Who are you calling pilchard? It's 'Cornish sardine' to you...

In a rebranding exercise that would put even the most cunning of Downing Street spin-doctors to shame, the half-forgotten and ever-so-humble pilchard has been rechristened and is now selling by the boat-load. Arise, the Cornish sardine.

In a rebranding exercise that would put even the most cunning of Downing Street spin-doctors to shame, the half-forgotten and ever-so-humble pilchard has been rechristened and is now selling by the boat-load. Arise, the Cornish sardine.

This saviour of Cornwall's faltering economy may be slippery, shiny and about six inches long, but it could hold the key to thousands of new jobs in one of the Britain's most impoverished regions. But don't, don't call it a pilchard.

The fresh Cornish pilchard - sorry, sardine - has fast become one of the most unlikely food retail successes of recent times, having leapt from being the dowdy, tinned meal-of-last-resort of impoverished students to the new darling of Britain's fresh fish counters.

The pilchard was once the backbone of Cornish industry, providing jobs for thousands of fishermen. At the end of the 19th century, Newlyn alone was handling some thousands of tons of pilchards a year.

The Cornish pilchard industry's annus mirabilis was 1871, when 16,000 tons were exported. "Pilchard palaces" - salting and processing plants - could be found in most of the Duchy's ports, where dozens of women would slowly sift through giant mounds of fresh catch up to six feet high and 40 feet long, salting, sorting and crating. The boom lasted until the 1930s. Changing tastes meant that, by the 1950s, pilchard sales were foundering. It was tinned and relegated to the lower supermarket shelves, languishing underneath piles of arriviste Canadian red salmon and Pacific skipjack tuna. Fresh pilchards all but disappeared.

By the early 1990s, a mere six tons were being landed a year in Cornwall.

For Nick Howell, manager of the Pilchard Works factory and museum at Newlyn, the decline of the once-proud fish into obscurity presented a unique challenge: how to make Britons think pilchard again.

"I changed the name and perception," says Howell. "I was looking for a fresh market for pilchards." He managed to convince wholesale buyers that Cornwall was abundant in sardines - the only thing was, they happened to be called pilchards.

"When we started to sell grilled pilchards, there wasn't much response," Mr Howell said, "but when we started selling them as grilled sardines, sales took off." Now, fresh Cornish sardines - aka pilchards - are back in force in Britain's shops. Waitrose began selling them three years ago, but this month Marks & Spencer started to stock fresh pilchards as well.

"There are no quotas for pilchards," says Mr Howell. "And you don't find them in Devon or Wales. Cornwall's it! Also, the fish is wonderful for your heart."

With the new bulk orders, pilchard fishing is coming back to life. Fishing incomes have risen dramatically. In 1997, pilchards fetched a mere 1.5 pence per kilo, but fishermen can currently expect to get around £1 a kilo. A few years back there were often no pilchard boats working from Cornish ports but now Newlyn and Mevagissey can boast a combined fleet of around a dozen, half of them working regularly.

Andrew Lakeman, whose wholesale company, Ocean Fish, supplies Waitrose with fresh pilchards, says: "My family goes back to the 1700s in Mevagissey. All of them were involved in fish, until about 1962. Then, my father said to me 'fishing is dead', and I became an engineer."

Mr Lakeman returned to the industry in the early 1990s to start Ocean Fish, and pilchards have brought him back to his family roots. "It's quite difficult, you know! The quality has to be there, and they're caught at dusk, landed in the middle of the night, and are at the factory at six in the morning. They have to be fresh."

But when is a pilchard a sardine? "A pilchard is bigger than a sardine," explained a food industry source last week. "Anything under six inches is a sardine, and anything over six inches is a pilchard - but could also be called a sardine." Perfectly straightforward then.

Additional research by Sandrine Leveque

The Independent on Sunday asked Andrew Thomason, resident manager at Raymond Blanc's two-Michelin-starred restaurant, Le Manoir aux Quat' Saisons, for advice on reviving foods that suffer, like the pilchard, from an image problem

Pork scratchings

The problem: Tooth-shattering assault course for the mouth, beloved of career beer-drinkers. Like eating a heavily salted brick, and found just to the left of the matches, above the cigarillos.

View from Le Manoir: "Actually we do in summer offer spit-roasted suckling pig with summer vegetables. The skin is removed from the pig, finely shredded, baked in a hot oven and sprinkled over the pig."

Rebranded as: Countryman's crackle.

Scotch egg

The problem: Sinister, bland, plastic-sealed habitué of corner-shop fridges, beloved of career beer-drinkers (see above) and students, usually after 11pm.

View from Le Manoir: "There's no reason why you couldn't makes use of quails' eggs. That would be fantastic, if smaller. Also, you could make your own mince to go round the outside."

