Pie-a-Day #13: Ernie Whalley’s Pork Pie

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Ernie Whalley is a food, wine and travel writer living in Dublin (hear him recently on Good Food). Ernie’s blog is Fork n’ Cork.

This is my own interpretation of an English traditional dish. The methodology and recipe is a cross between that of my mother, Doris Whalley and Jane Grigson (‘Charcuterie and French Pork Cookery’ is one of my all-time favourite cookbooks). The recipe is complex, takes considerable time and is definitely a labour of love which is why I only make this pie about every five years! Nor is it for the diet conscious. Lovers of lo-cal should avert their eyes.

In the north of England these pies are often known as ‘stand’ or ‘raised’ pies. A local nickname, from the Manchester area, for a smaller individual-sized pie is ‘a growler’. And of course the pork pie has also made it into rhyming slang parlance as in the phrase telling ‘pork pies’ or, more commonly, ‘porky pies’, i.e. ‘lies’.

Melton Mowbray is a small town in Leicestershire, England. It has strong culinary associations. Stilton cheese originated near Melton Mowbray, and is still made in the town today. Stilton cheese takes its name from the village of Stilton, 80 miles north of London, on the Great North Road. This was a staging post where the cheeses were offloaded by local deliverers for bulk transportation to London. No Stilton cheese was ever made there.

Although supermarkets routinely carry pork pies with the label ‘Melton Mowbray’, there is in fact a specific hand-raising process and recipe which marks a pie as a Melton Mowbray pork pie. On 4 April 2008 the European Union awarded the Melton Mowbray pork pie Protected Geographical Indication status, following representations from the Melton Mowbray Pork Pie Association. As a result of this ruling, only pies using uncured pork and made within a designated zone, are allowed to carry the Melton Mowbray name.

Melton Mowbray Pork pie

The phrase “painting the town red” is said to have originated in Melton Mowbray. In 1837, celebrating a good day’s hunting, the Marquess of Waterford and his friends, under the influence of alcohol, found several tins of red paint which they daubed liberally on to the buildings of the High Street. Were this to happen today and were the offenders inner city kids they’d have been sentenced to community service at the very least. I presume the Marquess and his mates got off scot free.

A hinged mould (mine came from my grannie) facilitates making this pie. Mine measures around 9 x 5.5 inches and is just over 4 inches deep. Otherwise, use a round or oval mould with parallel sides, like a deep Le Creuset dish of similar dimensions.

For the jelly

1,000g (approx) pork bones, plus a veal knuckle or a pig’s trotter.
1 medium sized carrot
1 onion, stick with 4 cloves
6 peppercorns,
Bouquet garni
Salt, pepper and lemon juice to season

The jelly can be made the night before if you wish and refreshed by re-heating it just to pouring consistency.

Put the ingredients (no salt) into a large pan, cover with water and a lid and bring to the boil. Simmer for 2-3 hours and strain. Return to stove and boil down to 500 ml. Season carefully with salt, pepper and lemon juice.

For the pastry crust

700g plain flour
1 level Tablespoon salt
2 level Tablespoon caster sugar
250g lard
Cold water

Sieve the dry ingredients into a large bowl. Make a well in the centre. In a saucepan dissolve the lard in hot water and pour the mixture into the well. Mix with a wooden spoon or electric whisk or combine in a mixer or food processor. Knead the warm dough until smooth. You need to be able to work it but it must not be so soft that it slides down the side of the mould.

For the pie filling

1 onion, chopped fine,
750g pork shoulder meat, coarsely chopped
250g pork sausage meat
200g chopped streaky bacon rashers (Melton Mowbray purists should omit – bacon is cured)
100g Leicester, Cheshire, Cheddar or Wensleydale cheese, broken into small chunks (optional)
1 Cox apple, peeled and finely chopped (optional)
2 Tablespoon fresh sage, chopped fine
1 tsp ground mace
100 ml English pale ale
1 large egg, beaten

Pre-heat the oven to 150 degrees C.

Cook the onion lightly in a little oil and reserve. Mix together the onion, pork shoulder, sausage meat, bacon, cheese and apple (optional), sage and mace and moisten with the ale. Season sparingly with salt and pepper.

Line the mould with the pastry, reserving about a quarter for the top. Spoon in the mixture until the case is filled about three-quarters of the way to the top. Roll out and cut a lid for the mould. Moisten the exposed edges, place the lid on top and crimp the sides to seal. Brush the top with the beaten egg. Lay 3 circles of baking paper on top of the pie and bake for 2 hours . Remove from oven and allow to cool for 2 hours. Cut a hole in the lid large enough to insert a small funnel and pour in the stock until it just starts to overflow. Place in refrigerator until set.

Remove carefully from mould and cut into wedges to serve.