The pies have it

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Raised game pies, by Emily Ar­buth­nott

There is no dis­cernible au­thor­ship for the say­ing “easy as pie”. Per­haps the au­thor would have been bolder in seek­ing credit had the phrase ended with “eat­ing” or “mak­ing, on your third at­tempt”. As a na­tion of pie scoffers how many of us ac­tu­ally make and bake them, pas­try et al? Up un­til re­cently, I didn’t. even if I may have given the im­pres­sion I did. For what feels like a life­time of cook­ing shoot lunches, I have hap­pily sweated chicken and leek and snugly sealed it within ready-made puff pas­try. With­out a pi­quant of re­morse I would em­bel­lish my pie lid with a pas­try pea­cock’s head of the fam­ily crest, hop­ing 800 years of fam­ily his­tory would ce­ment the il­lu­sion of au­then­tic­ity. Af­ter all, Mary Berry en­dorses ready-made puff and Jus-rol spon­sor Bri­tish Pie Week.

Then The Great Bri­tish Bake Off aired. The chal­lenge was raised Game Pie. As the cred­its rolled, three feral faces and a black labrador gazed up­wards and sug­gested I en­ter. With clammy hands, I si­lently com­mit­ted my­self to the chal­lenge of mak­ing one. From scratch.

A raised game pie is the pin­na­cle of pie mak­ing: an ar­ray of game en­tombed in hot­wa­ter-crust pas­try, which traps all the savoury meat juices with­out be­com­ing soggy. This type of pas­try de­scends from the me­dieval “cof­fer” paste that was used to en­case and pro­tect meat while it cooked. The pas­try is shaped by hand while warm, the tech­nique known as “hand raised” – hence raised pies. It is ex­cel­lent for cre­at­ing or­nate dec­o­ra­tions and us­ing with in­tri­cate pie moulds. The em­bel­lish­ment and de­tail had be­come de rigueur by the late 1700s. even when the Napoleonic block­ades of Bri­tish ports re­sulted in a flour famine, there was na­tional de­mand for Josiah Wedg­wood’s ceramic oval dishes re­sem­bling highly dec­o­rated pie crust. By the Vic­to­rian age, raised

A raised game pie – your choice of game in a hot-wa­ter crust – is the epit­ome of pie mak­ing, says Emily Ar­buth­nott, but re­quires pa­tience

game pies came in all shapes and sizes. At Hatfield House, a multi-lay­ered raised game pie was cre­ated for Queen Vic­to­ria and Prince Al­bert in the shape of a corset, no less. Genevieve Tay­lor re­cently quadru­pled the recipe from her book Pie! for a scene in the tele­vi­sion series Poldark. She says, “I used an oval bak­ing dish that I lined with card three times as tall. I lined the card with foil and bak­ing pa­per. Ev­ery­one loved it. The cast and crew sav­aged it af­ter film­ing.” Even Ai­dan Turner.

As Mary Berry says, “these pies are worth mak­ing an ef­fort for”. And so an ef­fort I made. My first at­tempts were dis­as­ters. I be­gan to fear that re­ver­ber­at­ing bone-han­dled knives, stuck like Ex­cal­iber in the cen­tre, would be a re­cur­rent sit­u­a­tion. I dreaded the ini­tial si­lence fol­lowed by a ca­coph­ony of com­pen­sa­tion. “Oh, how clever of you to use squir­rel” or just “Mmm”, be­cause they were un­able to move their jaws. Then the jokes started: “Any­one have a chain­saw li­cence?”; “The best thing in this pie is our teeth.” Boom. Boom.

Fi­nally, I found Mary Berry’s recipe and made a raised game pie that was rel­ished. Suc­cess with pie mak­ing rests with the recipe. Con­fi­dence, pa­tience and re­mem­ber­ing to keep the pas­try warm are vi­tal. An­other top tip I have learned is to make the fill­ing the day be­fore the pie is as­sem­bled and baked and then, once the pie is cooked, re­frig­er­ate overnight be­fore eat­ing.

Tra­di­tion­ally, the bones from the meat would be sim­mered in wa­ter and flavour­ings, strained and cooled to pro­duce a savoury jelly. This as­pic or, as a vari­ant, gela­tine is usu­ally added to raised pies to fill the gap be­tween the meat and the pas­try walls. As­pic fills all the air holes and holds the pie to­gether when cut. It also helps to pre­serve the pie.

Vin­tage and Vic­to­rian pie tins can be found on ebay, while Lake­land and John Lewis sell new ver­sions of clas­sic moulds and AGA pro­duces a 2kg tin. Berry sug­gests us­ing a spring­form cake tin, Tay­lor uses an enamel dish and Sarah Raven ad­vo­cates a loaf tin that makes the per­fect shaped raised game pie to take on pic­nics, walked-up shoots or to the river­bank.

The game used varies from recipe to recipe. Al­le­gra Mcevedy uses duck; Berry’s favourite meats are pheas­ant, veni­son, ba­con and chicken; Anna Burges-lums­den favours rab­bit; Sarah Raven pi­geon; and Frances Bis­sell squir­rel. As Tim Mad­dams, au­thor of Game: River Cot­tage Hand­book, points out, “the value of game meat over other forms of meat is in the flavour and, of course, in the price. The rich, savoury flavour of the game meat adds an extra di­men­sion no mat­ter what fash­ion the pie takes.”

Clas­si­cally, there are four types of pas­try used in pie bak­ing: puff; short­crust; hot-wa­ter crust; and suet. Berry rec­om­mends “hot-wa­ter crust for a cold game pie and puff pas­try for a hot game pie”.

Pie-mak­ing is ad­dic­tive. I now of­ten make ex­tras to freeze. The recipes given here are for pies that have been tried, tested and whole­heart­edly con­sumed. They are all slightly dif­fer­ent: Berry’s in­cludes chicken; Tay­lor adds madeira to the jelly; the judges’ recipe from Great Bri­tish Bake Off uses minced pork belly to keep the pie moist; Raven sweet­ens hers with dried apri­cots and cran­ber­ries; and the veni­son pie from award-win­ning, Devon-based Tom’s Pies is for the fill­ing only leav­ing the choice of case and/or top­ping to the cook. Oth­ers to try in­clude Burges-lums­den’s sub­lime recipe for a pie with a puff pas­try top or, to avoid pas­try al­to­gether, Mad­dams’ Game­keeper’s Pie with its potato top­ping (go to www. the­field.co.uk for more game pie recipes). Fi­nally, for those times when a meat pie is re­quired out of game sea­son and the freezer is bare, try Berry’s steak and ale pie. As Mad­dams says, “there is cer­tainly some­thing very sat­is­fy­ing about a pie – and very Bri­tish, too”.

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