GRUB! Pork Pie

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Enough of these endless museums and sights and such - time for some more food!  This week it's pork pie, a traditional English food especially popular at picnics or as a snack.  Unlike other meat pies, pork pie is always served cold.  Pork pies are also among the densest substances in the universe, falling somewhere between lead and black holes.  This means they're quite sturdy, which, coupled with the fact that they don't need heating, makes them excellent for picnics.

Pork pies in a nice butcher shop in Southwold.  And if you've ever wondered why a pork pie hat is called that, let me clear that up here:

Pie Hat Hat Pie

Traditional pork pies are made with hot water crust pastry and a filling of pork and savoury jelly (I know, I know... meat jelly... but really, it's ok).  I briefly contemplated baking a pork pie for the blog but honestly, I've got way better things to do.  As the name suggests, hot water crust pastry is made by adding the fat to hot water, then mixing in the flour.  This makes a sticky paste that's ideal for hand-raising, the traditional method for shaping hot water crust pastry.  The pastry gets shaped into an open barrel sort of shape, with the raw wet filling added and the top put on, with it's distinctive raised rim.

Pie Dolly
You can also mould the pastry with a pie dolly, which is kind of cheating.

After filling and adding the top you're supposed to let the pie sit overnight before baking. Then when the pie is baked you cool it, make a hole in the top, and pour in warm meat jelly that fills up the space created when the filling shrinks in cooking.  Then you cool the whole thing again in the fridge for a day before eating.  So really, even though I'm mostly unemployed, I still have better things to do than spend three days making a freakin' pork pie when you can walk into almost any shop and get one for about £1.99.

Pork pies
A selection of pork pies from Marks & Spencer, including a couple very cute tiny two-bite pork pies.  Total cost: £4.49.  Pork pies are usually quite small - the large one here is only about 4 inches across.  I think this is because of the aforementioned denseness, meaning that a pork pie similar in size to, say, an individual steak and ale pie, would probably feed twice as many people.  Or it could be used with deadly force if flung at an intruder.  Try and do THAT with a namby-pamby chicken and leek pie!

Pork pies are synonymous with the Leicestershire town of Melton Mowbray (which sounds like some kind of spring weather phenomenon, as in: "Farmers should prepare for flooding because there's a strong chance of a powerful melton mowbray in the forecast.").  In fact, Melton Mowbray pork pies have protected designation of origin status, (like Cornish pasties) meaning that a maker can only claim to produce a true Melton Mowbray pork pie if it conforms to certain standards such as being made, unsurprisingly, in or near Melton Mowbray.  Another important features of the Melton Mowbray pork pie is that the filling is made of chopped, uncured pork, which gives the cooked filling a sort of grey colour (as opposed to the minced, cured pork used in a common or garden pork pie which is quite pink, like ham or bacon). And a Melton Mowbray pork pie will always be handmade - no moulds or pie dollies allowed.  This means they're shaped somewhat irregularly and have a sort of slumped appearance.

Melton Mowbray
Melton Mowbray pork pie, exhibiting the greyness, coarse texture and slumped shape that shows its the real deal.  Though don't those seem like sort of sad things to strive for? I can just picture the poor apprentice pork pie maker in Melton Mowbray being dressed down by his master, "Son you'll never get anywhere in this business until you make that filling MORE GREY!  And couldn't you make the whole thing a bit less tidy?"

While plain pork pies are quite common, there are some specialty varieties that crop up, chief among which is the gala pie.  It's a larger variety with whole hard boiled eggs in it, and is usually baked in a loaf tin, so it's rectangular and gets served in slices.  When done properly, each cut has a nice slice of egg in it.  To accomplish this, sometimes the baker will prepare a "long egg", which involves separating eggs and cooling the yolks separately in a long mould, then adding them to the whites in a larger mould and cooking again, and then adding the resulting long egg into the pie.  (And you thought making a plain pork pie was a pain...). Still, it's pretty, as pies go.

