Pork Scratchings Poker: Pass the pigs


24 March, 2011
By Roland Ellison

One Powys publican launched a poker night with pork scratchings as chips after an idea struck at the GBBF. And faster than you can say ‘hairy bar snack’ Roland Ellison was there...

As licensee Ed Davies surveyed the huge piles of pork scratchings and groups of beer enthusiasts sat around tables inside Earls Court for last year’s Great British Beer Festival, an idea struck him. ‘You could play poker at these tables, but instead of using chips, you could use pork scratchings’, he thought.

Little did we think at the time that he would actually follow this idea through and organise an evening of pork scratchings poker in his pub, Kilverts in Hay-on-Wye, Powys, but he did, and with the help of some tasty products from Midland Snacks and beer from brewers and licensees from the four corners of the country, it was up and running.

With three different scratching types on offer: Traditional, Light and Crispy Pork Crunch, and Pork Crunch (described somewhat disparagingly by Steve Wilson as “a sort of pig Quaver”) they lend themselves very well to use as poker chips.

As overall favourites, we decided to use the Light and Crispy Pork Crunch as a snack, while the least popular Pork Crunch would be small blinds with Traditional as big blinds – leading to some confusion as the big blinds were actually smaller than the small blinds.

But once we were up and running it was fairly straightforward, although I hope Ed’s new poker table wasn’t susceptible to salt damage. The ‘ting’ that resonated around the room when someone upped the ante with the toss of a scratching into the metal ‘pot’ was incredibly satisfying...


Big business


Now, this may have all been a bit of fun, but love them or hate them, pork scratchings are big business.

The traditional type predominately found in the UK is thought to have originated in the Midlands in the 1800s. Made from the rind of underlying fat from pigs’ shanks (back legs), long strips of rind are frozen into blocks before being cut and cooked in boiling vats of lard for 90 minutes. They are then coated with each producer’s own seasoning, the basis of which is usually celery salt with a hint of bacon.

As the perfect accompaniment to a pint, they’ve always been a favourite among real ale drinkers.

But these days the salty snacks are experiencing something of a revival, and not just in the North. In fact, more scratchings are sold in the Midlands and the South of England than in the North. Many a trendy London pub has recognised the astonishing power they have over impulse-buying punters when strategically placed in site of the bar.

In fact, they are almost in danger of becoming trendy, making appearances on menus at fashionable establishments like Mark Hix’s Oysters & Chop House, Thomasina Miers’ Wahaca and Tom Pemberton’s Hereford Road.

At a recent six-course beer and scratching dinner, organised by Rupert Ponsonby and Beer Genie, we were treated to a fish pie with a gratin pork scratching top – to give it some crunch – and a Pork Chipolates dessert i.e. scratchings covered in melted dark chocolate, served with vanilla ice cream and a Mackeson Milk Stout – I’ll admit, this really sounded vomit-inducingly awful, but it was actually a surprisingly tasty combination of salty and sweet.

Hopefully the humble scratching will be able to keep its shanks on the ground amidst all this glamour. After all, the guilty goodness that goes with them is very much a part of the pub experience. Why not give them a go in your pub? They’ll probably increase your drink sales, and the margins on them aren’t too bad either.


Good margins


Nigel Moore’s Midland Snacks has been producing pork scratchings for more than 30 years. His advice for licensees is: “Get them on display, a clip strip is ideal and overcomes space problems for many pubs.

“The customer sees them, wants them, eats them, and then drinks more! Margins are above the industry norm for snacks. The great British public loves the taste of a pork scratching.”

And what does the future hold for scratchings? Nigel foresees appellation controlee status in the offing, like the Cornish Pasty, and “you’ll be able to get them from your local pub”.


Scratching snacks – courtesy of Beer Genie


• Sales of scratchings increased by 50 per cent during the World Cup last year
• Sales of scratchings are booming during the recession
• Best eaten within eight weeks, but some ‘best before’ dates in foilback packaging can be five months
• Eaten in various guises around the world, in China they are thought to have certain medicinal properties, including being good for cardiovascular and cerebro-vascular systems, although I’m not sure what western physicians would make of this
• Celebrity fans include Chris Evans, Al Murray, Beyonce Knowles and Kate Moss
Thanks to Midland Snacks and all those who made the long trip to Hay-on-Wye for what was a very amusing evening, and well done to Ed Davies for winning his own competition!


Pork Scratchings Poker at Kilverts


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