Monday, January 18, 2010

A Stick of Spanish

It was one of those programmes where I shout "Jammy Pig!" or similar phrases of envy soon after it begins. There are quite a few of those. Generally some presenter gets paid to travel all over the place doing interesting things, often by train.

This time it was ex-politician Michael Portillo trying out some railway journeys round Britain. I could do that! Let me do it!

- - Anyway, they didn't. Michael Portillo went to Pontefract in West Yorkshire, not too far from where I live in Leeds, and where they used to grow liquorice, and then they made it into little round flat shapes called Pontefract Cakes.

I like liquorice though I hardly ever eat it now - too much sugar. Liquorice Allsorts used to be a childhood favourite of mine and I associate them with the Communist, who always loved them. I like the name "Pontefract" too - - it comes from the Latin for "broken bridge" and must have stayed broken for a very long time indeed to give the whole place that name.

"Have they mended that bridge yet, Claudius?"

"Fat chance, mate. Still broken. Had to go eight miles round with my chariot."

My brother lives in Holland now where liquorice is a great favourite - it's known as "drop" over there. I notice the Wikipedia article that I've linked to earlier mentions this - - and yes, I noticed when I was in Amsterdam that it's sold all over the place there.

Michael Portillo found an Aged Liquorice Grower who explained that the plant originally came from Spain - Wikipedia has a slightly different explanation - - but anyway, it clearly had a Spanish connection and therefore a stick of licquorice was often referred to as a stick of Spanish in the Olden Days.

Hey, I thought, what's all this about the Olden Days? A stick of Spanish? That's what I used to call it when I were a lass, as they say round here and as they say in Pontefract too, no doubt.

Then the Aged Liquorice Grower explained that liquorice is no longer grown around Pontefract, though the sweets are still made there. So what are the sweets made from? Aged Liquorice Grower showed us a liquorice bush growing in his garden and then produced some authentic chunks of liquorice root which people used to chew in the Olden Days.

Hey again! Olden Days indeed! For when I was a child the Communist used to sell chunks of liquorice root in his chemist's shop, and I used to love chewing them - they tasted great and you would chew them until they went all stringy.

It's slightly worrying when things which were a perfectly ordinary part of childhood suddenly crop up as a chunk of History.

Though I suppose it happens to all of us. If we're lucky, that is.


Blogger rhymeswithplague said...

I hate liquorice, or to put it with slightly less passion, I cannot abide liquorice.

I had no idea it came from the root of a plant. I thought it grew on trees like spaghetti.

My teenaged grandchildren give me vacant stares when I mention things like 45-rpm records.

10:16 pm  
Anonymous Helen said...

I used to chew liquorice sticks and call it Spanish and I'm 31!! Does that make me part of the olden days too? That's a new milestone for me...

10:26 pm  

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