But why? Do we have no ethnicity?
Perhaps it was the industrial revolution that began the process of killing off our food heritage. As the first industrialised nation, the british, and in particular the english, suffered a divorce from their regional dishes and food culture as the vast industrial conurbations sucked in labour from the countryside, and farming became increasingly mechanised to produce basic foodstuffs to feed the new towns. Industrialised food processing followed, and by the mid 20th century mass produced 'bread', canned and frozen foodstuffs gradually became the mainstay of the british diet.
The Empire too played its part. Returning emigres and new immigrants brought us new foods and flavours eventually leading to the ubiquitous indian and chinese restaurants, and many more exotic tastes. But as well as exploring these new flavours, something was lost. Whilst sampling peasant cookery from across the world, we forgot our own heritage. Whilst other countries slowly absorbed new foods into their own cuisine, we replaced ours. Now the simple pizza has spread across the world; Pan Haggerty languishes in obscurity.
In my own neck of the woods local East Anglian dishes include the scrumptious Huntingdon Fidget Pie and the rather curious Bedfordshire Clanger (a suet pudding with savoury meat & onions at one end, fruit or jam at the other; it made an easily transportable meal for a man in the fields). It also gave us the expression "drop a clanger". If the child carrying them "dropped a clanger" this would be a disaster, as someone would go hungry.
I like a well prepared curry as much as the next man, and chinese, thai and japanese food is great, as is west indian and a whole host of imported dishes. I love a good french restaurant, and even here in the depths of Suffolk we have 'Maison Bleue' in Bury St Edmunds.
But wouldn't it be nice if our own cooking was as celebrated as much as that of starving french peasants reduced to grubbing around for snails? When did you last set out to an english restaurant? No, I mean a really English restaurant, without pretensions to be french, italian, greek or 'serbo croat fusion' or whatever. Mmmmmmm. Thought not.
Years ago, when we first moved to Suffolk, Maison Bleue used to be Mortimer's Fish Bar - a restaurant serving the very freshest of fresh fish from the coast, cooked on the premises (right in front of you if you sat at the eponymous bar). In Abbeygate street we had a butcher, fishmonger and game shop where you could even buy a hare and its blood to make a jugged hare (when did you last see that on a menu? Wymondham 1973 in my case).
And it's not just the absence of good game dealers and so on. English cuisine remains in decline, thanks in part to the ghastly trend of overstating the merits of foreign dishes that began after WW2 with Elizabeth David, despite a few brave chefs trying to stem the tide. Now my local shops sell yams, papayas, parrot fish, cous cous and and strawberries - in December. From May to November the finest celery in the world is grown in the fens around Ely, just up the road. Where do our shops get theirs? Spain. SPAIN!
Of course, there are some things we have to import such as spices and wines - for all the efforts of our Suffolk vineyards, I don't think the chatelains of the Medoc will be quaking in their bottes, although, to be fair, there are a few decent whites around these days. Good beers, though, are our real tour de force, with a range of character, strength and flavours to accompany all the best english fare.
OK, so where is this leading? This winter I have decided to explore traditional english cuisine, our own 'ethnic dishes', and try a few recipes suited to the season with local ingredients. And here's one for Boxing day to join the cold collation. It's an interesting variation on the traditional Pork Pie, and it is much closer to the Elizabethan and mediaeval pies of old, which usually contained fruit (apples, raisins and the like) along with the meat. Indeed, as most people know, the traditional mince pies that we eat at Christmas originally contained real minced meat (mutton or tongue, plus the suet of course) along with the fruit, alcohol and spices, making a pie that kept well, as well as tasting great. Now we just have the suet, and sadly that has become so-called 'vegetable suet', a vile concoction of palm oil, rice flour and starch - I mean, really, what's the point?
Anyway, I had a trial run with my Boxing day pie. It hails from the Midlands, Leicestershire to be precise, and I got the recipe from my mum last week. We all know Melton Mowbray, home of the Melton Mowbray pork pie (and also Pedigree Petfoods!). This one comes from twenty miles or so south of Melton, and the only cheat is with the stock - I didn't make the jellied stock from pork bones as a butcher would, because you only need cupful. I used a bit of home made chicken stock from the freezer, but any chicken or pork stock will do, with a bit of gelatine.
So, here we go - Market Harborough Pie (serves 8) - vegetarians, look away now.
For the hot water crust pastry
5ml / 1tsp salt
1 medium egg yolk
175g / 6oz lard
150ml / 5 fl oz water
Beaten egg for glazing
For the filling
1kg / 21/4 lb coarsley minced pork
450g / 1lb cooking apples, peeled, cored & chopped
2 medium sized onions finely chopped
50g / 2oz caster sugar
21/2 ml / 1/2 tsp dried sage
5ml / 1tsp salt
21/2 ml / 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
For the jellied stock
5ml / 1tsp gelatine
150 ml / 5 fl oz strong chicken stock
- To make the pastry, sift the flour and salt into a bowl & make a well in the centre. Drop in the egg yolk and cover with a liitle of the flour. Cut the lard into chunks and place in a pan with the water. Heat gently until the fat has melted, then bring to the boil and pour quickly into the dry ingredients, mixing with a wooden spoon until the dough is cool enough to handle.
- Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured board and knead it until smooth & soft and no traces of egg remain. Return it to the warm mixing bowl & cover with a plate. Leave in a warm place for 30 minutes.
- Meanwhile, mix together the filling ingredients, and grease a 15cm / 6" loose bottomed cake tin
- Take three quarters of the warm pastry and roll it out into a 25cm / 10" round. Fold and lift it into the tin and mould it carefully and evenly to the shape, raising the sides with your fingers until a little above the top of the tin. The pastry should be about 5mm / 1/4" thick. Leave it to set slightly, then pack in the filling, mounding it slightly in the middle.
- Heat the oven to 230C / 450F / Gas 8. Brush the pastry edges with beaten egg & roll out the rermainin pastry to make a lid. Place it on the pie and seal the edges and trim neatly. Brush the top with beaten egg and cut a small hole in the centre to let steam escape. Use the pastry trimmings to make 'leaves' to decorate, position them on the pie and brush with more of the beaten egg.
- Bake the pie in the hot oven for twnty minutes. Cover the top with foil, lower the heat to 170C / 325F and bake for a further three hours. Remove and allow the pie to cool in the tin.
- When the pie is almost cold, warm the stock and dissolve the powdered gelatine in it. Allow it to cool. When the stock has become syrupy, pour it into the pie through the hole in the lid, using a small funnel. Refrigerate the pie for a couple of hours until cold. Pop it onto a mug or other support & slide off the cake tin ring then gently ease it off the base & onto a plate. Refrigerate for a further 8 - 10 hours. Serve cold.
Labels: Food and Drink