“In 1920, the Salt n’ Shakes were trailblazers, walking so that other crisps could run. But 100 years on, they have been surpassed.”
Cricklewood Broadway. The sky is grey and oppressive. A steady stream of traffic flows between the road’s faded markings; the tarmac is puckered from successive resurfacing. On one side of the street (next to Iceland) there is a handsome red sandstone building with an Open Reach van parked outside: the Crown Pub. This, reader, is a site of great historical importance. It is the birthplace of the crisp.
Back in 1920, in the garages behind the Crown Pub, Frank Smith and his wife (cruelly anonymised by the history books) set up Smiths Crisps. Here, they cut, fried and packaged potatoes to be sold in the Crown – an alchemy that would alter the world of confectionary forever. But the Smiths quickly encountered a problem: customers were stealing saltshakers from the pub to season their crisps. The solution was simple: individual 0.6 gram salt sachets for consumers to distribute at their leisure. And so Smiths Salt n’ Shake was born. They still exist today – only, Smiths has since been ceded to the vast Walkers empire. What does the Ventrilocrisp make of the original crisp?
The Ventrilocrisp’s first port of call was to retrieve the grubby blue salt sachet (still in its original colour – a charming touch of nostalgia) from the bag. There. It tore it greedily open, scattering the salty pearls across the crisps (unfortunately, a scant portion). As per the packet’s instructions, it then shook the bag.
Big mistake. There is nothing to gel the salt to the crisp. The crystals tumble off the crisps like water over a duck’s waxy feathers. The quantity of salt is sufficient —generous, even— but it is good for nothing at the bottom of the bag, where it collects miserably. The crisps suffer for it. They are not unpleasant, but they are hopelessly bland. As with a waxwork, the Ventrilocrisp had the unnerving sense of something missing from the crisp: extraordinarily lifelike; skilfully rendered, but ultimately lacking a living, beating heart.
The crisps’ design offers little compensation for their weak flavour: no added crunch or texture to sweeten the pot (or, functionally, to trap salt). No, these are thin, classic Walkers – perfectly acceptable with seasoning, but unexceptional alone.
In 1920, the Salt n’ Shakes were trailblazers, walking so that other crisps could run. But 100 years on, they have been surpassed. They exist as objects of nostalgia, with PepsiCo (not even their original inventors) capitalising on their rich history. They belong in a museum – not on the supermarket shelves.
The Ventrilocrisp has lived its life in fear of the future, with stoic resistance to change. But these crisps are a powerful reminder of the force of progress; that some things change for the better.
- repurchase? ❎
- recommend to a friend? ❎
- eat this crisp in public? ☑️
- consider the price to be right? ☑️
- need to wash hands after consumption?❎
Please note that this review was written for GDFC Mag, which you can read here.