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
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!
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.