My ongoing quest to find traditional British food has lead me to a 14th century pork pie recipe in Dorothy Hartley’s Food in England;
‘Flea Pyg and cut him in pieces, season with pepper and salt, and nutmeg , and large mace and lay in your coffin good store of raisins and currans, and fill with sweet butter and close it and serve hot or cold’.
After consulting a few more recent recipes, I decided to give it a go. I made my ‘coffin’ out of hot-water pastry moulded around a jam jar. The filling is pork trimmings and smoked bacon from my local butcher. The jelly is made from trotters and ears boiled with carrot, celery, onion, peppercorns and sea salt. This concoction is boiled for three hours and then cooled overnight. The fat is skimmed off the top and it is boiled again, before being poured into the pie through a hole in the pastry lid.
Over the last few days the kitchen has filled with a catalogue of porky smells; from the foul steam pouring off a pan of simmering ears and trotters to the delightful aroma of hot-water pastry baked in a hot oven.
The famous Melton Mowbray pork pie is made using a pastry case that has been ‘raised up’ around a pie mould or jam jar, filled with seasoned pork and topped with a pastry lid. Like Westcountry Farmhouse Cheddar and Jersey Royal potatoes, The Melton Mowbray pie has had a Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) since 1993. Other pies make use of a band to prevent the bowing of the sides, or a pie tin with a removable bottom; some pies use minced, cured pork and different spices, but none of these pies can be called Melton Mowbray pies by European Law.
The Jelly ingredients
Jam jar and a ball of pastry dough
The pastry raised around the jar
Out comes the jar, in goes the pie filling
The lid is crimped, the foil belt fastened
The finished pies
After cooling on a rack, the pies are refrigerated to allow the jelly to set. They should be eaten at room temperature with chutney or piccalilli.
I find it Ironic that many of today’s meat eaters shun cuts like offal and trotters while scoffing processed meat products by the kilo. This is an unsustainable way of eating meat. Using the whole animal is the best way to respect a creature that has been sacrificed for our tables and cooking from scratch is the only way to respect our own bodies. I have decided recently to eat less meat, and when I do to seek out the most weird and wonderful cuts on offer in my local butcher. If I’m going to dine on pigs ears I at least want the bragging rights of knowingly doing so.
The lesson we need to learn from the horse meat scandal is not to tighten up regulations and increase spot checks, but to stop eating processed meat all together.