Global Scouse Day Is Liverpool’s Burns Night
There’s nothing special about the cheap meat-and-vegetable stew known as scouse, but it's still managed to weasel its way into Liverpool’s history and earn its very own day.
Photo via Flickr user Alison Benbow
If you think it's a bit weird to devote an entire day to a humble and homely bowl of stew, you wouldn't be wrong—but that hasn't stopped the good people of Liverpool from doing just that.
While the Irish have stew and the Lancastrians have hotpot, Liverpudlians have scouse. Ostensibly there's no real difference between these dishes, as all three involve cooking up a load of cheap meat and potatoes, with a few root vegetables chucked in for good measure.
But, if you're being poncey (and who isn't poncey about food these days?), you could say that there's something about the Merseyside terroir that makes scouse unique to Liverpool and therefore so much more than just a meat stew. It's part of the fabric of the city, a core component of what makes the locals who they are. And sometimes there's nothing more comforting than a huge steaming bowl of the stuff, particularly on a bitterly cold winter's day when the wind comes whipping in off the Mersey.
Scouse isn't a native Liverpool dish. A descendant of the simple fare favoured by Hanseatic seafarers, it's an immigrant that's been taken in by the city as one of its own.
"Scouse embodies Liverpool," says food historian and international scouse advocate Graham Hughes. "It's part of our maritime heritage. Scouse was brought to Liverpool by sailors and grew in popularity across the city in the 18th century."
Its appeal? "It's easy to make, incredibly adaptable and suitable for all ages and palates. There's even a veggie version, 'blind scouse,' which was traditionally eaten by the city's poor who couldn't afford meat."
Hughes feels so strongly about scouse and its importance to the Liverpudlian identity that he set up "Global Scouse Day," an annual celebration of the dish held every February.
"It started in 2006 when I invited a group of friends over to my flat in Orrell Park for scouse on my birthday," he says. "It became an annual thing for us and when I left the country to go travelling, I encouraged my friends, via Facebook, to continue the tradition."
Think of it as a kind of Liverpudlian Burns Night, but with heated discussion of Steven Gerrard's merits (or lack thereof) replacing the garbled poetry.
Liverpool rarely needs much of a reason to celebrate its culture, but Global Scouse Day has become an excuse for the city to do everything short of bathe in the stuff. Local restaurants add variations to their menu (Catalan scouse?) and there are cocktail competitions during which bartenders devise cocktails celebrating the "essence" of Liverpool (insert your own joke). The local newspaper invites the most far-flung scouse eaters to submit photos, while professional Liverpudlian Ricky Tomlinson hosts a "scouse-off".
Hughes says it's even doing its bit to aid international relations.
"Everywhere you go in the world, you'll find Scousers," he says before reeling off a list of remote places, from Antigua to Papua New Guinea. "In the 1960s, Liverpool had a population of over a million. Now it's around 465,000. All those people went somewhere! Global Scouse Day allows us to join our immense diaspora together for one day a year. This year we're hoping to have people cooking up scouse in over 70 countries."
Like any time-honoured favourite made by mams across the globe, there's heated debate about who—and what—makes the best scouse. Beef or lamb? Onions or no onions? Pickled red cabbage or beetroot?
"Every family in Liverpool makes it differently, whether it's with beef, minced beef, lamb, or mutton," says Andy Lea, owner of Liverpool cafe Maggie May's, where two generations of Scousers have been serving the stuff for over 20 years. "We find that most customers here tend to prefer it with beef, which is how my family's always made it. My mum always makes hers with minced beef and throws a few Spanish onions in. We would have it as a starter with plenty of butter on top and lots of bread to mop it up with."
It's pretty much impossible to gentrify scouse; you'd think anyone foolhardy enough to try it would earn the opprobrium of the locals for being jarg. But it's not for want of trying. "I've heard of one family that throw sprouts in theirs," tuts Lea. "And apparently there's a place on the Wirral that makes theirs with chicken and calls it 'blonde Scouse.' What's that all about?"
You don't need to take it quite that seriously, but this Saturday, break out your biggest pan, get your mates round, crack open a bevvy, and get working on your version of the world-renowned English culinary export. Hope your Global Scouse Day is proper boss, la.