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Thursday, 20 January 2011

Pigs on the Wing


I'm not sure I should be sharing this with you. I mean I don't know whether you can stomach the details.

It all began innocently enough. My darling wife came home with a cookery book that her mother had. After Peg died, the contents of her flat were put into storage: my wife and her sister wanted time to sort through their mum's possessions. Earlier this week Lesley's sister brought over a pile of books and cooking utensils from the storage container.

One of the books is "Good Things in England" by Florence White.  It is a history of all that is best in English cooking from the Middle Ages until the 1930's. Florence's aim was to capture English regional cooking - recipes taken from its length and breath; from obscure cooking hints handed down from mother to daughter to national gems which are still to found on the nation's dinner tables.

Many see Florence White as the first food writer of the modern age and rather like those archivists who travelled around the country discovering dying folk songs, her aim was to record much that was great in English cooking before it disappeared.

Although Florence recorded many a treat, I'm afraid her mission to get the English housewife rediscovering our traditional fare wasn't a success. Her English Folk Cookery Association didn't survive long after her death and you only have to skim through this book to realise how much our cooking and eating habits have changed. War, deprivation, foreign travel and our fascination with everything foreign has seen off our epicurean heritage.

How many of us would consider creamed cod fish or potted beef for breakfast? When did you last have pickled ham or oxtail mould to set you up for the day? We're lucky if we have something that's hot; time's too tight for many who snatch a Mac on the way to the railway station and stuff their faces in an overcrowded carriage.

One of her chapters is "The Roast Meats of Old England". Even as a semi veggie my heart aches at what we've lost. "Spanish Beef"; "Love in Disguise" - a romantically named baked calf's heart; saddle of mutton or roast porker's head with mint sauce. OK, the last might be a cut too far.

I was transported by this book. The Dorset of Thomas Hardy and Rupert Brooke's idyll "The Old Vicarage, Grantchester -"Stands the church clock at ten to three?/and is there honey still for tea?" are all there. A lost world; irretrievable. I've picked one entry at random:

"Baked Rice Pudding 1887: Lady Bernard, wife of Sir Charles Bernard, Chief Commissioner of Burma, used to make a rice pudding as follows every day for her husband's tiffin. He said no one could make it as well as she did. The secret is slow,very slow and prolonged baking." The baking time is 4 hours. In this age of tight deadlines and rising energy bills how many of us would try this?

One of the recipes that caught my eye was that for Melton Mowbray Pork Pie, in the section "Raised meat and Game Pies" in the chapter "Breakfasts". A lovely recipe, providing  detailed step by step instructions; except I wanted something less heroic -"Take one stone of flour, 4 lbs of lard, salt, a good handful, 4 pints of water and 9 lbs of pork". So I googled...and "The Hairy Bikers" provided me with a recipe I thought I could handle.

I'm not a full veggie; but the nearest I usually  get to meat is bacon or cooking chicken for the cats. For this pie I needed pig trotters and pork bones ( for the jelly) and shoulder and belly of pork along with some bacon for the filling.

We live in Walthamstow, the majority of family butcher's are halal and supermarkets don't, won't stock piggy odds and sods. There is one or two non halal butcher's in the area but as Lesley pointed out the influx of meat eating, pork lovin' Eastern Europeans has injected new life into them.

I approached the butcher's with some trepidation. Would they think me totally bonkers asking for offel. I mean my experience of butcher's has been Sainsbury's and Tesco's and you're lucky to find a piece of pig's liver in those places. To my surprise the butcher's was busy, they had four staff slapping, chopping and weighing meats.

"I wonder if you could help me, please. I'm making a Melton Mowbray Pork Pie and I need pigs trotters and bones. Do you have those, please?" I had expected a look of disbelief to cloud the face of the jolly butcher, but no. "Of course", and he pointed behind me. Rows and rows of piggy feet and bones, ears, snouts, and other bits and bobs. I didn't ask about sweetbreads.

I purchased more than twice the amount the Bikers recommended. I gave over the whole of today to create my pie.

The pie has three elements. The hot water pastry, the filling and the jelly. I knew about hot water pastry having made it for my Christmas extravaganza. The filling consisted of finely chopped shoulder of pork, minced pork belly and chopped bacon, mixed together with all spice, nutmeg and a healthy helping of pepper.

Making the jelly was fun. Into a very big pan went the chopped up trotters, so they'd breakdown easily, the bones with quite a bit of meat on I thought, a bouquet garni, whole peppercorns, a finely chopped onion, a carrot or two - chopped and a stick of celery. All this bubbled away in enough water to cover it for 2, 3 and 4 hours. After which the liquor was  strained and the graveyard of bones ditched, leaving a tasty concoction which was further reduced to half its volume. This was put in the fridge to chill out while I got on with attacking the pasty.

I'd made the pastry at the beginning of the exercise - half a day away -and after a while thawing out I was able to knead it into shape. A Melton Mowbrey is a raised pie. That is you build a pastry case rather like making a pot, except you don't need a potter's wheel. I made mine in a bread tin, building up four walls and a base. Mainly because I'd made one and half times the quantity of everything in the recipe - I got carried away at the butcher's.

In went the mixed pork, chopped shoulder, minced belly and bacon and it was covered with a pastry lid, brushed with egg, and placed in a moderate oven. An hour and half or so later, a bronzed Adonis emerged. It's cooling as I write awaiting the jelly to be poured in through a small hole. That will then be further cooled and the glory that is Melton will be revealed accompanied with some pickles and .. nothing else.

As I mentioned I'd bought more pork than I needed. Nigel Slater came to the rescue with his Crisp Belly Pork  Roast. As I didn't have the Chinese Five Spice powder or groundnut required, I replaced those with freshly ground ginger, fennel and roasted paprika, Japanese rice vinegar and olive oil. It's marinating magically in the fridge this minute to be cooked tomorrow. 

Thank you  Florence.  Many more lovely treats await.

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