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Taste Scene

Michael Devlin

Your pickled egg lullaby

It was a sunburned time, with skinned knees and scuffed shoes. Madonna was singing about dreaming of San Pedro, kids were on skateboards and some boy called Pinochet was on the news.

The days were long, luxurious and loveable. We had freckles. Linekar went to Barcelona and United got a new manager. Freddie Starr was eating rodents, Wham were in the charts and Wham Bars were in the shops.

It was 1986 and it was a great time to be alive.

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We also discovered, early that summer, that one of the local public houses would allow kids to enter the premises for a brief spell during the afternoon, without accompanying adults but only for a single game of pool. It was a revelation!

Previously the exclusive domain of big, hairy men in coats, the pub was like a different planet, when we first edged around the door and asked if we could play. A sticky, tiled floor, the air heavy with a strange melange of stale beer and smoke; a mysterious contraption in the corner known as the Poker Machine… it was magical and so long as we were quite – seen and not heard – we were often permitted a second round of this new and beautiful game.

Thus began an infatuation with blue chalk and cues and hunting for ten pence pieces (it cost 20p a game). The Henry Hippos were cracked open and we descended on the place en masse as if we’d just discovered the meaning of life, which was, evidently, at that time, the ability to sink the black to clinch the title.

The downside of ten-year-olds playing pool in a pub (apart from the question of legality) was that you’re weren’t really catered for, in terms of refreshments. You could pick up a pack of Scampi Fries for the same price as a game of pool and there may or may not have been peanuts on the go, but Happy Meals were a long time distant. Small glass bottles of Coke or Club Orange with a straw were available (actually straws might not have been invented) but these were generally more expensive than the same tins across the road in the shop although, unfortunately, you didn’t have time to go to the shop, not with the final of the World Championships of Pool taking place under your nose – and you were one of players.

I can’t quite remember who decided to order that first pickled egg, out of the jar which looked decidedly ominous on the shelf behind the bar, like it should have been in a dusty laboratory instead of a local pub. I can’t quite remember how much they cost either but when the game was afoot and sustenance was required for the competitors, pickled eggs became the go-to snack.

And thus began an infatuation with these potent, vinegar-y treats. Perhaps because they were so strong of flavour, we delighted in being served a pickled repast, complete with saucer, fork and salt seller. We could pretend we were big, hairy men in coats and the pub was, for a brief time on a sunny afternoon, our own temporary domain.

Fast-forward to pandemic times and with pubs on the cusp of a return, what better time to reacquaint ourselves with this classic delicacy, albeit a delicacy of acquired taste. Do pubs even stock these brawny bites any more? I don’t know. But if they don’t, they should.

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Last month, after living for too long without pickled eggs in my life, I set about fashioning some at home, as you can see from the pics included. To that very end, I purchased a large container of pickling vinegar and a similarly large, clip-top receptacle and I set about reminding myself of that most magnificent year in the ‘80s when happiness came in the shape of two 20 pence pieces and a friend with whom to play pool.

Some recipes I looked at suggested a multitude of embellishments for my home-pickling like mustard seeds, sugar, bay leaves and spices. However, I wanted my eggs to remind me of those long, luxurious and loveable days and so I went for the plainest of plans.

Apparently, one to two weeks is enough time for the eggs to ‘mature’ in the vinegar but I was only able to hold out for a mere seven days before diving in with a spoon to fish out a dome of delight – which is more difficult than it sounds, especially if, like many big, hairy men, there are pints on the scene. Eventually though, I managed to snare my quarry and onto a saucer it went with a pinch of salt and a smile. What was it like?

I closed my eyes and I was ten again. Madonna was still singing, the floor was sticky and I could almost scent that strange melange of stale beer and smoke.

As I’m writing this, I took a break to take the photos included and that meant eating another of my eggs, which only seem to be getting better with age. They are sharp to the point of painful but you know what they say: No pain, no gain. The only thing missing was the pool table.

INGREDIENTS

Eggs

Pickling vinegar

THE PLAN

Sort it out.

Sing it Madge!”

“And when the samba played, The sun would set so high, Ring through my ears and sting my eyes, Your pickled-egg lullaby.”

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