide, Sweetbread). There are even degrees of desirability in this list. Heart, Kidney, Liver being used regularly in British cooking, whereas spleen, testicle, and hooves residing much lower on the same list.

Harking back to these days gone by, offal is now sometimes seen as a delicacy, epitomised by the London restaurants, St. John & Hereford Road.

Historically, animal skin was used for leather and vellum. However, the skin requires a fair amount of preparation to transform it into one of these final products.

Necessity is the mother of invention, and those canny folk from the black country managed to transform waste to wonder, simply by cooking the skin as you find it. You just need to cut it away from the meat, chop it up into pieces and boil it up in the fat from the animal.

The past production of pork scratchings (the 1930s)

Butchers started selling Pork Scratchings to the public in the 1930s. They called it crackling (A word synonymous with pork scratchings in the UK). They were sometimes available hot or warm if you purchased them soon after they had been cooked. But more often than not, you would be able to buy them cold, served in a small paper bag.

Fresh butcher's scratchings are still available today if you know where to look. Long established and new-wave butchers alike both sell scratchings over the counter. The only difference between the scratchings today and the ones from the 1930s is the paper bag. It has now been replaced by the shelf life-giving properties of the plastic bag.

Butchers scratchings are invariably a little bit hairy, randomly sized, with a soft fatty underneath and fresh crunchy on top. They have a home-made feel to them.

A slightly more modern production of pork scratching (the 1960s)

Pork scratchings became a retail proposition in the 1960s. Mass production was here. The skin was supplied to the manufacturer and cooked in bulk.

The fine layer of hair was removed from the skin by burning, however, this is not 100% effective and some pieces still have the hair attached. The skin was 'boiled' in lard or the fat of the pig.

They were not available to buy generally. They were hidden behind the bar of the pub, waiting for their next drunken victim. A true pub snack. Peanuts, crisps, scratchings.

Oh No, A Hair!

Finding a solitary hair on a pork scratching makes these snacks, not for the faint-hearted or weak-stomached. A Hairy Pork Scratching can be loved or hated in equal measure. Some people will revel in the idea, some people will baulk.

The hair is often the straw that breaks the camel's back. People wary of this delicacy will recoil and stop eating. They may try a scratching but will blurp at the thought of eating a hair. However, after a couple more pints, the wary invariably return to the bag. That is if there are any left, which is very unlikely.

A very recent history of pork scratchings production (gentrification / the 2000s)

Recently pork scratchings have had a bit of a revival. During the time I have been building this site, they have been transformed from endangered species to totally commonplace. From small bags only found behind the bar on pub snack cards or if you lived a little further up north, the more homemade type bag with a bread bag top thingy, to now being found in almost every supermarket and convenience store, to posh triple cooked version and a myriad of flavoured varieties.

It seems to me that everybody is making pork scratchings these days! I think the recent craft beer revival has had something to do with this. If people are willing to put their hand in their pocket for a craft beer, then a £2 bag of pork scratchings can't be far behind.

The BBC have been talking about them (Radio4 interviewed me about them). Some people are even eating them as a diet food if they are on the keto/low carb diet.

Once we thought that the days of the humble pork scratching might be numbered, and they may be consigned to history, today a revival is definitely underway. The rise and rise of luxury pork scratchings have seen us go from a few simple added flavours to bags containing a pot of apple sauce, to fresh chilled versions available in the supermarket, to the now-infamous pork scratching advent calendar! ubiquitous is the word we are looking for,

What are Pork Scratchings?

Midland Snacks Traditional Pork Scratchings Reviewc 150x150 - The History of Pork Scratchings

Pork Scratchings are not the same Pork Rinds or Pork Crunch, even though they all are snack foods made from pig skin. Pork Scratchings are a british snack, made from deep-fried pig skin. They are served cold, relatively heavy, hard and have a crispy layer of fat under the skin. Sometimes there's a little bit of meat and if you are really lucky you might find a few hairs. Traditional Pork Scratchings are generally simply flavoured with salt and maybe some other basic seasoning. There are also varieties that have additional flavourings, like you would expect from a packet of crisps.

What is Pork Crackling?

Familia Foods Chicarones Pork Crackling Review 150x150 - The History of Pork Scratchings

Pork Crackling (not the type you have with your roast pork) is a sub-type of the British snack called pork scratchings. They are cooked twice or sometimes even three times. This makes the skin lighter, more bubbly, less dense. The fat layer is also cooked in such a way as to make the fat lighter and less oily. Pork crackling are pork scratchings that your nan could eat, because you don't really need teeth like the James Bond character 'Jaws'. They are usually salted and seasoned. Sometimes they are flavoured like pork scratchings and pork crunch

What is Pork Crunch?

Big D Pork Crunch Review 150x150 - The History of Pork Scratchings

Pork Crunch (UK) are the same as Pork Rinds (USA). They are made form pig skin. they have no meat, no fat, no hair. Just the rind is fried which then 'puffs up'. They are usually salted and seasoned. Sometimes they are flavoured like pork scratchings and pork crackling.

What are Leaf Scratchings?

coopers butchers leaf scratchings 01 150x150 - The History of Pork Scratchings

Leaf Scratchings are made as by-product of the lard making industry. Lard made from the 'leaf' of the pig (the tissue surrounding the kidneys) is superior to other types of lard, and when the leaf is clarified to make the lard the tissues and bits of meat remain. These bits are then compressed and cooked. The result is flaky rather than crispy, with an intense porky flavour - reminiscent of parma ham. Leaf Scratchings are the rarest of scratchings. You never see them in the shops, and rarely in the butchers.

The Wikipedia Pork Scratchings Page

The original version of the Wikipedia pork scratching page (if you ever saw it) may have seemed very similar to parts of this original page. That is because it was, and I wrote them both. As you will be aware the Wikipedia is susceptible to change by anyone, so the page I originally wrote has been improved upon.

Click here to visit the Wikipedia Page: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pork_scratchings

Regional Variations

Country

Name

Americas

BrazilTorresmo
ColombiaChicharrones, Chicharrón Toteado (exploded pork crackling), Chicharrón Cocho
CanadaScrunchions
QuebecOreilles de Christ (Christ Ears)
MexicoChicharrón or Chicharra
United StatesPork Rinds, Cracklings

Asia

PhilippinesChicharon
ThailandKhaep mu
VietnamPork Rinds

Europe

BulgariaIprazhki
Serbiačvarci, Duvan čvarci
Czech Republicškvarky
PolandSkwarki
FranceGrattons
SpainCortezas de Cerdo, Chicharrones, Torreznos, Cotnes
PortugalTorresmos, Couratos
The Netherlands & BelgiumKnabbelspek (nibbling bacon)
DenmarkFlæskesvær
Austria & GermanyGrammeln or Grieben, Schweinekrusten (pig crusts)
RomaniaJumări
United KingdomPork Scratchings, Pork Crackling, Pork Crunch
pork scratchings british snack5 1 - The History of Pork Scratchings

Further Reading

written pork scratching reviews - The History of Pork Scratchings