Tag Archives: pie

Mum goes in pursuit of the perfect pork pie

My mum is a wonderful pastry cook. Her work colleagues request tins of cheese straws for office birthdays. For five years, on and off, she’d bring me sausage rolls wrapped in foil when she came to visit me at uni, and I would seduce my friends with them. She has no need of Delia, or scales. It’s all by eye, and her light pastry fingers.

Mum's sausage rolls


My mum also has a penchant for pork pies.

Now. A whole menagerie of beasts go by the name of ‘pork pie’. And a whole menagerie of people are closet – or not so closet – lovers of this most British of fat-laden snacks. My friend Rosie has organic veg boxes delivered and tends to cook light Mediterranean and Middle-Eastern food, all vegetables and spices and cous cous. But she loves pork pies, especially M&S mini ones.

My boyfriend, on the other hand, is more from the drink-mopping school of pork pie connoisseurs. He marches into Lidl in a hungover blur and demolishes the luminous pink 39p ones in about two bites. I can’t help but be tempted by the new breed of posh ones with stilton or onion chutney added, usually sold for about five times more than they’re worth.

Pork pie a la maman #1


Naturally, my mum has a different approach. She’s dallied with Dickinson & Morris – third in yesterday’s FT taste test – and had a long-distance unrequited affair with mail order Brays Cottage (they send them to you frozen, and all you have to do is bake them and add jelly). Recently, she’s turned to the warm embrace of pies from The Woodbridge Fine Food Company. And they’re good – very good. But even these, made from uncured meat, warm with pepper and rich with jelly, are never quite good enough.

So making a pork pie – a proper pork pie, peppery and coarse, with homemade jelly – has been her holy grail for years.

Three weeks ago, she finally did it. And yesterday, she made another one, the recipe tweaked a little. Both times, it was marvellous (unlike my photography):

Mum's pork pie #2


She used this tin from Lakeland, and followed the recipe inside, ditching the pork belly and bacon as too fatty and sticking just to pork shoulder. It’s a serious commitment, the making of a pork pie. You have to fiddle with hot water pastry and make sure there are no leaks, then cook the pie on a low setting for two hours. Then there’s the anxious wait until it’s cool enough – but not too cool – to add the jelly.

None of that fazed mum. Bias aside, her pie really was seriously good. The pastry was perfect, naturally, with that strange alchemy of crunch and clag you need in a pork pie. The meat was coarse but tender, peppery and soft, and the jelly – oh, the jelly. It’s always been my favourite bit, and I think a pork pie which is tight on the jelly is a thing of misery. But there was plenty in this, tasty and wholesome from homemade stock.

Mum's pork pie, angle #3


And what do you know, a few month’s ago my mum’s hero, Nigel Slater, made this one. Spot the difference? I can’t.

Next time she’s going to try chicken and ham. Maybe with a bit of stuffing. I can’t wait until Christmas.

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The nation’s favourite chef – why mums will always be the best

Nigella, Jamie, Delia – at one time or another they have all been declared as the nation’s favourite chef. But in reality, we have always had the same number one. Our mothers.

It doesn’t matter if their speciality is a painstakingly prepared roast dinner or the dubious “baked bean surprise”. There’s nothing as comforting or reassuring as your mum’s cooking.

Some of it lies in the food itself. Warm golden soup, magically produced from the remnants of yesterday’s chicken; miraculously crispy roast potatoes which you’ve never been able to match, even after years of experimenting with goose fat and dripping and olive oil; steak and kidney pies, oozing with gravy. And of course, the desserts, especially Victoria sponges, filled with jam and buttercream and covered in icing sugar, twice as high as you could ever hope to make them.

Mum's perfect chocolate cake

Yet delicious as they all are, much of it lies in the memories. I loved standing on tip toe waiting to lick cake mixture off the spoon, or donning an apron three sizes too big and being allowed to cut out biscuits, even if I never could do it as neatly as mum.

But until recently homemade food was looked down upon.  “Shop-bought” cakes were the pinnacle of respectability, and the rough edges of a homemade pie looked passe next to the perfect shape of a pre-packaged one. Now though, the twin forces of the credit crunch and a turkey-twizzler-wielding  Jamie Oliver are sending us scuttling back to our mothers’ neatly- typed recipes, and homecooking is suddenly in vogue.

Except it turns out all those hours spent eating cake mixture and cutting out biscuits may not have rubbed off on us as much as we’d hoped. We are struggling to make the leap back from pasta and pesto to steak and kidney pie.

According to a new survey, we are losing the basic skills integral to traditional homecooking. In the ‘70s, two-thirds of women could make gravy from scratch compared with one-third today, and half of them knew how to make shortcrust pastry without needing a recipe. It’s just 16 per cent now.

All this has the “shame on you” faction running for the burning torches. If the supper you’ve whipped up after a long day at work doesn’t simultaneously save money, the planet and your children’s health then you may as well hand in the Cath Kidston apron now. Sensible as a frugal, healthy and downright old-fashioned approach to food is, there’s nothing to gain from turning it into yet another stick with which to beat  already over-stretched mums.

With a full-time job and errant children, it’s hard enough to get something half-decent on the table without trying to perform lamb cawl and bara brith gymnastics. We should preserve the things our mothers taught us, but it’s unrealistic to pretend we can still do them every day. Better to save the Cath Kidston apron and the  weighing scales for weekends.

So, this Mother’s Day, rather than feel guilty for not being Delia as well as Karren Brady, go and take refuge in a slice of your mum’s cake. Or take her a slice of yours – but don’t beat yourself up if it’s only half the height