In the Veg Boxes This Week
Subject to last minute changes
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The Nice Bit
It’s British Pie Week. While this is absolutely a marketing campaign in disguise, founded by Jus-Rol (owned by General Mills), it’s also a good excuse to think about something very delicious. I’ve never passed up an oppurtunity to think about pie- you can find my most recent thoughts on pie (and lots of links to recipes) here. As in that earlier newsletter, I want today to think a bit about the definition of pies, not to score points in some internet hot-dogs-are-or-aren’t-sandwiches debate (as fun as they can be). Instead, I want to encourage all of us to take up the mantle of the most inclusive definition of a pie possible, because in so doing we will be enhancing our culinary vocabulary and adding more delight to our lives.
There is no such thing, really, as a “British pie”. There are of course varieties of pie eaten everywhere in the isles, like steak-and-kidney, but even these are subject to regional variation, with the inclusion of double cream, vinegar, or potatoes cropping up here and there across the place. Most pies we eat, through, are regional, even hyper-local. Pork pies are sometimes pink inside, being made with cured pork; elsewhere, as in Melton Mowbray, they are the grey of roast pork. These latter are recognised with protected designation of origin status, as are Cornish pasties. These protections point to an understandable anxiety around the traditional pies being changed, perhaps a worry that the old recipes will be lost.
And there are absolutely pies that are losing popularity- in London, for example, pie and mash shops are closing. With them goes a working-class cuisine that, to some, represents the history of the city.
But they are closing in part because of their inflexibility, their insistence on their eel-juice and parsley liquor, their unseasoned mince pies and unbuttered mash. There are still working class people living and eating in London, but they are no longer eating jellied eels at pie and mash shops.
Where traditional pies survive is where they adapt, and thus we see Cornish pasties made with the required percentages of meat to swede to potato co-exist happily alongside Jamaican patties, the result of Cornish immigrants, Indian indentured labourers and African slaves coexisting in the Carribbean. The Cornish pasty itself was, of course, the result of poverty and necessity, and was at its height made with a wide range of ingredients. In Scoff: A History of Food and Class in Britain, Penn Vogler lists sorrell, jam, dates, mackerel, rabbit, rice, broccoli, pork, egg and chicken as pasty fillings eaten in Cornwall in the 1920s and 30s. What do we lose when we are so worried about saving the one true pasty? What do we gain by drawing lines that says a pasty is a pie but a patty is not? Where pies are eaten and enjoyed by living people they will survive, but they will by neccesity evolve.
Scotland, of course, is a land of many pies: Forfar bridies, macaroni pies, Scotch pies, Killie pies, the hogmanay steak pie. Happily, these pies don’t require protection, as they are popular enough that variation does not threaten but only enriches them. The pies that really exist for people in the UK are in relationship to tradition but are not still. They are purchased from chip shops, butchers, bakeries, football stadiums, pubs, organic grocers, takeaways, and corner shops. They include forms and flavours from all over the world, which reached us mainly via the violence of colonialism but also via the brilliant thing that immigration is. It is necessary and good for us to love hyper-local pies: pork pies pink or grey, butter pies, Cornish pasties, and all the pies of Scotland. But we should never close our eyes to the wonderful things that happen when we blur the lines, expand the definition past the British Pie Awards’ entry conditions, past the protected origin standards, into the fringes. Which is all to say that a samosa is a better mince pie than any in a pie and mash shop.
Andy on Butter Pie
As Locavore’s token professional Northerner, it feels like it would be remiss of me not to share my thoughts on all things pastry-encrusted ahead of British Pie Week: a love of a warm, hearty pie or savoury pudding is something that is seemingly instilled into the deep psyche of vast swathes of Lancashire folk and I am certainly no exception. I’ve always been fascinated by the hyper-localism and oft-bizarre gatekeeping and mythologies surrounding this particular foodstuff- touched upon above by Saoirse- and given the platform I feel duty bound to extol the virtues of my own hometown’s contribution to this tradition: Preston’s own butter pie.
Borne from the old mill town’s strong Catholic heritage, the butter pie is a local institution: a vegetarian alternative suitable for consumption on a Friday that moved from a humble worker’s staple to a cultural touchstone, complete with its own podcast and flags proudly flown at the local football team’s games up and down the country.
The butter pie is a simple dish, consisting of lashings of (unsurprisingly) butter, potatoes and some softened brown onions encased in a buttery shortcrust pastry and seasoned heavily with salt and black pepper: this recipe from Olivia Potts is an easy to follow and highly recommended method of getting the most out of some of your veg box staples and pantry fillers from our site.
Although delicious as a standalone treat (ideally wolfed down at half-time on a cold January evening at Deepdale stadium, with a cup of tea or beefy drink), the pie comes into its own paired with a side full of acidity and bite to cut through the buttery stodge. Braised red cabbage is a reliable partner, but for the more adventurous I’d wholeheartedly recommend having a try of another local delicacy: the parched pea. Taking a near-forgotten pulse, the Carlin Pea, soaked and slow-cooked before being doused in generous quantities of malt vinegar: you can tweak the recipe to your own tastes by adding bacon, mint or a touch of chilli and ginger: we’ve taken stock of some carlins from our friends at Hodmedod’s especially for pie week, and you can follow their recipe here if you’re feeling up to the challenge!
Happy Pie Week!