By Calvin Palmer
The taste of Branston Pickle, as in a cheese and pickle sandwich, had been a fading memory for the past 11 years. I knew when I moved to America that I would have to forego certain British delights – oatcakes with Lyle’s Golden Syrup, McVitie’s Dundee cake, John West Skippers and smoked mackerel to name but a few.
Branston Pickle was first produced in 1922 by Crosse & Blackwell at Burton-upon-Trent, Staffordshire. It takes its name from the nearby village of Branston.
In 2004, production moved from East Staffordshire to Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk, where 28 million jars are produced annually. It is estimated one-in-three UK households purchase Branston Pickle.
After attending my father’s funeral in Stoke-on-Trent, I found myself with an hour to kill before catching the train back to London. Feeling a little peckish, I made for the railway station buffet.
Instead of the drab and dingy establishment I remembered from the late 1960s and early 1970s, I was faced by bright and airy surroundings. Gone were curled up ham sandwiches on the counter beneath a glass lid and a pile of Eccles cakes that could easily have served as hard core for anyone laying a concrete driveway.
The buffet’s food was arranged in well-stocked display units, one of which contained a wide selection of fresh and pre-packaged sandwiches.
But what to choose? The cholesterol-friendly chicken salad seemed a likely candidate until I spotted ham, cheese and pickle on wholewheat bread. My mouth began to water at the thought of Branston Pickle and my indecision was over.
Sometimes when a thing is eagerly anticipated, the reality does not meet the expectation. It was not the case here. Taking my first bite, I immediately reconnected with my English roots. The tangy pickle tasted exactly how I remembered it.
Could I go another 11 years without ever sampling this peculiarly British delicacy? No.
Some months ago, my branch of the Publix supermarket chain began stocking a small selection of British food, albeit at grossly inflated prices. Hartley’s blackcurrant jam can be had for $3.99. Even Lyle’s Golden Syrup is available but without Potteries’ oatcakes, it holds little appeal. And yes, Branston Pickle also has its place.
When grocery shopping, I always paused by the British food and looked fondly at packets of Maltesers, Aeros, McVitie’s Digestive biscuits, Heinz Baked Beans and other assorted goodies. Many a time, I actually picked up a jar of Branston Pickle and then placed it back on the shelf, saying to myself that it was an indulgence I could not afford.
But with my taste for the pickle rekindled by my UK trip, $4.99 for a jar seemed a small price to pay to excite my tastebuds. On the first grocery shopping trip on my return to Florida, a jar was duly purchased.
Cheese and pickle sandwiches, albeit Swiss rather than English Cheddar, now accompany my late-night viewing of the Turner Classic Movie channel on a Saturday night. It is my little treat for the week.
If only American bakeries could come up with Hovis bread, I would truly be in seventh heaven on this side of the Atlantic.