Pies not just for pilgrims
For as long as there have been pilgrims there have been pies. In the days when there was no other way to preserve food, a tough, sturdy crust was a way to seal and bake food that could later be eaten while journeying on the road.
The crusts of yesteryear were called coffins, toughwalled constructions made with flour and water, without any fat to tenderise them. The people of most importance got to eat the filling without having to endure any of the concrete crust, and as you descended through the lines of hierarchy there would be less and less filling and more and more crust.
This doesn’t really explain the symbolism attached to pies. With a cachet that extends well beyond the pleasures of tender crust and tasty filling, pies speak to an idea of home and hearth, love and nurturing.
A good pie can win hearts. After taking a bite of my famous bacon and egg pie, the man who was to become my husband proposed to me. True story. Recently I was at a catered lunch event where a cold quiche featured as part of the buffet. The waitress dropped a giant clod on my plate. It descended with a thud. In the first — only — horrible mouthful, I understood why crusts were called coffins, nothing could ever escape from that brick wall. And all I could taste was the vile flavour of margarine.
To avoid creating a coffin crust you need to remember two things. The first is not to use too much water in your pastry. Water is the enemy of flakiness; the less water in your crust, the better. My recipe for sour cream pastry uses sour cream instead of water, ensuring the pastry is both tender and flaky.
The next hazard is stretching. Stretch the dough and it will shrink. Chilling prevents shrinkage, as it allows the gluten to relax, so it won’t shrink back when you roll it out. As the dough chills and rests the water is fully absorbed, so your dough will feel softer and be easier to manage after it has chilled. Chilling also allows the fat to harden, which gives cooked pastry a wonderful flaky texture.
Storebought pastry, as long as it is made with real butter, is useful to have on hand in the freezer but if you have a food processor you can produce perfect pastry in a matter of seconds.
This week I share recipes for some easy pies — sure to be popular with the dad in your life this Father’s Day weekend.
My mother made this savoury tart often, and it’s still the best I’ve tasted. This recipe makes one large tart that feeds 10-12 or two medium tarts so you can freeze one for later.
This tasty lamb sauce can also be prepared with a pastry topping. Bake as for the hot ’n’ spicy chicken pies. It’s also delicious tossed through pasta or served over couscous or rice.
Chicken is much easier to strip off the carcass while it’s still warm. I sometimes roast an extra chicken and then shred it (removing bones, skin and any fat) and pop the flesh into containers for the freezer so that I can whip up pies and pasta sauces without having to start from scratch. Alternatively you can always buy a roast chicken.