Belfast Telegraph

Why guessing key ingredients for dad’s favourite dish was a recipe for disaster


This is what wheaten is supposed to look like
This is what wheaten is supposed to look like

By Frances Burscough

So I’m back in England, looking after my dad as his 85th birthday approaches.

 It’s been a trying time, I must admit and one of the many challenges of this role as Chief Daughter is getting dad to eat three full square meals a day. Before we came to this rota arrangement, he was losing all interest in food and would happily live on toasted tea cakes, the occasional cup of tea and very little else. This is a great shame because in the past he was something of a gourmand and always a voracious eater with wide and varied tastes. Whenever he was on holiday, he’d always try -and usually relish- all the local delicacies. Escargots and cuisses de grenouilles in France; Tapas and Paellas in Spain; Sardinhas and Caldeirada in Portugal; Pfefferpotthast and Käsespätzle in name it, he’d try it. But now he pushes away anything that he doesn’t recognise and will wrinkle his nose at anything out of the ordinary.

Nevertheless, every day I try to coax him into an appetite with some of his old classic favourites from palates past. There was one memorable meal I recall making for him when I lived in Dublin that was a real traditional Irish dish – Porter Beef served with champ and a side plate of freshly-baked wheaten bread with Irish butter. He loved it and talked about it for ages afterwards. I decided to make it for Sunday dinner last week. The only problem was that it was 25 years ago and I’d lost the original recipe book so I decided to improvise and guess the quantities. Not a good idea. The first attempt at making wheaten bread was a complete disaster. It came out of the oven looking like a huge potato, with about the same weight and density too. Oh well, I thought, at least the birds will eat it. So I threw it in the garden. They didn’t. They all ignored it, except a magpie who stood on it like a rocky outcrop while waiting for something edible to appear. And now a crater exists on the lawn where the wheaten asteroid collided with earth’s crust.

Next attempt, I decided to look up the recipe online to be sure: 350g wholemeal flour. 100g strong white flour. 300ml buttermilk. 1 heaped tsp bicarbonate of soda (NOT baking powder! The recipe was very clear) 1-2 tsp salt to taste. I looked in the cupboard. Damn, I only had Baking Powder and no Bicarb. So I went to the shop to buy more provisions. Inexplicably, when I got there I couldn’t remember which one I’d gone for, because I hadn’t had the common sense to write it down. And of course, there was no signal there so I couldn’t look it up on my phone. Eeeny, meeny, miny mo. I grabbed a tub of Baking Powder. Yes, I remember it mentioned baking powder in the recipe, that must be it.

Aarghhhh!!! When I got back and realised my (stupid) mistake I was so furious with myself but I just decided to wing it anyway. Surely there can’t be that much difference between raising agents? They both look exactly the same after all. So I did the whole process with the wrong ingredient and just hoped for the best.

Then I came to make the casserole. Now, believe it or not they don’t sell individual cans of Guinness in Asda, only multi-packs. I don’t drink it and neither does dad, so that would be a huge waste. So I bought a single bottle of Mackeson. That won’t be so different, surely? Once again I was wrong. When I tasted it, the gravy was as sweet as treacle. This dream dinner was turning into a nightmare. I counteracted the sweetness by adding almost half a bottle of Worcester Sauce, which in turn made the gravy too thin and watery. So I had to boil it off for another hour whilst dad sat patiently waiting for his tea. I was beginning to wish I’d just gone for good old Lancashire Hotpot like we have every week.

Next up was the champ...and guess what? I’d guessed the ingredients for that too. Potatoes, butter, milk, chives. When I checked online (I wasn’t taking any more chances) I realised that once again I’d got the key ingredient wrong. Scallions! Not Chives! OMG this was going to be a disaster. It’s a good job I’m not on Masterchef or I’d be laughed off set. By now it was too late to do anything so I just threw everything into a saucepan and hoped for the best.

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Finally, my much anticipated and long-awaited “traditional Irish” dinner was served. It certainly looked like it should, even though I’d been rather creative in my interpretation of the ingredients. But the proof is in the (dad’s) eating:

“That’s delicious, love. Just how I remembered it!” Dad said.

Aww, hearing that I felt really pleased that I’d gone to so much trouble. Until he finished his sentence, that is. “Good old Lancashire Hotpot! You can’t beat it can you?”

Belfast Telegraph


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