After accidentally standing on a sea urchin in Greece, my father swam out with a snorkel and a knife, cut what he assumed to be the offending anemone off a rock, brought it back to shore, roasted it on an open fire, and then ate it—all by himself.
That is the sort of man my father is: part action hero, part hippy, all Kiwi, very few teeth.
He isn't exactly known for his cooking (although he did introduce much of Oxfordshire to the underground Maori oven known as a hangi) but there was one thing that my father did teach me to make. Not the revolting cabbage-and-mince concoction known as "Ming Sing" that he'd been sent out into the world with by his mother. Nor the "aubergine galette" that he cooked, without fail, every year on my mother's birthday. Nor the recipe for prawn and sundried tomato pasta sauce he found on the side of a jar, when sundried tomatoes had literally just happened.
No, the recipe handed down to me by the six-earrings-tattoos-and-bare-feet man that gave me half my genes was a true New Zealand classic. And by "New Zealand classic," I, of course, mean a Scottish bastardisation straight from the pages of The Edmonds Cookery Book.
For those of you who haven't had the pleasure of visiting the Southern Hemisphere's least populated island, The Edmonds Cookery Book is to New Zealand what Reader's Digest is to Britain. It's woven into the very fabric of white society. When you get a New Zealand passport, they pretty much hand you the recipe for Edmonds pavlova, bacon, and egg pie right there in the embassy.
My father, of course, always had a copy of The Edmonds cookbook in the house. Just like the record of New Zealand folk song "Pokarekare Ana," an All Blacks rugby jersey, and prints of his brother Dick's paintings, I imagine this little envoy of New Zealand life gave him a sense of a stretched umbilical cord: a link back to his homeland.
And so, on a sunny Saturday morning, he and I would stand in our narrow, Victorian-terrace kitchen—Thomas Mapfumo and the Bhundhu Boys or The Mahotella Queens blasting out of the record player—and cook ourselves an entire mixing bowl's worth of pikelets.
"I don't know if an English person would know what you mean by pikelets," my dad laughs, when I tell him my plan to recreate the delicacies of my childhood.
Well, pikelets are basically drop scones, if we're honest. Or Scotch pancakes. Tiny fluffy clouds of flour and milk that sit halfway between a crumpet and a crepe. And, with a true 1960s son-of-a-dairy-island mentality, my father would spread each pancake with at least the same height again of salted butter.
"That's all you need, because there's sugar in them already," he says. "Adding jam or anything is just sacrilege."
He may not believe in God, but my father sure as hell believes in butter.
One of my clearest childhood memories is of he and I sitting on the polished floorboards he'd laid across our kitchen floor, wearing a t-shirt from a builder's merchant and cycling shorts, eating plate after plate of pikelets as the sun poured onto the newspaper laid out beside us. It's a miracle either of us have any arteries left, to be honest. He would also, after a big party, be begged to make pikelets for any guest still compos mentis enough to chew.
And so, this Father's Day (a celebration he dismisses entirely as capitalist bullshit), I thought: What could be nicer than to try my hand at making these little morsels of parental love once more?
The recipe's on the internet now, of course. But I got down my spiral-bound Edmonds copy all the same, flicked through to the grease-stained page, and took a look at the ingredients: flour, baking powder, sugar, an egg, milk, and a pinch of salt. That is literally it.
Mix them in a bowl (I mean, sure, you could sieve the ingredients if you've got too much time on your hands) and then drop them in little puddles onto a hot pan. A hot pan, in my case, onto which you've already melted a knob of—you guessed it—salted butter.
As I furiously whisk any lumps out of the creamy mixture (maybe sieving would have been a good idea after all), I remember my father talking with teary-eyed affection about the way his mother's large fleshy arms would slap and wobble as she stirred in her mixing bowl. My arms—as much his as they are mine—are a little more bicep-heavy these days, but they certainly move. Boy, do they move. Maybe I got that from her, the paternal grandmother I never knew.
Watching the little bubbles on the surface of each pikelet pop and harden I am taken, full flesh, bones, and breath, back to my childhood. To my father's somewhat relaxed attitude to health, safety, and cleanliness. To he and I eating watermelon in the garden in our pants until the juice covered our faces like beards. To the sound of him scratching his chest hair as he watched me handle spitting hot oil. To him reciting the names of his old local beaches ("Haumoana, Te Awanga, Tuki Tuki, Waimarama") so it sounded like he could speak Maori. To his stories of being a terrible surfer and a brilliant tree climber.
When the pikelets are cooked—browned on each side, one side smooth the other speckled—I dish them out, put on Ali Farka Toure, sit on my own kitchen floor, open the newspaper, and start eating.
They cook you up, your mum and dad. They might not mean to, but they do. In my case, out of lust, flour, milk, and music. Happy Father's Day Bill—and thanks for all the pikelets.