Tuesday, 22 November 2022

Pub History: A 'Summut' - Plain, Stick & Hinion ...

One aspect of pub snacking that I have a minor issue with is the pairing of a pint of stout with a packet of cheese and onion crisps, with the implication that one makes the other better. The cheese is perfectly acceptable of course but onion with a nice stout - or any good beer - clearly ruins the flavour profile of the beverage, changing it completely as your palate is assailed and altered by the harsh onion compounds. Admittedly this is less of an issue with one of the blander of the macrobrewed stouts, and it does not mean I have never partaken of such a combination, but it is certainly not a mix that any 'Craft Beer & Food Pairing Guru' would be happy with I assume - or at least not if they are being entirely honest about how such a strong flavour is workable with any fine and flavoursome stout or porter.

But it appears this combination of onions and stout is not new, so let me transcribe here a report that appeared in a couple of newspapers in May of 1837:

DUBLIN POLICE - Henry-street Office.
Pleasant Salute. — Thomas Mulvey preferred a charge of assault against Thomas Pleasant and Ellen Beverly. He stated, after having performed his daily business, and received his daily hire, he stepped into a public house to get pint of summut.
Mr. Blacker — What do you call a pint of summut?
Mulvey — Lord, your worship! not know what that is! My eyes! Every one knows that — a pint of porter with a stick in it, and a raw hinion.
Mr. Blacker — Mercy on me! — you beast! What you want the onion for, and what do you call a stick in it? 
Mulvey — Blessed are the ignorant, for they know nothing! A stick means a crapper of strong water, and the hinion to give it flavour.
Mr. Blacker — Very well, Sir; go on with your charge. 
Mulvey — Well, after taking a drop of natheral refreshment, I was coming out, when this here man and this here woman came up, and without any more ado, set on me and beat me in the manner you see; the female little devil got stones in her hand, and beat my head with them.
Ellen Beverly — No, your worship, it was only a key. 
Mr. Blacker — I will fine you and your husband 10s. 
Pleasant — She is not wife — she is better off; she is under my protection. 
Mr. Blacker—How dare you, Sir! It makes your crime worse. Get out of my sight.

There is quite a bit to take on board here. Both a 'stick' and a 'crapper' are terms for a measure of spirits - usually whiskey but a 'summut' is a new term for me, and I am assuming the word is an alternative version of 'something' as common in certain northern English dialects. How it appeared in Dublin I do not know and perhaps it has a separate meaning.

Leaving all of that aside the big thing here is an onion being served in a pint of porter and whiskey - or at least that is implied by the comments of Mr. Mulvey. This seems odd to the extreme and I can find no other reference to either a 'summut' or the practice of serving onion in a beer anywhere else - as of yet.

We have all probably had IPAs that certainly had a garlicky flavour from the hops, so maybe this is not as bizarre as it sounds - providing it is true of course, and Mr. Mulvey our witness was not making up the drink for comical reasons, although it would be a strange place and situation in which to do so. 

There are also onions that are quite mild and can be eaten a little like apples, and perhaps they were less 'oniony' in the early 19th century anyway. Certainly pickled onions are still acceptable in certain places as a pub snack but the act of pickling does tend the mute the onion flavour, and they are usually a special variety too.

I think we need to take the whole reference with a pinch of salt - to introduce another savoury element - and it is certainly not a recipe I plan to recreate, but it is certainly a thought-provoking , or perhaps stomach-churning, combination.

Perhaps I have discovered the origin of the need for some of you to have that packet of cheese and onion flavour crisps with your pint of stout!?

Liam K.

All written content and the research involved in publishing it here is my own unless otherwise stated and cannot be reproduced elsewhere without permission, full credit to its sources, and a link back to this post. Newspaper image © The British Library Board - All rights reserved. With thanks to The British Newspaper Archive (www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk) from whom I have received permission to display this image on this site.

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