Contributor: Tracey Loughran
I am an inveterate recipe-trier and usually cook something new two or three times a week. Not much of this experimentation sticks in the long-term – I’ll go through phases of eating the same recipe once a week for a month or so, then drop it; if I really like it, I’ll remember that it exists, and eat it again in the future, but my kitchen is mainly in a state of perpetual revolution. So, about 80% of the time I’m a very ‘New British Cook’ (for which read: l always have lemons in the fridge; I have ground my own baharat; and my winter experiment is fermenting my own kimchi).
But… what I go back to when I need comfort, or just when I’m cold and tired, is one of three family recipes (or I get my husband to make spaghetti bolognese or lasagne). But the family recipes are very plain, very British (Scottish in fact), and very working class: chicken soup (mainly vegetables, with chicken for flavour more than anything); mince and potatoes; and stovies. All are designed to feed a family and to be eaten with lots of bread and butter. All were passed down from my Scottish nan to my mum; my mum, 18 when she married, four kids by the time she was thirty, and of the age to benefit from convenience food, did not make much from scratch. These are the only real ‘recipes’ she had (most of the time it was processed stuff with potatoes and frozen veg).
I’ve chosen stovies as the recipe to give you because the Scottish origins of this always seemed very exotic when I was a child growing up in south London. I didn’t meet anyone else who knew what it was. A few years ago, I was at a restaurant in Edinburgh (The Dogs) and saw it on the menu, so thought I’d order it. It was only when it arrived that I realised that my nan’s recipe was clearly the poor person’s version of stovies, completely pared down to stretch very basic ingredients as far as possible. I hadn’t realised that other versions had gravy and lots of meat. So, here is my mum’s/nan’s version (which I actually prefer, though no doubt that’s nostalgia).
Quantities vary according to how many you’re feeding, and it’s quite an intuitive process, but basically pork sausages, potatoes, and onions.
Skin the sausages, divide each one into four, and roll the quarters into little balls.
Peel the potatoes (no particular type, but not salad potatoes), and cut into halves or quarters, depending on how big they are.
Slice the onions thinly-ish from root to tip.
Put everything in a pan, with water covering maybe a couple of inches above the contents.
Put a pinch of salt in.
Bring to the boil, then simmer until the potatoes have broken down, but are not mushy, and the sausage balls are cooked.
The broth should be thickened with the potato starch.
Serve with white bread and butter.
It’s very weird writing this recipe down! Anyway, it’s not something that I eat very often now, but it is something that I really yearn for at times. I never particularly yearn for anything that I discovered myself in the same way; all my comfort foods are things that other people have cooked for me in the past, even I end up making them myself when in need.