pork pies and the power of suggestion


Not lies, not even hats, but the pie itself.  Although a  blue and white number in straw at a jaunty angle over butter yellow curls,  did evoke this memory.

The woman in the hat smiled generously when she saw me staring. I expect she thought I admired her fashion statement so at odds with grey granite and glancing grey rain, but I was again a podgy teenager  carving up a pie.  I was lost in one of those bittersweet moments from the past that stabs the senses from time to time, delicately abandoning clear jelly and fat globules on the side of my plate.

A while back, when I was home alone with my mother, rather than our current status the other way around, after both my sisters had fledged to university and we were left with no one to talk to, my mother had a penchant for pork pies. Perhaps it was a grieving process but there was no other meal in the house for almost two years. Surely not, my memory chides, but then insists. The weekly shopping done, the pies lined up in the fridge in their blue papery wrappers, a little disc of paper holding tight pleats together to prevent air entering.

I have tried to make a pie, twice.   Nigel Slater’s recipe appeared in a weekend magazine and did what it was supposed to do, I guess, inspired me to try.

Firstly hot water pastry is amazingly easy, but more salt would be my advice. If the thought of lard, actual white, creamy pig fat fills you with disgust, I suppose a vegetarian option would work just as well. There is after all vegetarian suet.  As for the filling, lots of pork in a mincer, or chopped small by hand to give it more bite and the pastry shell filled up with jelly and labour intensive stock.  I did all that and the result was disappointing although it  was given a hearty send off by very loyal family members.

The amount of fat in a home-made pie is alarming. Fat, we are assured is what gives food taste. So the amount in a mass produced pork pie, even a melton mowbray shop favourite, is probably mind boggling. No wonder my arteries are furred.
It has taken well over thirty years even to begin to acknowledge pork pies again, but the sight of that hat has set up a longing. Pork pies in the local butcher’s look fresh and meaty and very tempting.
Shame I’ve recently gone veggie.

Nigel slater’s Pork pie
1kg boned pork shoulder
250g pork belly
250g streaky bacon
2 bushy sprigs of thyme
2 sage leaves
½ tsp ground mace
½ tsp ground white pepper
2 good pinches ground nutmeg

For the pastry:
200g lard
220g water
575g flour
1 beaten egg
1 x 20cm cake tin

For the stock:
bones from the pork (left)
2 pig’s trotters
1 onion
1 small carrot
1 small bunch of parsley stalks
1 rib of celery
6 black peppercorns

For the method try

guardian.co.uk/profile/nigelslater or google



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