Sunday 21 January 2018

A load of tripe

By David Medcalf

'Ugh! Daddy, what's that smell?' The children do not like kippers - not that they have ever sampled one. Come to think of it, Hermione does not like kippers either.

Young Eldrick and Persephone are immune to my pleading that kippers are full of valuable protein and rich in good-for-the-heart nutrients. Hermione looks at me in concern as I make the case for kippers as a pillar of our culinary heritage.

Her concern turns to outright exasperation when I add that this heritage is shared with our Scottish cousins. I loftily suggest that, by eating the smoked herring, I am somehow making spiritual contact with my Arbroath roots. She responds by slandering an entire nation as she observes acidly that the Scots must appreciate that kippers are cheap. Besides, as she points out tersely, any connections I have in that part of the world are with the city slickers of Edinburgh rather than with the smoke houses of Arbroath.

Perhaps she would prefer to have me explore my Celtic karma by soaking myself in Scotch whisky. Instead I persist in my devotion to the kippers, smuggling them into the house and rising early before the rest of the family to tuck into a fishy breakfast.

I have yet to decide which is the better method of preparing the feast. Some days, microwaving is the preferred option, easing the power back to medium high. The alternative is to turn on the gas ring as low as possible beneath a lightly greased frying pan, capturing the fish oils under a tight fitting lid. Delicious either way. A dab of mustard makes the dish complete.

Having enjoyed this treat, I must then steel myself to the 'Ugh! Daddy, what's that smell?' routine as the children arrive in the kitchen. Hermione does not bother with questions as she descends from her boudoir resplendent in slippers and housecoat.

'You've been eating kippers - again,' wrinkling her nose as she proclaims her disgust in the manner of the Lord High Executioner summing up the case for the prosecution. Guilty as charged. Happily, contentedly guilty - with every unrepentant intention of re-offending.

My late grandfather had another, altogether more toxic, way of reaching out to his (also probably imagined) Scottish food heritage. He sprinkled salt on his porridge with such reckless abandon that the contents of the bowl looked as though they had been hit by a severe frost. As he crunched his way through this briny breakfast, he insisted that sugar was for wimps and that lashings of salt constituted the only proper accompaniment to oats.

It was a sodium saturated tradition that must surely have contributed to the hypertension which eventually claimed his life.

Another element of grand-dad's old-fashioned diet was his once a week dish of tripe cooked in milk. He reckoned it was an indulgence, a luxury, but we children looked at him tucking into the creamy white folds of pig's innards terrified that he would insist on us sharing this dubious delight. Our grandmother (the one who was born in 1902) had the good sense to serve us mince and potatoes instead. Thank goodness.

Half a century later, I know of no one who eats tripe, whether with or without onions. No doubt tripe brims will all manner of goodness but the mere thought of it slithering down the throat still stirs the same bowel loosening unease it did all those years ago. Tripe was ushered off of the national menu long since for no better reason than that it looks peculiar and has the consistency of raw slugs. Tripe eating has gone the way of cock fighting and pipe smoking, along with all those other neglected customs that reek of the bygone.

Nowadays I think of myself as a very modern man. I know my Beyoncé from my Bieber. I download my share of apps. And I have been known to say 'Yo!' on occasion.

But it occurs to me that a younger generation used to bland, low odour dining may view my kipper consumption as being every bit as antediluvian as grand-dad with his tripe. Fashion in food moves on and the man who offers a piece of strongly scented orange fish to his offspring may be considered every bit as Dickensian as the forebear who used to insist to his grandkids that tripe was good and tasty.

Wexford People

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