Rebranded as: Oeuf écossais.

Faggots

The problem: "Signature dish" in prisons and schools.

View from Le Manoir: "We'll draw a line under that one."

Rebranded as: Golden globes.

Mushy peas

The problem: The colour of astroturf, the consistency of mud, the taste of cardboard. Found in chippies next to the Benson & Hedges. After just 10 seconds in a microwave, they'll keep you company the whole night long.

The view from Le Manoir: "We do do crushed peas, cooked with mint. Lamb sits on that."

Rebranded as: Purée de pois.

Turnip

The problem: Ask Graham Taylor.

View from Le Manoir: "Turnip gratin - we do that."

Rebranded as: Purple parsnip.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Voices
Ukip leader Nigel Farage arrives at the Rochester by-election count
voicesIs it any wonder that Thornberry, Miliband, and Cameron have no idea about ordinary everyday life?
Sport
sportComment: Win or lose Hamilton represents the best of Britain
Life and Style
tech
Sport
Arsene Wenger reacts during Arsenal's 2-1 defeat to Swansea
footballMan United and Arsenal meet on Saturday with both clubs this time languishing outside the top four
News
i100BBC political editor Nick Robinson had a lot of explaining to do
Life and Style
Nappies could have advice on them to encourage mothers and fathers to talk to their babies more often
newsTalking to babies can improve their language and vocabulary skills
Sport
Tony Bellew holds two inflatable plastic sheep at the weigh-in for his rematch with Nathan Cleverly
boxingGrudge match takes place on Saturday night
Arts and Entertainment
Mark Ronson at PS1
arts + ents
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Female Support Workers / Carers - From £8.00 per hour

£8 - £12 per hour: Recruitment Genius: To assist a young family with the care ...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Executive

£20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Customer Service Executive is required...

Argyll Scott International: Commercial Finance Manager

£55000 - £70000 per annum: Argyll Scott International: My client, a world lead...

Argyll Scott International: Commercial Finance Manager

Negotiable: Argyll Scott International: My client, a world leading services pr...

Day In a Page

US immigration: President Obama ready to press ahead with long-promised plan to overhaul 'broken system' - but will it get past a Republican-controlled Congress?

Immigration: Obama's final frontier

The President is ready to press ahead with the long-promised plan to overhaul America's 'broken system' - but will it get past a Republican-controlled Congress?
Bill Cosby rape allegations explained: Why are these allegations coming out now? Why didn’t these women come forward earlier? And why has nobody taken legal action?

Bill Cosby rape allegations explained

Why are these allegations coming out now? Why has nobody taken legal action? And what happens next for the man once thought of as 'America's Dad'
Four years of excruciating seizures caused by the 1cm tapeworm found burrowing through a man's brain

You know that headache you’ve got?

Four years of excruciating seizures caused by the 1cm tapeworm found burrowing through a man's brain
Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?

Scoot commute

Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?
Paul Robeson: The story of how an American icon was driven to death to be told in film

The Paul Robeson story

How an American icon was driven to death to be told in film
10 best satellite navigation systems

Never get lost again: 10 best satellite navigation systems

Keep your vehicle going in the right direction with a clever device
Paul Scholes column: England must learn to keep possession and dictate games before they are exposed by the likes of Germany and Brazil

Paul Scholes column

England must learn to keep possession and dictate games before they are exposed by the likes of Germany and Brazil
Michael Dawson: I’ll thank Spurs after we win says defender as he prepares to return with Hull

Michael Dawson: I’ll thank Spurs after we win

Hull defender faces his struggling former club on Sunday ready to show what they are missing. But he says he will always be grateful to Tottenham
Frank Warren column: Dr Wu has big plans for the professionals yet he should stick to the amateur game

Frank Warren column

Dr Wu has big plans for the professionals yet he should stick to the amateur game
Synagogue attack: Fear unites both sides of Jerusalem as minister warns restoring quiet could take 'months'

Terror unites Jerusalem after synagogue attack

Rising violence and increased police patrols have left residents of all faiths looking over their shoulders
Medecins sans Frontieres: The Ebola crisis has them in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa

'How do you carry on? You have to...'

The Ebola crisis has Medecins sans Frontieres in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa
Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

Residents in what was Iraq’s safest city fear an increase in jihadist attacks, reports Patrick Cockburn
Underwater photography competition winners 2014 - in pictures

'Mysterious and inviting' shot of diver wins photography competition

Stunning image of cenote in Mexico takes top prize
Sir John Major: Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting

Sir John Major hits out at theatres

Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting
Kicking Barbie's butt: How the growth of 3D printing enabled me to make an army of custom-made figurines

Kicking Barbie's butt

How the growth of 3D printing enabled toy-designer to make an army of custom-made figurines