Gala pie
Gala pie

As you can tell from the picture above, I invested in a variety of pork pies for this blog. Having tasted both the common and Melton Mowbray varieties, I can honestly say I can't really tell the difference.  Perhaps I should have invested in higher quality pies.  Perhaps if I had any kind of commitment to this blog and to you loyal readers I would have gone to Melton Mowbray and spent the week sampling the pies there.  All I can say is that if you blindfolded me and held a gun to my head I would not be able to tell one from the other, though they were both quite pleasant, especially since I let them sit out for a bit and come up to room temperature, which I think improves the flavour, though I'm sure pork pie purists would be aghast.  As for bite-sized pies, I say the larger the pie the better.  The tiny ones, while cute, have an unappealing ratio of crust to filling, whereas the large ones can be sliced and last for several days, which also provides a good upper body workout moving them to and from the fridge.  This is good, because a mere 100 grams (about one third of the larger pie pictured) packs in 425 calories and 32 grams of fat.

Pork pies are also the basis of a rather lovely bit of Cockney Rhyming Slang that's a personal favourite and one you hear often in conversations.  See if you can tell what "pork pies" or "porkies" means when used in this joke: "How can you tell a politician is telling porkies? His mouth is open!"*

But enough about pork pies.  In other news, I think it's time to let you in on my next move. And I do mean move.  Astute GSWPL readers may remember my blog about my summer job last year, when I replied to the unasked question, "So are you going to Rio now?"  At the time I said this:
Rio might be cool, but when I think about what was involved in this experience, and I think about trying to do that in a foreign country, in another language, far far away from either Canada or the UK... it just doesn't have the same appeal.
Well it's time for me to eat my words (which, thankfully, contain far fewer calories than a pork pie) because though I'm not going to Rio (yet), I am going somewhere even more foreign and challenging: Russia!  Yep, I've signed a contract for 9 months working on the Winter Olympic Ceremonies in Sochi, Russia.  If all goes well with the visa paperwork, I'll be starting in Moscow around June 15, which is ridiculously soon, and slightly terrifying.  Then again, I've been waiting for the aforementioned visa paperwork for three weeks now, so June 15 may come and go with me still lounging in Brixton.

What made me change my mind about working in foreign lands? Well, mostly it's that I know I want to work on more ceremonies, and I found out that lots of the good people I worked with on the London Games have moved on to Sochi, including some I worked very closely with.  And the money is really good, and it's only 9 months.  So why not?  Who knows when I'll be in a position to do this kind of thing again?  Right now I'm kind of "in the club" of ceremonies technical people, so I might as well stick with it while I can.

I'll try to keep blogging as long as possible, because I'm sure there will be a LOT to report on about living and working in Russia.  In the mean time, I'm filling my days waiting for visa paperwork, buying new luggage and trying to learn to speak, read, and write Russian, which is, err, freakin' hard.  I've been taking lessons from a lovely young Russian man who's one of those annoying people who collects languages like other people collect regrets: Russian, German, English, French, Mandarin...). I, meanwhile, am spending my days wandering the house muttering to myself in Russian, trying to remember that H is really N and P is really R and Я and Ж and Ф are something else altogether. Though I'm happy or report that I now know my ABVs. (Not a typo, the Russian alphabet is in a different order.  Of course.)

So stay tuned for the usual London stuff for a while, and then standby for a temporary re-branding of the blog, and the now-familiar long break in blogging leading up the the opening ceremony day on February 7, 2014.  And wish me luck!

*(For the less astute: pork pies rhymes with LIES.)


Donna said...

Congratulations on your new opportunity! Just a random fan from North Carolina here. Looking forward to hearing about Russia when you can post.

FLF said...

Best of luck Pam... wishing you were coming home to the Peg to have an occasion to try chocolate bacon again! Can't wait to hear about this next adventure.

Phonella said...

Absolutely too exciting Pam! Rebranding of the blog ??? :)) I wish you much good fortune in Russia and look forward to hearing all about your adventures there.

Anonymous said...

Congratulation - looking forward to what ever blogs you can write from Sochi. Visa waiting is a royal pain - I had to wait almost a month for one, and it was a very frustrating time - you are entirely at the mercy of a bureaucrat(s).

plasterers bristol said...

One of my favorites this, delicious, thanks for putting this up.


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