07 April 2012

on pie

Returning home seems to have imbued my posts with an awful lot of nauseating nostalgia this past month. I do apologise, and place the blame squarely at the feet of my extended family. It's been quite some time since I saw or spoke with them. Now that we're thoroughly reacquainted and secure in the knowledge that we definitely live in the same country again, we'll probably go back to completely ignoring each other.

But I'm not quite finished with the nostalgia. When I'm single parenting for a prolonged period of time, The Boss and I resort to nursery food. (By prolonged I mean, like, more than about three days. I know, not that long really except that it happens rather frequently.) Parenting without help, when you haven't washed your hair or heard adult conversation for days, is not an occasion for cuisine. Porridge, boiled eggs with soldiers, fish fingers with peas, cheese on toast, baked fruit with cream. You get the picture.

Which brings me to pie.

My brother and I were boarders at a prep school. (I know, I know, let's get the standard responses out of the way: how awful, cold showers, cross country runs, Latin, nits, psychological trauma - actually it was kind of marvellous and magical, sorry to disappoint.) It was quite a small school and we had a fabulous dinner lady who cooked amazing food, pretty much from scratch, three times daily. She had her seventh birthday during my time at that school, by virtue of having been born on the 29th February, making her about the most fascinating person we knew.

The favourite meal of every child without exception was a particular kind of pie, always dished out in dozens of large enamelware dishes - the white ones with a blue rim - on occasional (all-too-infrequent) weekend evenings.

Aping the research of all the most meticulous journalists, I did a cursory Google search earlier, and found that one former pupil has blogged about this precious delicacy already. Sort of. She's created her own vegan variation. Vegan. I mean each to their own, but some things are so fundamentally not vegan that having the gaul to publish this under the same sacred name... well, it takes some chutzpah. Probably borne of the knowledge that she'll outlive us all.

So, at risk of other schoolmates Googling the dish, finding my blog, identifying me and noticing that I'm crackers too, I'm not going to publish the name of the pie. (For some reason I just like being anonymous. Remember: boarding school, fragile psyche so go easy.) It does have a title, and if anyone can guess it I'll send you some vegan sausages as a prize. Let's face it, they'd survive the journey.

Prep school pie

     pork sausages (the fatter the better)
     baked beans
     well seasoned mashed potato
     grated cheddar (must be the orange-coloured stuff - not quite sure why)

1. While the peeled potatoes are boiling for the mash, grill the sausages but try not to let them get too crispy on the outside.

2. Once the sausages are done, chop into inch-long pieces and put them in the pie dish.
3. Pour over the baked beans (obviously the quantity of all the ingredients depends on the number of people you're feeding and the size of your pie dish).
4. Mash the potatoes with plenty of butter, milk, salt and pepper, and place on top of the pie filling, making sure you leave a nice rough surface - "plough" the top with a fork if necessary.
5. Sprinkle liberally with grated cheddar cheese and bake in the oven until the edges are singeing and the sauce is burbling up at the edges (approx 25 minutes in a medium oven - I can't be more specific because the thermostat's broken on mine).

This is school dinner nostalgia, so organic free-range haricot beans are simply not going to cut it in this recipe (something that my poor Mum must've secretly wept over when, after months apart, she would pour her heartbreak into a homemade recreation using the best possible Aberdeen Angus sausages, only for us to declare that we preferred the school version). Simple bangers, Heinz beans, tatties and orange cheese; that's all there is to it.

You might think, if you're not wise enough to keep your own counsel, that this is just sausages, beans and mash rearranged on a plate. You would of course be completely wrong, so many dishes are much, much more than the sum of their parts. There's evidence-based research to back that up... probably. (Nigella's Spaghetti with Marmite springs to mind) 

There is one detail missing in this lovely picture though. It would be much more authentic served in a blue and white enamel dish. I'll need to lust after these Falcon pie and bake sets with the subtlety of a charging elephant when the breadwinner gets home. There's got to be some reward for solo parenting through an entire rainy bank holiday weekend after all, and I'm pretty sure these would trump anything bought in a hurry at Schiphol airport.

Happy Easter peeps.


  1. I adore your writing style. You have taken my back to my school days although I must say we never had such lovely food so you should definitely count yourself lucky! The pie (all pies) are a treasure chest of joy! Have a wonderful Easter xx

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  3. Yum yum that pie looks fab! Something magical about being able to recreate childhood memories (and with heinz beans and orange cheese!) perfectly comforting. ps...Lakeland do enamel dishes too (cheaper but still great!)

    1. Aaah - I saw some in Lakeland the other day funnily enough! I was v.v. tempted as they were such a bargain, but think I'm going to hold out/save up - what can I say, I'm totally sucked in by the phrases "timeless elegance" and "design classic" : )

  4. I'm loving your work! Followed you from crafts from the cwtch (in a very stalkery manner) and have enjoyed reading all things knitting ( (that bluey yarn you're using for your shawl is stunning) and those blankets a few posts down are beautiful. I can't say I am much of a knitter, but then like you say, I'm a bit of a jack of all trades (you look like you're a master on the knitting front to me)) and food, the kids always went on about a similar dish in their school can tine, although it wasn't quite so hearty as yours looks and the school cook was pretty mean from what I remember.

    Loved the radiator story...little things eh!

  5. Inhaling deeply and salivating more than a little over these delectable treats.
    My only concern in making them would be the consequences of 'double baked' beans - I just know it wouldn't be pretty!

    Happy week my friend, you & your fragrant meal stand out from the 'hoi polloi' and bring more than a little sparkle to the world!

  6. WHy did I not see this???
    Looks delish, defintly try this one for sure.

  7. I loved reading about all that school dinner nostalgia. canteen food in singapore is very different, so I must say I grew up with a very different set of memories. most people seem to have grown up with quite yucky food, but I always quite liked my school's food (it gets worse as you get older though, but probably because you're so bored of eating the same dishes for years).

    1. Given the quality of preschool food, hospital food, shipyard food, pretty much ANY food in Singapore that I've tried, I'm not surprised you liked your school canteen Shu Han!

  8. Oooh - this is going on next week's meal plan. I can do this! If the rain keeps up, it will be perfect warming, comfort food.
    I love all enamel-ware. Reminds me of my Grandma.
    I loved school dinners too. And the food in Halls. And I like hospital food okay. I'm always grateful for food cooked for me. Has never crossed my mind to complain about a plate of food provided to me unless in a restaurant where I feel I have been diddled out of my hard earned cash.


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