“We must have a pie. Stress cannot exist in the presence of a pie.”
― David Mamet, Boston Marriage
“Pie” means something quite different in Britain than in does in the US. Most pies Stateside are sweet concoctions of fruit and/or cream, trotted out typically in times of celebration. Pies over here are usually meat and vegetable dishes (mostly meat, let’s be honest) in some form of gravy or sauce, and totally wrapped in pastry. There are a few exceptions, such as mince pies which are small little bundles of goodness that have largely given up their meaty past, though there are a few holdouts scattered throughout the Isles.
I have nothing against meat pies, indeed I’ve inhaled not a few delicious ones in my time, but I’m afraid in this respect I will always be a Yank at heart.
My family has two pie recipes that are sacrosanct, an apple and a pumpkin. The pumpkin is the real treat and it is incredibly labor intensive, it takes months of preparation when you consider that the pumpkin puree is homemade. Courtesy of Halloween jack o’lanterns. However pumpkins never made it big here via the Columbian Exchange quite like turkeys and potatoes did. This fact, coupled with the reality that I have none of the equipment necessary to make it meant that Christmas Eve dinner this year was going to be an apple affair.
As it turns out this too was a labor of love that took two days start to finish.
I have to be blunt. British baking goods selections are dinky. Seriously small. Not just their packaging (which we’ve covered), but the actual space they take up on store shelves is tiny. Back in our old haunt the local grocery store had an entire aisle set aside for baking. Here at our nearest Tesco, we have three shelves that take up about a quarter of one side of an aisle. Finding what you need can be maddening.
I have theories about this, but my chief on is that like much of Europe, Britain has a larger number of bakeries and designated craftsmen who create their baked goods. Not that these don’t exist in America, but we also have a history of frontier dwelling which meant that for generations the well off might have a cook (and the extremely wealthy a French pastry chef), but most of us were responsible for providing our own treats and that sort of got into the culture. The French have boulangeries, the Brits have bakeshops, the Americans seem to do more DIY. Which I largely don’t mind, though I admit I do enjoy baking. And I use it constructively (I tend to make cookies when I’m angry or exceptionally bored, it’s probably kept me from using that energy less constructively. The results are pretty tasty too, rage cookies are the way to go, kids).
But I digress. Pie.
First I had to find a pie crust recipe that didn’t call for shortening (a heathen American device). I was fine with this because, butter. Then I whipped it up by hand because we have no kitchen equipment besides a mixing bowl that’s a third of the size of what we’re used to, before leaving it to chill in the fridge overnight. The next morning I rolled it out with a highball glass in lieu of a roller (see: lack of kitchen equipment).
Apple pie, no explanation required, right? Moving right along.
One of the (many) secret ingredients in this particular plate of mouth goodness is grated lemon peel. Which did not exist in that one quarter of an aisle space dedicated; believe me, I scoured that store. So I painstakingly shaved off paper thin slices of fresh lemon peel and chopped it to bits by hand. Do you know how long it takes to get a teaspoon of that stuff this way? A lot longer that I anticipated!
I admit until this point I was getting a bit stressed because we were attempting a lot of food for just two people, but in the words of Tevye, “TRADITION!”
Luckily after I tossed the seasoned and sugared mixture into that labor intensive crust, the grouchiness could simply no longer put up a fight. Even intense domestic irritation fades when confronted with this thing, it is that powerful.
We ate it for breakfast for days afterward. Regretting nothing.
Like I said, a bit of a labor of love. But in the end well worth it. However, I admit I will not be repeating this until next year, or unless I’m entertaining guests. Or until I get more and better kitchen equipment.