Wednesday

Mulligans Coddle


For breakfast this morning I prepared for Siobhan and myself a family favourite of poached eggs with caramelised onion and tomato on focaccia bread. This was followed by several espressos perched cosily on the indoor balcony watching the cold Glasgow weather creeping in as we  argued diplomatically discussed the best way to prepare a proper winter stew. There is something to be said for her slant on winter vegetables, preparation of meat stock and the consistency of her dumplings. Best described as an eclectic mix of flavours with a very obvious hint of her growing up as a child with money on the kitchen table. Me on the other hand, I grew up with eleven siblings, a faither who was often refused work in the shipyards because of his religion, and a wonderful mammy who worked 29 hours a day to keep us all clean, safe and fed.

After ten long months without a wage from the shipyards, the faither took up employment as a groundsman assisting a clique of Govan men in one of Glasgow's biggest cemeteries. 'Assist' is perhaps too strong a word for what his duties actually entailed. He would dig a six foot hole alone using only a wooden shovel and the strength that his god gave him. The man was a bull in his prime. Thick of muscle and brawny shouldered, he never gave best to the cold or the clang of hard rock upon the steel of his blade. He would rest after his mornings exertions in the bottom of the grave and drink fresh tea from a metal pail that we, his childer, would fetch to him from across the way in Drumchapel. He would stand at full height and watch as we made our way back, his head and neck clearly visible above the ground. A big man in every way was the faither, a man we truly loved.

A respectful man, he bore no grudge against those of the protestant faith who kept him from the working life building the biggest ships in the world. On those mornings when the deceased where driven up to take their place amongst the fresh earth of the hole he had previously prepared, he would remove his cap and stand quietly amongst the trees in respect. It was the done thing to wait until the last mourner had left before the first shovel of earth would land atop the coffin lid. In his own words, it wasn't a mans work that afforded him the satisfaction the Friday pint would normally bring. But it was work and where the da was concerned, his family always came first. I would often see the health draining from him as he would pretend that he had eaten heartily during the day and push his plate away, much to our delight as we hovered for the taste of meat.

Many years later my uncle Christie told me that he had come across a frightful sight in the graveyard as he had gone to meet with my faither. He was sitting cross-legged on top of a pile of fresh earth. Below him in the hole lay three other gravediggers, decidedly dishevelled, bleeding and bruised. Beside my faither was his best shovel, a strong oak handled tool with a stout blade. It was broken in two. When Christie questioned my faither on 'why' he explained that these protestant men had proudly declared that they were always happiest after a catholic child's funeral as they would steal the chocolate left on the children's graves. It was to haunt us both, faither and son as later we would each bury our own children. Not a word about his work ever reached the ears of his childer as he would clatter through the door of a night with that big smile upon his face. He kept the evil and the badness inside of him until the very end.

He was fetched from his bed one winters morning, a rapid chapping of the door by his own brothers saw him whisper words to the mammy and he was away. Gone through snow and cold with only his woollen coat and his flat cap to keep him warm. It was long after the darkness had arrived that he returned with blood on his coat, a sack over his shoulder and a smile as wide as the sinew on his neck. A bullock had been hit by a truck delivering coal to the rich people of Bearsden. It had knocked the beast into the tall grass at the junction of the Milngavie road. Fortunately, the driver, a man by the name of Mulligan, had been able to carry on and deliver his coal to the silver spoons in the big houses, so as not to see them pad about their big carpeted rooms with cold feet. It was Christie himself who had stumbled upon the prone beast as he walked home after his work. Several hours later it was gone. For a whole month we feasted upon stews between us and the other poorer families of Drumchapel. Our bellies extended, we found a vitality often denied to us and other families on a meagre wage. Not a scrap of meat, fat or bone was wasted as the women turned their hands to many a tasty meal.

To me, a good stew is about the preparation, the care of the ingredients and most definitely the memories associated with the various aromas of not only the food, but also the smell of the tobacco about my faithers auld coat. I recall being puzzled when on occasion the oul fella and my uncles would raise a glass and smile as they chanted their toast to someone called Mulligan!

Mulligans Coddle

1 oxtail, cut into joints
1 lb of best Scottish topside, diced and floured
1 tbsp cooking oil
1 red onion, chopped
2 small scallions, diced
6 large carrots
2 tsp sea salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 bay leaves
2 whole cloves
2 cups beef stock
1 cup vegetable stock
12 oz tinned whole tomatoes, quartered
8 fresh small pickling onions (not the ones in vinegar, Jaysus!)
2 celery stalks, sliced
2 large neeps, peeled and cut into chunks
8 new potatoes
1/2 lb fresh wild mushrooms, wiped and sliced
4 tbsp medium cream sherry
8 oz pint stout (any good brand)
8 oz red wine
2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
3 tbsp chopped fresh parsley

Remove any excess fat from the oxtail and brown both meats in heated cooking oil in a heavy-based ashet. Add the onion and scallions and saute until translucent. It is important at this stage to get the meat sealed to retain the full flavours.

Add the seasoning, seared meat, stock and tomato, cover with lid, reduce heat and simmer for 3 hours or until meat is tender. At this point the meat will fall off the tiny bone of the oxtail. Take each piece out and discard as the flavours will already be nicely infused with the thick stock. Add all the vegetables, I have a liking for Savoy cabbage personally, but any good cabbage will suffice. During the last 30 minutes of cooking time add the sherry and wine, plus the spuds, simmer gently, do your taste test using a wooden spoon. Remove the bay leaves, finally sprinkle with parsley.

