Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Pieminister: Where’s the Lard?

The cookbook under the Christmas tree for me this year was pieminister: a pie for all seasons (2011) by Tristan Hogg and Jon Simon, who started making pies together in the early 1990s. They opened the first Pieminister shop in Bristol in 2004. They also traded from a van at Glastonbury 2004, and their pies have been available at all good music festivals (e.g., Green Man) ever since.

The book is full of good pie-making ideas and, as the title suggests, is divided up seasonally. It starts with Spring, which includes Posh Paddy’s Pie, Homity Pie, Rhubard and Custard Pie, and St Valentine’s Day Pie. Summer includes Jerk Chicken Pie, The Screaming Desperado, Surfers’ Pie, Pietanic, and Courgette and Chickpea Filo Pie. Among the Autumn selection is Pulled Pork, Cider and Sage Pies, Pheasant and Bath Chaps Pie, Wabbit Roll, Chicken and Butternut Squash Curry Pie, and Blackberry and Apple Pie. Winter includes Stargazing Quail Pie, Rabbit and Chorizo Pork Pie, and The Hedonist Pie.

There is therefore a mix of everyday and more specialist pies. And it’s not just pies; there are recipes for a pan-fried breakfast, smoked aubergines and olive strudel, and other quirky inclusions. There is an appealing home-made, community-based ethos behind Pieminister. The book captures this through sections on foraging, seasonal vegetable patch gardening, music festivals, and throwing a street party.

However, you should not buy this book and expect to turn out pies that taste just like those from the Pieminister van. Firstly, these are not necessarily the commercial recipes. The recipe given for the Pieminister Moo Pie (on page 80), for instance, states: “Sorry, we can’t give the exact Pieminister recipe for this steak and ale favourite (it’s a closely guarded secret), so this one’s a slight variation.”

Secondly, there’s the pastry. The shortcrust pastry recipe in the book (page 10) is made using butter as the only fat source (as is the rough puff pastry). It’s very short, very rich, and not quite the texture or taste of a commercial pie.

Traditionally, shortcrust pie pastry has been made using lard. The recipe for shortcrust pastry in The Good Housekeeping Cookery Book (first published 1944; page 351), for example, specifies half lard and half margarine or butter, while lard is also included in recipes for flaky, flan and rough puff pastry. The book stresses that good results are achieved with a mixture of fats.

Delia Smith in her Complete Cookery Course (1978) uses half lard and half margarine in her basic shortcrust pastry recipe (page 548). She notes that half lard to butter or margarine mixes are easier to rub in and handle, and have the best texture and flavour.

However, in more-recent cookbooks you are much less likely to see lard listed as a pastry ingredient. Lard is just not fashionable. Natural fats have generally been unfairly maligned, and lard especially so (artificial trans fats and hydrogenated fats are another matter, and richly deserve their maligning).

One almost imagines a manuscript arriving at a publishers, with the first recipe calling for half a block or (god forbid) a tub of lard. Alarm bells ring in the poor editor’s head (lard=loss of sales!). The publisher promptly calls the food writer asking whether it’s possible to loose the lard, or maybe loose all that nasty fat altogether. The food writer insists that fat is essential to pastry making, but is talked into replacing the lard with butter or margarine (or anything with a better image than lard). I am not saying that this was the case during the making of this particular book (lard is listed as an ingredient in the hot water crust pastry and there’s plenty of sound pastry-making advice), but I suspect such considerations are a factor in the production of today’s glossy lifestyle, celebrity chef cookbooks.

Our initial experiences with the Pieminister cookbook suggest it may become one of the more well-used volumes in our kitchen library. The Fan-Taffy Pie (page 136) was a big hit with the guests we served it to over the Christmas period. The photo depicts our Leftovers Pie (note to self: don’t do half measures, make full pastry amounts!).

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