Pork pies

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Preparation info

  • Difficulty

    Medium

  • For 6 pies, each serving

    1-2

    people

Appears in

Oats in the North, Wheat from the South: The history of British Baking, savoury and sweet

Oats in the North, Wheat from the South

By Regula Ysewijn

Published 2020

  • About

There is a town in the landlocked Midlands that is famous for its Pork pies. A blue commemorative plaque in Melton Mowbray celebrates Edward Adcock as the first baker to have produced the Melton Mowbray Pork pie, in 1831. Indeed, advertisements from the mid-19th century show that the Melton Mowbray Pork pie was by then considered a local speciality. The Melton Mowbray Pork pie is the only pie to have received a protected PGI status from the EU. The PGI statement explains that Pork pies became popular in the region after the Enclosure Acts turned traditional sheep farming into controlled cattle husbandry. The surplus cow’s milk was turned into another local product, Blue Stilton, and the whey, a by-product of cheese production, went to pig farms to be part of animal feed. With the arrival of fox hunting in the area and pig slaughtering coinciding with the hunting season, Pork pies formed the perfect seasonal food for the hunters, or most likely their servants, to carry with them on the hunt.

While Pork pies have not changed much in 200 years, quality did vary. There were times in Victorian London when there was a lot of talk in the streets about the dubious content of Pork pies. A penny dreadful by James Malcolm Rymer and Thomas Peckett Prest, The String of Pearls, is a story written in the 19th century about the dark, tormented barber Sweeney Todd and his henchman, Mrs Lovett, who turned Todd’s murdered customers into cheap meat pies.

Most butchers I talked to prefer pork shoulder with an addition of fat from the belly or back, and most use uncured pork. Some use a proportion of gammon or cured bacon to give a pinker colour to the filling. The meat for Melton Mowbray Pork pies should never be cured, but of course that’s up to you. A stiff jelly is made to pour into the cooled pie to fill the cavity between the meat and the crust. This originally served as a preservative, but it is not a must today as not all pie makers use it for their pies. Pork trotters are the best bones to use for jelly and they’re something you can buy cheaply at your butcher. The seasoning is simple: fresh sage, salt, pepper and often also nutmeg and mace.

Pork pies are usually eaten cold and are therefore a perfect pie for a picnic or lunch on the go. It is traditional to make this pie with hot water crust pastry, hand-raising it using a wooden pie dolly or pie block, giving it its slightly bow-walled shape when baked. Small Pork pies are most popular, but large Pork pies are also traditional, with stacked Pork pie wedding ‘cakes’ becoming a big hit with my friends at Bray’s Cottage, who make pork pies with pork fillings in all its possible guises. So please feel free to experiment after trying this traditional recipe.

Although Pork pies are eaten throughout the year, it is the tradition in many regions of England to eat Pork pies on Boxing Day. At some pie shops or butchers, such as Percy Turner’s in Barnsley, the queue can be as long or even longer as the queue for the latest culinary craze or smartphone in New York.

Ingredients

For the jelly (optional)

  • 1 pork trotter
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 carrot, chopped
  • 1 celery stalk, chopped
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 tbsp black peppercorns
  • ¼ tsp sea salt
  • 4 cups (1 litre) water

For the filling (in total 1680 g of meat)

  • 1 kg pork shoulder, finely chopped or roughly minced
  • 680 g pork belly, finely chopped or roughly minced
  • 4 tbsp fresh sage, minced
  • ½ tsp mace, ground
  • 2 tsp ground black pepper
  • 2 tsp sea salt

For the hot water crust

Method

Use a 7-8 cm (2¾-3 ¼ inch) diameter pie dolly or a jam jar or glass

If using the jelly

Make the jelly a day in advance by bringing all the ingredients to the boil in a large flameproof casserole dish. Skim off the impurities with a skimmer. Simmer the mixture for 2 hours over low heat until reduced by half. Strain the broth into a clean bowl and let it cool to form a jelly. The surplus jelly can be frozen and used in soups and sauces.

For the pies

Make the filling by mixing the pork with the sage, mace, pepper and salt. Place in the fridge while you make the pastry.

Follow the method for the Hot water crust pastry.

Divide the pastry into six pieces, about 150 g (5½ oz) each. Shape 110 g ( oz) of the pastry from each piece into a neat disc and let it cool for 10 minutes so that it is still pliable but not dried out enough to tear. This will ensure the pastry will release the pie dolly better. Do the same with the remaining pastry, which is for the pie lids.

Preheat your oven to 190°C (375°F) and line a baking tray with baking paper.

Roll the pork filling into balls, using 280 g (10 oz) for each one.

Place a pastry disc on a floured surface, press the bottom of a floured pie dolly or jam jar into the pastry and use your fingers to mould the dough around it, pushing it upwards with your fingers. Remove the mould and place a ball of meat inside the pastry crust. Roll out the lid so that it is a little larger than the pie. Make a small hole in the centre. Brush the edge of the crust with the egg wash and place the lid on top. Use your fingers to crimp the edges together. The pie will now look like an inverted top hat. Fold the edge with your thumb and finger to create a rim.

Place the pie on the baking tray and make the remaining pies. Generously brush the pies with the egg wash. Place in the middle of the oven, lower the temperature to 160°C (320°F) and bake the pies for 1 hour and 10-15 minutes. The pies are ready when the crust is golden brown and the internal temperature reaches 85°C (185°F) on a thermometer.

When the pies have cooled down, add the jelly if you are using it. Heat the jelly slightly until it becomes liquid, then pour it into the hole of the cold pie using a small funnel. Let the jelly set.

Pork pies are best eaten cold, with sharp mustard or pickles, maybe accompanied by a beer. You can keep these pies in the fridge for 3 days or freeze them. Thaw them in the refrigerator before using.