26 comments:

  1. Brilliant story about you Da. Much of the current generation of electronic addicted younglings have not the slightest idea of the meaning of BLOOD, SWEAT and TEARS as our Dads paved the way for our comfort with the crack of their bones. Your pa sounds like the type of man that every lad needs, the type of man to follow on the path to manhood. All the best tae you and yours....
    Cheers, Sausage.

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    1. Blood sweat and tears it was too. He left a legacy behind him that his sons have tried to live up to.

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  2. An answer to prayer...for I can get good grass fed beef here!
    Not Scots quality....but after years in France with beef like a tramp's discarded shoe leather it's the next best thing.

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    1. Fly, I have a recipe for Horsemeat Brochettes à la Trois Pistoles should you struggle for other cuts of flesh.

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  3. perfect meal for a cold day, sugar! and a perfect story to share with friends today. i am honored. xoxoxo

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    1. The honour is all mine dear lady. Do pass on my name to your haters, I will be glad to defend your corner at a moments notice.

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  4. Funny, how the act of making stew always warms me as much as eating it...the preparation seems like a thread that's wound down through the generations, holding us all together somehow. Then again, I am the sentimental fool in the family. :)

    Standing ovation for your Dad. Trying not to grumble about my job the other day, I caught my reflection in the glass of my office door. Although I look like my Mom, it was my Dad's face I saw. I knew that expression: dogged determination in the face of the mundane. I could hear Dad in my head, patiently explaining to little kid me that a man took a job to feed his family because he loved the family, but it didn't mean he had to love the job. My siblings never understood that Dad came from a generation who provided selflessly, because providing was the most important job to them. They'd shake their heads, tell Dad his job was boring, he was being "used" and should quit. As the firstborn I'd angrily try to explain it to them, because I saw this as being disrespectful. Dad would shake his head, laugh and give me a hug. For him, it was enough that I accepted and understood his explanation.

    Sorry, hijacked the conversation again. Guess I best get to the kitchen and scrub out that stew pot. ;)

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    1. Ahh now Hope, a good stew pot is never empty, merely topped up. This slacking must stop!

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  5. That is a very superior stew. I'd make it myself but I'm afraid it could put hairs on my chest.

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    1. Dear lady, one never associates chest hair with your good self. It is somewhat akin to painting a beard on the Mona Lisa.

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  6. One of the winter meals I make for my family, and much loved by them, is the stew made with bacon 'pieces'. A recipe learned from Ma back in the days when any stew was a luxury. All of us kids helped in the preparation, Ma was a great one to pass on her skills, still is, and we have all carried on in her tradition. The 'pieces' were the bits of bacon not pretty enough to display and were bagged together and sold very cheaply. Luckily a certain supermarket still sells 'pieces' and I can feed the whole family, and several friends with this delicious meal for less than 5 euros.

    It wasn't until after he died that I learned of the hard work Da did for all those years. Tough, gentle men. I've never heard a bad word said of him. We try our best to live up to their standards, their ways, and the love they had for their families.

    Nice one my friend.

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    1. Their ways... like borrowing hedge trimmers and leaving them on the bus perhaps?

      These days I buy power tools and just throw them away. It saves you having to make up anymore excuses like the last one.

      "A big magpie swooped out of a tree and took up your lawnmower in its beak!"

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    2. Fair enough, 'twas yours, but only because you took a lend of it fae big Egan after the dancing last summer so. As for me accidentally losing your salmon rod, a big fish jumped up out of the river and stole it as I was drinking of the tea so.

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    3. Ah Big Joe, that was some dance he threw, the big ugly heid on him. Funny how we never saw both of you in the same room at the same time.
      BTW, the hammer-drill I borrowed? How can I put this? You know the story about the sword in the stone.....oops!

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    4. Ahh c'mon, if you close both eyes and view me from a mile away I'm no bad looking.
      Not all of us have the showbiz looks of the little singing fella himself.

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  7. Cows cant have bones in there tails otherwise they couldnt swoosh them about.

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  8. Several espressos?! Is that a typo? Several espressos would put me under a bridge.

    Your father sounds like a legend. They don't make 'em like that anymore. You should see the fathers here in Manhattan. Needy, soft around the edges and prone to complain about every little thing. I wish I were kidding.

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    1. UB, I reguarly read the words of a faither in Manhattan. He nurtures his daughter, swathes her in culture, introduces her to the arts and above all else... loves and dotes on her. Bit of an oul legend himself methinks.

      Several espressos! Remember my size. It takes an hour for it to reach my brain on the journey northwards fae my legs.

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  9. Nothing better than a nice hot stew on a cool fall day.

    I made stew last Sunday but don't use a recipe... I tend to "wing it" with a lot of things. But it was very thick with meat and veggies... and plump dumplings on top that were light and fluffy on the inside. Very delicious, was what I was told and that made me happy.

    You da was a fine man, and from the sounds of things, he raised fine sons, as you are doing with your own boys. My own dad was cut from similar cloth, although we didn't have things as hard as you did growing up. The personal ethics of a man are evident in how he cares for his family.

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    1. My dearest Pony-doll, for you hen I'd always make sure I placed the toilet seat in the downward position because of your patter. I'd raise something else for yis also.

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  10. Oh Chef! You make a girl blush...

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    1. Only the good looking ones hen.

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  11. Got any big burgwr recipes under your hat

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  12. Yes Tina, actually I have. Perhaps one for the future though, eh?

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Thank you, the chef is currently preparing an answer for you in the kitchen. Do help yourself to more bread.