Looking Back, with Eric Leaver

THESE days when the temperature sizzles, so do the barbecues. But what was East Lancashire's summer speciality in the era before charcoal-grilled ribs and burned burgers were a favourite hot-weather food?

Good old-fashioned tripe.

That what's what the old Northern Daily Telegraph discovered when, in the heat-wave of August, 1955, its women's editor set out to investigate "today's attitude to the traditional Lancashire dish".

"Half a pound of tripe and two trotters is Grandma's solution to the hot-weather problem of providing cool appetising teas," she wrote.

But there lay a clue to the start of a change in eating habits.

For even though the NDT reported that the region's tripe shops were having a hey-day as the sun shone - "We could have sold three times as much tripe as we have been getting in the past few weeks," reported one Accrington shopkeeper who had sold out by lunchtime - not everyone was rushing for a slice of fatty seam or honeycomb.

That was because, by the Fifties, an upcoming generation was giving tripe the cold shoulder - along with such associated delicacies as cow heel, sheep's and pigs' trotters and cow's-udder elder - and leaving the grannies to the heat-wave rush for it.

The "tripe snob" had arrived, according to the NDT's Jane Black - and that included anyone well under 40.

"Young housewives turn their noses up at tripe because they seem to think it old-fashioned and not sophisticated enough for them. They certainly wouldn't dream of offering it to guests," a Burnley tripe-dealer told her.

Certainly, the conclusion was accurate. Tripe was indeed beginning to go out a favour by the Fifties.

Back in 1951, in Blackburn alone, there were 32 tripe dressers and dealers dishing up the offal. Many were well-known family businesses that stretched back to the previous century - with names such as Byrne, Baines, Monk and Almond still being well-remembered. But, by 1966, their numbers had been cut to just five firms. Now, there are just two tripe stalls left on the town's markets. Similarly, while Burnley boasted 10 tripe companies, wholesale and retail, in 1953, nowadays, there is just one tripe stall left - in the town's market hall.

Running it is Mrs Marion Hayhurst whose business is now the only link with East Lancashire's last wholesale tripe supplier, Bradshaw Brothers, of Padiham, which closed in June following the death of her husband.

She agrees that, nowadays, it is mainly older folk who still eat tripe - cold in summer and hot with onions, or as the basis of a soup, in winter.

"In times past, people used to be queued up all day round the stall," she said.

But vanishing with this change in eating habits is a whole collection of local names by which the varieties of tripe were known - a topic that perplexed one correspondent to the NDT in the mid-Fifties who sought the origin of the expression "ladies' tripe" by which black tripe was often known.

The NDT was stumped for an answer, but went on to list the various other sorts - the self-descriptive honeycomb, "served with vinegar in every hole"; invalid tripe, the jelly type; seam, the white tripe which, indeed, does have a sort of a seam in it; and a variety which people in the Bacup and Burnley area called "raggy".

And, of course, ladies' tripe which, as Mrs Hayhurst recalls, some people also called "slut". But it was left to another correspondent to offer a curious clue in the "ladies' tripe" mystery. He told of a Lancashire dialect book he had read many years before, in which was the tale of a tripe-vendor who used to ask his customers "What's that" whenever they mentioned a particular variety and, in return, got odd and amusing names like "rag", "black stretch", "hoile" and "wezzel", (which, Mrs Hayhurst explains, was actually a sort of meat roll made from cows' jowls).

But, one day, when asked "What's elder", the man was said to have blushingly replied: "Er, you know, ladies' tripe".

It's quite believable, said the writer, that this humble incident may have been the origin of the expression - even if it ended it ended up describing black tripe, not edible cow's udder.

Meantime, one fact for the declining number of tripe-lovers to chew on is that the traditional Lancashire delicacy that is found in only a handful of outlets in our region today all comes nowadays from - Yorkshire. By gum!

Converted for the new archive on 14 July 2000. Some images and formatting may have been lost in the conversion.