One of my favourite dinners ever as a child was a good old Findus Crispy Pancake.
Money was tight when we were growing up and this coupled with my father’s exceptional fussiness over plain eating meant that that Findus Crispy Pancakes were a rare treat. Most of the time, like many a good Derry family, we just ate spuds, with a side order of Doherty’s sausages or Doherty’s special mince and a dose of beans. (As an adult I’ve never been able to eat beans - I think I ate my life quota between the ages of five and 12 where they were served every night without remorse).
Things were spiced up occasionally with a good old fashioned stew, which was of course just another way of cooking spuds and mince. (For the record when my husband, an Englishman, first moved here and was introduced to our concept of a stew, he nearly had a fit. In the leafy suburbs of Cheshire were he was raised stews involved fine cuts of beef or lamb, diced potato and veg and not so much as a whisper of Bisto gravy).
The food was plain, simple and repetitive but you knew what you were getting. That said, the Findus Crispy Pancake (minced beef version, of course) was like a beacon in the desert of plain eating. It was about as fancy as food got in Leenan Gardens in the 80s and I remember how we occasionally got our crispy pancakes on a Saturday tea-time - accompanied by a home made chips and (no, not beans) a fried egg. Being the culinary geniuses we were, we would even indulge in a Crispy Pancake sandwich or, if we were feeling particularly adventurous with our eating make a mega chips/Crispy Pancake/fried egg sandwich. There was, simply, nothing like it.
I think I knew, even as a child, that the Crispy Pancakes were overly processed foods which wouldn’t add to my five a day quota but they were delicious and to this day remain one of the guilty pleasure comfort foods which have the ability to transport me to a simpler time, when food was a mere matter of boiling something in a pot or sticking it under a grill and Bob was your uncle.
But now, with the latest food scandal to hit the news, even the beauty of a Findus Crispy Pancake must come under scrutiny. (Now, for the record, to my knowledge while Findus Lasagnes have been found to contain 100% horsemeat the crispy pancakes are, as yet, considered safe for human consumption).
The latest scandal has seen revelation follow revelation of horse meat in a number of popular ready prepared products from major food chains.
And it may have been going on for quite some time; while we were all thinking we were chowing down on Daisy the cow, we have in fact been eating Shergar. Worse still the origin of the meat is under question. Could it really be the case we are eating the remains of cart horses who once hauled the peasantry and their goods up and down the back lanes of Romania?
It’s all a little reminiscent of the scene in Les Miserables with the nefarious innkeeper Monsieur Thenardier mixes together a host of animal parts to “pretend it’s beef”.
Even I - who freely admits that the Crispy Pancake/chips/egg Tower Sandwich (patent pending) is one of my favourite culinary treats - felt a little queasy at that.
I’ve no doubt I’m not the only one who is now eyeing up the processed food in my freezer with suspicion. The “handy” frozen food, which makes for an easy tea on a busy school/work night now doesn’t look so appealing. And I fear, for many, the trust may be broken between the food manufacturers and the consumers.
At the end of the day while I doubt anyone thinks the frozen burgers and lasagnes stored in the freezer for a rainy day were ever going to win any gourmet awards - we at least trusted that they contained the ingredients listed on the box. We trusted that food made in the factories of our major suppliers is free from contaminants and will not do us undue harm.
When that trust is gone, it’s hard to get back. And I doubt that even the siren call of the Crispy Pancake - on a day when it is cold and wet and I’m perhaps hungover - will be enough to help me regain that trust.
So what is the answer? A return to simpler fare perhaps.
At least there is more variety out there now than spuds and beans. There are those, the smug foody types, rubbing their hands with glee saying sure they wouldn’t eat any of that processed nonsense anyway.
But I’m sure there are an equal number of us (I use us, as I may just be included) who are now despairing of the new variety of goods we shall have to set about preparing in the evening instead.
This week, at least the government announced plans to bring cookery lessons back into schools.
On hearing this news my husband laughed, he could imagine nothing more ridiculous. (But then he was raised where fine cuts of meats were par for the course and seasoning was more than just a ladle of Saxa shovelled in when serving).
But there is much to be said for learning to cook again - and given the way things are going we might all need to go back to school.