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I'll be remembering my dad through all his favourite foods this Father's Day

He didn’t have the most sophisticated tastes, but he knew what he liked

Published: June 16, 2021
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Fig rolls, the darkest chocolate, tomatoes, double nougats, liquorice, flies’ graveyards.

This Father’s Day, I’ll be celebrating my late dad through food.

It's been a couple of years since he died, and I’m at the stage when it becomes harder to conjure him up.

I’m glad that the worst parts of grief have lifted. The early bits that make you feel like your skin has been flayed and you’re open to the elements.

I’m no longer assailed by an unbidden memory, while on the cusp of sleep. For a while, this is when he’d pop into my head, saying “night, night” and patting me on the arm, like he did. Then I’d remember him in his navy dressing gown, and the crinkling sound in its pockets as he scrunched up the empty packets of the painkillers he took for the slipped disc that plagued him for decades.

Now, I think about him a little less. Sorry Dad.

However, as I’m not religious, it’s food rituals that bring him a bit closer.

I know I’m not the only one. My husband marks his late dad’s birthday, as well as Father’s Day, with custard, cups of tea made to a very specific shade, and cold, well-fired and thickly buttered toast. In homage to his Pops, he’ll scrape off and savour the crusty tide line round the inner edge of the shepherd’s pie dish, and he’ll make the pickled beetroot on white bread sandwiches that he was fed as a child, while his dad was fishing on the River Spey.

Edinburgh’s El Cartel opens a third branch, serving their tried and tested Mexican menu

As I do, he’ll also occasionally, while out for a meal, say “my dad would’ve LOVED this”.

The last time was when we went to a new Edinburgh cafe, Greenwoods, and he was eating a huge stack of hot pancakes that were drenched in syrup.

The pancake breakfast at Greenwoods

If only we could’ve Deliveroo’d them to wherever his parent is now.

I’m always happy to work my way through a packet of my dad’s favourite fig rolls, and I’m his daughter in that I’m one of those rare folk who love liquorice.

Bright pink and extremely Instagrammable dessert parlour, Sugar & Shakes, has landed in Edinburgh's Bruntsfield

In time for Father’s Day, I might attempt to track down a flies’ graveyard, though it’s all about doughnuts and brownies these days.

Or, I could order a double nougat, which seemed impossibly sophisticated to me as a child, with my standard cone and single scoop.

At least I don’t have to make much of an effort to procure expensive treats.

He’d regularly spend more than a tenner on wine, but never bothered about gourmand snacks.

“Serve simply on toast”. Chefs and foragers tell us how to harvest and cook chanterelles

Unlike his greedy daughters, granddaughters, and the already sophisticated two-year-old grandson that he never got to meet, I don’t suppose you’d describe him as a foodie. As he got older, his tastes became simpler.

He went from having a wild night at Edinburgh’s legendary Armenian Aghtamar Lake van Monastery in Exile with mum, back in his middle years, to more reserved meals out at the same trusted places. “Not there again”, we’d say, when his birthday came round.

Dad was always a devotee of Chinese restaurant, the Edinburgh Rendezvous. Once he insisted on going there after a long hospital stay for an aortic aneurysm and ate lemon chicken in his slippers.

After he became an octogenarian, at most of our lunches, he’d order a steak, bacon sandwich, or fish and chips. There would always be a scoop of vanilla ice-cream for pudding. I can see myself going down that track too. Paring back to the best stuff.

Because of various heart problems, many of his longer term addictions had been taken up for their purported health benefits, especially the daily helping of dark chocolate and the tomatoes, which he’d eat like apples.

Still, I know that he loved KitKats and Cadbury’s Whole Nut on a completely superficial level, since they probably have zero nutritional benefit.

The fireplace in my childhood home would always be littered with a constellation of balled up foil wrappers that he’d flicked from his armchair. (Whichever of his beloved cats that we owned at the time would have fun batting them about). I don’t think they ever made it all the way to the bin.

As far as cooking goes, he was pretty disinterested. However, like most Seventies dads, he’d happily man a barbecue.

This would involve sloshing everything liberally with “Worcester-sheer-shire Sauce” and cooking the “shaushages” until they had a jet black shell and you could smash a window with them. We liked them like that. I still do.

I had another Proustian flashback while doing a restaurant review at Salt Cafe recently.

Salt Cafe's butchers breakfast

It was while we were trying that Seventies favourite - fried bread - which is part of this new cafe’s hefty butcher’s breakfast.

This was the essential component of a “daddy special”, which involved my sister and I sitting patiently, aged about six and eight, at the kitchen table, while he wore a Cinzano apron, wielded a fish slice and made us a special breakfast, always with crispy bacon, that deliciously lardy bread and scrambled eggs.

He probably only did that a handful of times, and I don’t think I ever saw him cook anything else.

If mum was away, he could potentially stretch to mince or portioning up a Viennetta.

Anyway, we scattered his ashes a couple of years ago, while on holiday to his favourite destination, the Isle of Arran. I managed to incorporate a restaurant review (of Mara, at Corrie) into the whole event.

He would have liked it there, as long as they’d do fish and chips and a scoop of vanilla ice-cream.

Mara, Isle of Arran

Gaby Soutar is a lifestyle editor at The Scotsman. She has been reviewing restaurants for The Scotsman Magazine since 2007 and edits the weekly food pages.

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