Wednesday, April 26, 2017


I thought you might enjoy seeing some more pie imagery.  The two below were served at Hardwick Hall a few years back.

The received wisdom is that British pies are chiefly savory, American pies chiefly sweet – after all, the lad in the movie does not insert his business in among the steak and kidney.

But the rules are blurred.  Of course the British eat sweet pies, apple pies, mince pies, and here’s a rhubarb pie I made earlier (it isn’t the greatest looking pie in the world but it tasted just fine, trust me:

Meanwhile in the USA, you can get a chicken pot pie just about anywhere, and even apparently turkey pies, though I can’t say I’ve ever eaten one.

In any case it seems that this sweet/savory dichotomy is a comparatively recent development.  Modern British and modern American food have evolved from a common ancestor.   American food has become ever less like its old fashioned British counterpart, which it once resembled.  This may be because of jingoism but I think it’s more likely to be because a very different set of immigrants has settled in each country.  I think you’ll have to go a very way in the States to find a curry pie.

But back in the day there was far more of this kind of thing in America:

Interesting too to see that this one is made with canned stew – that was how my mother made her pies back in Yorkshire.

And digging around online I found this extraordinary ad – pizza in the shape of a "real" pie.  

It also once raises the question of whether pineapple belongs with pizza.  You and I, of course, think it doesn’t.  Some, evidently, take a different view.

Meanwhile the British pie continues to mutate.  I suspect the pork pie party may be gone forever, alas:

But Wall’s are – or were – offering, the pepperoni pizza slice which seems to be some kind of missing link between pies and pizzas, without resembling (or improving on) either.  An evolutionary dead end, I'd say.  And I’m not sure whether to be comforted or not by the fact that it’s a "limited edition,"  I mean, please, really.

And finally here’s The Fairy’s Pie or “All the Goodies in One Bite,” an advertising postcard for T. E. Dougherty’s New England Condensed Mince Meat Company, circa 1894.  A sweet pie, no doubt, but one containing beef and suet.  Fusion, yeah?

Friday, April 21, 2017


Who ate all the pies? Well it wasn’t me, not all of them, but I did my best when I was in England.  At the Founder’s Arms on the Thames, within site of St Paul’s and the Tate Modern, I went for Founder's Ploughman's Board.  It looked like this.

“Cropwell stilton, mature cheddar cheese, ham hock terrine, caramelized onions, gammon ham, hand raised pork pie, branston pickle, sourdough, gherkins,” it said on the menu, and it was all true.

Then I went to the Puckeridge Point to Point at Horseheath in Essex (yes, really),
where I had a couple of pies from the stall belonging to The Cheese and Pie Man.  They have a motto: “A pie is for Christmas not for life and a pie a day makes the day go quicker.”

The one on the left is duck and orange, and the one on the right is – wait for it - pork and black pudding.  Have mercy, Mr. Pie Man.

Pies have been on my mind partly because I’ve been reading Alexander Theroux’s forthcoming book Einstein’s Beets: An Examination of Food Phobias – 800 or so pages, exploding with the curiosities of gastronomy and it contains this description of Dr. Johnson’s eating style,
“Whenever he was so fortunate as to have near him a hare that had been kept too long, or a meat pie made with rancid butter, he gorged himself with such violence that his veins swelled and the moisture broke out on his forehead.” No sign of this below:

Theroux quotes this from the Encyclopedia Britannica.  I think it’s originally from Macaulay’s Life of Johnson, but I don’t know where he got the information, not by observation, since he wasn’t born until some years after Johnson’s death.

Boswell doesn’t appear to be the source, though he does report Johnson as saying,  “I generally have a meat pie on Sunday: it is baked at a public oven, which is very properly allowed, because one man can attend it; and thus the advantage is obtained of not keeping servants from church to dress dinners,”

And then, in Manningtree, at a restaurant named Lucca, in fact on a Sunday, I had this calzone:

 I think a calzone is a pie by any other name. True it’s made with pizza dough rather than pastry, but then again pizzas are sometimes called pies which has always seemed misleading to me, and in any case the end result is still an edible container for whatever filling the chef decides on.  This was a Calzone di Mare:
         “Tomato, fior di latte mozzarella, calamari, clams, prawns, mussels, garlic, chill,” it says on the menu.
Boswell tells us that Johnson always ate fish with his fingers, because I am short-sighted and afraid of bones.I think he’d have been OK with the boneless Calzone de Mare.  I think his veins would have been standing right out, I think the moisture would have been on his forehead.

Monday, April 17, 2017


So what have I learned since my last post about the colorlessness or otherwise of gin?
Well, a fair bit.

Darian Af, who according to my Facebook friend Jonathan Taylor “makes gins various,” says " true gin isn't an infusion, it's a distillate. That means that whatever botanicals you want in your final product are added to a spirit and then the whole thing is distilled: it is brought to a high enough temperature that it begins to evaporate, then the vapor is collected and condensed back into liquid. So only the compounds that are volatile enough to evaporate (things like essential oils and alcohol) end up in the final product. Those compounds tend to be clear, though there may well be cases where some distillate has a color to it. I can't think of one offhand, though." 

All that seems fair enough, and yes, I suppose I did know that “true gin” was a distillate, I just that less scrupulous gin makers might shove in some artificial (or even real) flavoring after the fact. So apparently not, or at least only of the colorless variety.

I also learned, and I’m not sure that I did know this, that whisky is clear when it’s distilled, before it goes into the barrel, and it’s the wood that gives it its color.

As for the yellowness of Ogden Nash’s martini, Darian quotes from the blessed Lowell Edmunds’s, Martini, Straight Up: The Classic American Cocktail: “The vermouth was probably what always made Martinis yellow or amber up until some point in perhaps the late 1930s, when dry vermouth became clear."

So, no argument with that.

I also, serendipitously, came across this in a catalogue issued by my one-time employer, Bertram Rota Limited, a promotional item from Gordon’s Gin:

And who knew that Gordon’s produced Orange, and Lemon Gin? Well, a great many people, no doubt.

Also for sale at Rota's, probably sold by now, this wonderful little item:

Catalogue info as follows:
"30. Carter (John). The Dry Martini. Illustration. Reprinted from Flash in the Pan by Ernestine Carter, 1963. First Separate Edition. One of 200 copies, on yellow paper. Stiff wrappers with printed label. Fine copy. Presentation Copy, inscribed by the author on the printed label to Bertram Rota and with an autograph correction. £120."

I have to admit I haven’t read the book, but John Carter is quoted here and there on the subject.  He’s also supposed to have been a friend of Ian Fleming and his prescriptions for martini making are even more rigorous than Bond’s.  Carter writes:
          “Five or ten minutes before you want to mix cocktails, fill your jug at least three-quarters with ice, and put a piece or two of ice in each glass. This gives you a running start on temperature. Then pare a very thin slice of lemon rind for each drink. When you are ready for action, pour off the water which will have melted in the jug and pour in gin and vermouth, in the proportion of four to one. Do not be ashamed to measure (only veterans can safely pour by eye). Mix enough for one round only. And remember to allow 10 per cent in winter and 20 per cent in summer for ice-dilution. Stir briskly until the outside of the jug freezes your hand -- 20 seconds should do, but it may take 40 in warm weather. Empty the ice from the glasses back into the bucket, shaking out the last drop of water. Pour out the cocktails. Twist a piece of lemon-rind over each, which sprays a dash of the oil onto the surface of the martini. And serve. No olive, no onion, no nonsense. Just the best drink of its kind in the world.”