He may not have been much of a gourmet, but I’ll
never forget what my dad taught me about food
My father wasn’t right about a lot of things. He was wrong about the trade union movement. He backed the wrong side in the South Moluccan conflict (even if they were right). He was wrong about me growing out of my love of fast music and soccer.
He did, however, introduce me to deep dish pizza, proper burgers, pumpkin pie (I think he had an American girlfriend that my mum didn’t approve of and this was his way of niggling her), blood-cooked jugged hare, stewed tripe, the delight of a 19-course Sichuan banquet and curries, curries, curries.
He also taught me some rather unconventional things about food, such as the joy of frying slabs of Christmas pudding or rice pudding in foaming butter. For breakfast. Or how delicious it is to put a few drops of Worcestershire sauce on your apricot toast. And he taught me how to burn a snag on the barbecue so it was still a little raw in the middle.
Fair to say he wasn’t much of a cook, but he did have a deliciously warped and surprisingly successful way with flavour. There were, however, certain things that he excelled at. So to mark this day, here are my three favourite things I remember Dad making.
BREAKFAST: MARMALADE AND SAUSAGE SANDWICHES
The sausage sandwich is one of the almost forgotten memories of my childhood. Soft, warm white bread and thick, cold butter entombing split snags lifted singing and sizzling from the pan. Globs of date-sweet and tamarindsour brown sauce were the usual but Dad, unconventional fellow that he was, liked smearing one side of the bread with dark, chunky orange marmalade instead. Obviously, they had to be pork sausages for this to work. He also liked to toast the bread for a bit more texture – pioneer and iconoclast too.
Try it. It’s a rather fine start to the day. By the way, that marmalade and sausage combination is well worth remembering when forced to eat breakfast on an aeroplane.
TEA: MALTED MILKSHAKES
Back in those ancient days when cigarettes didn’t give you cancer and the prevailing paranoia was that Russians were going to murder us all in our beds while we slept, wet winter afternoons were made more palatable by watching wrestling on the telly with one of Dad’s chocolate malted milkshakes. This was a rare treat, and doubly welcome as the Russian threat was palpable around our house where naval and military attaches from the Russian embassy (aka well-dressed gentlemen who were probably from the KGB) were regular guests.
To make your own batch of CMMS, melt pretty much half a jar of Horlicks with as little boiling water as you can get away with. Blend with cold milk and twice the amount of good vanilla ice cream. Pour into long, chilled glasses and garnish with two scoops of chocolate ice cream, rather too many noisily crushed Maltesers and a swoosh of whipped cream which probably came from a can. This is not a pretentious milkshake, or one that ever risks being called a snob down the local RSL.
After consuming, when the desire to sleep on the couch in front of the TV wears off (and the immense sugar hit has left you drained), go for a long run – perhaps to Perth and back.
In fact, this reminds me that rather than being on the couch, we’d often drink these hiding behind it. We were far more frightened of the Daleks, Cybermen and Yeti on Doctor Who than any of those cold-eyed Russians with their wickedly sharp kindjals slipping silently inside through a night-time window.
DINNER: CURRY NIGHT
I’m not sure exactly where Dad’s love of curry came from. It may have stemmed from post-pub, post-work sessions with his journo mates or as a symbol of his emancipation when he started university.
As a kid, curry was a generic thing. The wonderful differences of rogan joshes, jalfrezis and kormas were unknown to us. Basically, Dad’s curry was rich and meaty. Pretty much any browned meat was cooked down with stock, tomatoes, a few dried red chillies and onions that had been fried golden with garlic and ginger. Oh, and then he added lots of commercial curry powder, which was the turmeric-heavy spice mix people used before food snobs introduced us to garam masala.
Serve it with sliced bananas, sultanas (how ’70s!) and thick Greek yoghurt mixed with lightly salted and drained diced cucumber on the side, like he did. And don’t forget the mango chutney, pappadams and lime pickle.
Besides these dishes, my father also taught me that if you worked doing something you were obsessed with, then you would never really ‘ work’ a day in your life. I didn’t appreciate that when he was alive. Yet now, after 20 years spent writing about something I love, I do. Thanks, Dad.