As nice as pie

Did you remember to turn your clocks back last Sunday? In previous years we have been known to forget, and one year we turned up an hour early at a friend’s house for lunch! Now we tend to leave ourselves a reminder, so we don’t make fools of ourselves again.

Anyway, as summer has officially come to a close (although I don’t think the weather has quite made up its mind yet), we can put the salads away and start thinking of wintry dishes, and the first things that always spring to my mind are pies, either meaty, fishy or fruity.

The first pie of the season has to be steak and kidney, but here I met a problem. I have been trying to get beef kidney from my butcher for the last three weeks without success (don’t Maltese cattle have kidneys?) and, being an English traditionalist, pork kidneys will just not do, so I used mushrooms instead.

Together with a bottle of Lacto (which gave the gravy plenty of body), and some easily-made hot water crust pastry, I don’t think we missed the elusive kidney too much.

Shropshire fidget pie, made with bacon or gammon, apples, cider and potatoes, all enclosed in a pastry case, has been known for at least 400 years. No one is quite sure how it got its name, but the general consensus is that it comes from ‘fitched’ or five-sided, as it was presumably made originally as a five-sided pie.

I think putting potatoes inside a pie makes it a bit heavy and stodgy, so I make it the alternative way by lining the dish with just one layer of pastry and topping the filling with a pile of cheesy mashed potatoes.

I seem to be buying more and more salmon these days. It’s not too expensive, and as it’s a ‘meaty’ fish – a little goes quite a long way. I like to cover cubes of salmon, cocktail prawns and chopped hardboiled eggs with a thick and creamy sauce flavoured with dill and capers, then top it all with some sliced and parboiled potatoes and bake it until brown and bubbling. It can be made an hour or two in advance and kept in the fridge until ready to cook, and it’s impressive enough for a casual dinner party.

I have a DVD of Rick Stein’s BBC programme French Odyssey, in which he made something of a hash when making a cherry Pithiviers, a large round puff pastry pie from the French region of Orléans.

Traditionally filled with almond cream, the top is lightly scored in curves radiating from the centre and it’s a popular Twelfth Night speciality, but you can fill it with anything you like, either sweet or savoury. My Pithiviers is filled with autumn fruits – pears, apples and dried cranberries. Blackberries would be nice, too, if you can find any, but the cranberries give the pie a delicious sharpness. It would make a good Sunday lunch dessert with some whipped cream.

Rick Stein did have the good grace to say he wasn’t much of a hand at pastry, but it’s comforting to see the celebs also having their problems, not just us lesser mortals!


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