If there are smells in heaven, they must surely include Sarson’s Malt Vinegar, the smell of happiness.
Sarson’s went over soggy chips wrapped in sheets from unsold newspapers. Like Liam Clancy once said of eating pig trotters wrapped up in copies of last week’s Munster Express, “there was eating and there was reading”. An over generous shake of the bottle and the paper became soggy and left newsprint on your hands.
Sarson’s went over bags of cockles bought from a stall at the harbour in Lyme Regis. The shellfish already had their own saltiness; a shake of the maroon-labelled bottle gave them a piquant flavour. If English seaside towns had a taste that captured a sense of the place, it was cockles and vinegar.
Sarson’s went over the huge portions of fish and chips my uncle would bring into his London home at teatime each Friday. ‘Now, who’s for what?’ he would say; pretending that he had forgotten the order on his way home.
Sarson’s went over fish and chips at the Wimpy in Rathmines on the occasional visits there. College food on Fridays was so bad that the extravagance of going to the Wimpy could be justified. The fish and chips came with tea served in battered aluminium pots and with slices of white bread thinly spread with butter. The food left you feeling full for hours afterwards
Sarson’s became rare in the lean years. Buying food out became an expense that could only be justified on holidays, and there weren’t too many bottles of English malt vinegar in small and cheap French restaurants.
Had Sarson’s depended on my custom, it would long ago have gone into liquidation, but a Sarson’s bottle is in the kitchen cupboard, alongside a jar of peanut butter and a jar of Marmite – foods for a mid life crisis?
Flicking the lid to pour the vinegar over a plate of oven chips, there was the scent of summer. There was an image of sitting in a car with a bag of hot chips perched on a knee; there was the sound of seagulls and the diesel engines of boats; there was the laughter of a Friday evening when a whole weekend stretched ahead and Monday was an eternity away; there was a sense of all being well with the world.
Perhaps that is the real attraction of the Sarson’s, a whiff and, for just one moment, the realities outside fade away.
So, if there are smells in heaven, you can keep your incense and all that stuff; give me malt vinegar.