The pies have it
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”.