On Celebration Day, I’ll honour my late father with his egg mousse pâté

Francis Sitwell and William
My and my dad, Francis Sitwell, famous for his egg mousse pâté

Thousands of words, hundreds of books and some records even: my family has been published, voraciously, over the years. But Edith’s poetry, Osbert’s autobiography, Sacheverell’s travels, my own scribblings, all pale when set against my father’s greatest triumph. It was in August 1968, featured in the Evening Standard: Francis Sitwell’s egg mousse pâté, supplied via the cookery columnist Monica Mawson. And this was no mere PR frippery, offered up to somehow soften the reputation of one of the City’s great PR men and lunchers; described also in the paper as a member of the International Wine and Food Society. It was a dish he cooked repeatedly over the decades, exclusively, I recall, for lunch parties. He would get mixing in the kitchen and then set the mousse across the dining room table in little pots and friends and family would eat it with crisp melba toast.

It’s a dish I might try my hand at for the first time this Monday, encouraged by a string of chefs who have revealed the recipes that remind them of their lost loved ones. The likes of Aldo Zilli, Richard Corrigan and Skye Gyngell have gathered to encourage us to mark Celebration Day, created in 2022 as a new day of collective remembrance. The day falls on the second bank holiday in May so between mowing and telly, try to find a moment to chop, whisk, roast or boil a dish that connects you with the departed.

For the Italian chef Zilli, it’s his mother Maria’s duck ragu; for the Irish chef Corrigan it’s his mother Kate’s soda bread and for Gyngell, her father Bruce’s baked aubergines.

Copy of the recipe from the Evening Standard
Egg mousse pate a la Francis Sitwell

My father was a better eater than a cook, which feels familiar, with the only two dishes he turned out (and I can’t even recall him making toast) being that pâté and baked eggs on Christmas morning. Which means that when I crack an egg into a ramekin, pour on a little milk and then crack over some black pepper and a little salt, it brings back a searing memory of him; both emotional and cathartic. I like the idea of an organised yet informal memory evoked by some gentle cooking, as encouraged by Celebration Day. Although one relishes, while being a little shocked, those moments when the memory of someone appears, triggered sometimes by the strangest things.

Last week, I nipped down to the gate one morning to grab the paper and there was a strong smell of sheep poo from across the valley, from the fields opposite, where the flock were also making a quite a din, readying themselves, possibly, for a move to fresh ground. The noise and smell brought me an overwhelming sense of my father and when I came back into the kitchen, my wife and kids wondered if I was OK.

I’ve racked my brains, so far unsuccessfully, for the origin of this memory, the reason for this sensation, but perhaps it’s just some generic childhood memory of the smells and sounds of the countryside that I identify as a time when my wonderful dad was alive and well.

I can also trigger this on demand, and occasionally do if I’m in an airport. All I need to do is sniff a bottle of Fahrenheit, that familiar Dior brand whose colours burn with yellow, red and brown, and he’s there. My daddy, in a pot in the airport. The strangest sensation of his presence came a few years ago when I got a cab one morning from a country railway station. The smell of the driver was utterly, uniquely familiar. It was a combination of Fahrenheit and the boozy breath people get from drinking the night before. It was the weirdest, most joyful sensation.

On Monday, in more familiar territory and for the first time, I’ll blend six hard-boiled with three ounces of melted butter, season, pour into a dish and chill. Then I’ll pour over a little soured cream and top with lumpfish caviar. With melba toast and a chilled glass of white wine it will be a fabulous reminder of my lovely Dad.