A Pie For The Ages

Who would remember Arnold Bennett today if not for the celebrated omelette? His books, now, are only read by those in search of the inspiration for his rich, voluptuous breakfast dish; foolish, since he had nothing to do with its creation. A similar situation prevails with Dame Nelly Melba, except that no-one eats her peaches either, while melba toast, it is popularly thought, is named for Melbourne, despite the clear resemblance the thin, curved slices bear to the Sydney Opera House.

 

We do not choose our posterity; I doubt poor old Arnold would be glad to know that he is remembered chiefly for a pungent mainstay of the middlebrow brunch menu – although it is perhaps preferable to being remembered chiefly for not being Alan. Prince Rainier Louis Henri Maxence Bertrand Grimaldi of Monaco, on the other hand, thoroughly deserves his monument, which takes the form of a pigeon as richly overstuffed as the prince’s name.

 

I took, of course, all this into account in the creation of a birthday dish for my brother – not that I think he will be remembered solely for this somewhat humble pie; who knows, though, what changes the inexorable march of time will wring? Perhaps, a hundred years from now, the tables of upmarket pubs and downmarket hotels alike will groan under the weight of Venison Pie James Eagle, named for that connoisseur of pastry products and local boozes.

 

VENISON PIE JAMES EAGLE

A pie for 4

FILLING

The alcohols mentioned form an important part of the rich history this pie carries with it, and should not be substituted under any circumstances; if you must, note that Whitstable Bay is a light, golden ale, and Brecon Botanicals a highly spiced, strong gin.

2 large onions, finely diced

2 carrots, finely diced

2 sticks of celery, finely diced

100g smoked bacon lardons

400g stewing venison

a shot of Brecon Botanicals gin

half a bottle of Whitstable Bay Organic Ale

125g black pudding, sliced

salt, pepper, oil

 

Set the vegetables and bacon to sweat in a stewpan or casserole with, of course, a splash of oil and a good pinch of salt. You are looking for near-total collapse.

Meanwhile, brown the venison in a very hot pan, a few pieces at a time, setting them aside as you go. Deglaze the pan with gin, and pour the juices over the meat.

When the vegetables look good, add the meat and juices to the pot, stir well, and pour over the beer. The meat should be just about covered – add more beer if not. Season freely but soberly, bring to a putter, and leave to cook for an hour or two or more – until the meat is totally giving.

Set aside to cool, fry the black pudding until crispy, then set that aside too, draining on kitchen paper if it’s a particularly greasy example.

PASTRY

220g plain flour

a pinch of salt

1 tsp ground black pepper

50g melted butter

1 large egg + 1 to glaze

50ml boiling water

 

Stir together flour, salt, pepper, butter and egg until thoroughly mixed, then, still mixing, add the water. Mix and then knead until you have a soft dough, pliable and pleasant to handle. Leave to rest for ten minutes or so, but don’t let it get cold.

Roll out two-thirds to fit your buttered pie dish, press this in, and add half the filling, then half the black pudding, etc. Roll out a lid, brush the edges of the base with egg, and stick the lid on. Roll and crimp the overhang according to your whim. Brush the top with egg, cut two slits for steam, and put into a hottish oven (220°C?) for about half an hour until a dark golden brown.

The traditional accompaniments are cabbage sprouts and claret.

The Fastest Potato

I’ve never actually read any of Marguerite Patten’s food writing or, until today, cooked even one of her recipes. It turns out, though, that I’ve eaten a lot of her food. A lot of recipes that I remember eating a lot as a child – particularly, in fact, the ones which I always thought were traditional, family recipes – come from Patten’s books. A lot of these were preserves – jams & chutneys, of course, but most notably the mighty family store of pickled shallots. Dad would (still does, in fact) bring back his wheelbarrowful of little alliums from the allotment, and sit in the garden peeling them; then they’d sit in vast brine tanks before their spiced, malt bath. Then, of course, the endless torment before you were allowed to open them. I remember one year popping a jar before they were ready and eating most of the contents; the stomach ache brought on by eating quite a large amount of raw onion was not pleasant, but the vinegar still tasted good.

I didn’t, unfortunately, have time to recreate these, but it felt appropriate to mark what would have been Patten’s 100th birthday with another of her recipes. This page in my Mum’s cookbook is apparently covered in ancient batter, so I assume I used to eat these a lot.

POTATO DROP SCONES

Wee potato pancakes, really. Feeds two or so. I give you the recipe in ounces, as my mother gave it to me.

2oz plain flour

1.5 tsp baking powder

pinch salt (a BIG pinch)

4oz very smooth mashed potato

1oz melted margarine (because it is no longer the 70s, I used butter)

1 egg

1/4 pint of milk

Sieve together the flour, baking powder and salt (does anyone really do this? I didn’t. Just put them in a bowl), then thoroughly mix in the potato. Beat in the butter, then the egg, then the milk.

Heat and oil a frying pan and drop (hence the name) in spoonfuls, flipping them when they start to bubble on top, then cooking until set. Keep them warm while you cook the rest, then eat. I had them with a pork chop and some cabbage, and they were lovely.