Stew with a lid

You are here for deprogramming. Everything you thought you knew about pies is wrong. Listen to me – listen carefully: even if it has no pastry base, it is still a pie.

You might have a preference for a pie with a pastry base.

That might be how your Mum made pies, or how the speciality pie of your hometown is made.

But none of that means ‘stew with a lid’ is anything other than a legitimate pie.

Ah, ‘stew with a lid’ or ‘casserole with lid’ – one of those off-the-peg witticisms that’s been bludgeoned to death through repetition in the past decade.

I can’t work out where it originated but as with ‘Never drink in a pub with a flat roof’ I’d guess it was with a comedian on a panel show, or in an observational stand-up act.

Unfortunately, as well as becoming a tired gag, it’s also become the basis of a kind of only-half-joking dogma. ‘That’s not a pie LOL!’ the fanatics say on Twitter and Facebook, giving both barrels to TV chefs who fail to comply with standards of correctness.

In 2017, TV cook Mary Berry made a potato, cheese and leek pie on her programme Mary Berry Everyday. Instead of lining the pie dish with pastry, she put the filling directly into the dish, then put a strip of pastry around the rim to which she fixed the soon-to-be pie-crust before baking.

People, as they saying goes, ‘took to Twitter’ to berate the then 81-year-old.

Twitter screengrab: "That's not a pie".

After all, what does Mary Berry know about baking?

The tone is often one of weariness with what our society has become, the coming of the baseless pie yet another symptom of the decay of moral standards. ‘Since when…’ these complaints sometimes begin.

I’ve even come across one chap who seems to think PIE is an abbreviation for ‘product is encased’ and that this concludes the debate. (See also: port out, starboard home.)

The thing is, all these people are just wrong. It’s not a matter of opinion – they are simply incorrect.

Look at any historic British cookbook and you’ll find numerous recipes for pies with pastry bases and pies without.

Jane Grigson’s English Food, first published in 1974, collects regional recipes from family cookbooks and obscure volumes. It gives us several baseless ‘stew with a lid’ pies including rabbit pie, Cornish charter pie based on an 1883 recipe, chicken and leek pie from Wales and Dartmouth pie from an 1880s recipe.

Nell Heaton’s similar compendium of Traditional Recipes of the British Isles from 1951 – a by-product of the Festival of Britain – has, for example, Shropshire pie:

For the filling use young rabbit and far pork seasoned with pepper, salt and sweet herbs. Add a grating of nutmeg, the chopped liver of rabbits, chopped onion and apple and a few currants. Add 1 pint broth, then cover with pastry made with 2 lb flour, 1.5 lb butter or lard or mixed, the yolks of 3 eggs and a little water to make a fairly stiff paste. Bake in a quick oven for one and a half hours.

And Mrs Beeton, for goodness sake, has this:

Beeton pie recipe with no base.

I think a few things have caused this weird dogmatising of the definition.

First, there’s a reaction against mass catering. When I was a teenage chain pub waiter, I saw at unfortunate close hand how ‘our delicious homemade steak-and-kidney pie with rich gravy’ came into being.

  • Heat plastic pouch of pre-cooked brown goop.
  • Snip corner and squeeze it into the pie dish.
  • Take pastry toupee from warming shelf and plonk on top.
  • Serve.

Look back at Berry, Grigson, Heaton and Beeton – pastry base or not, pie tops and filling are cooked together. The filling flavours the pastry which helps to cook the filling by, uh, acting as a lid under which it can stew.

The problem with the mass-catering pie of the 1990s was that it didn’t feel like a complete dish. The cut corners were all too visible. The stew and the lid were not as one.

Secondly, as regional variations have disappeared and home-cooking has dwindled, the meaning of pie has narrowed.

For many people, it has become only the enclosed handful in a tinfoil tray you get at the chippy or at a football match, or that you find floating in gravy on a sturdy pie-and-mash-shop plate.

Those can be great – at their best, a wonder of mass production, integrated and satisfying, magically portable – but they’re only one take.

If you want to play the game of industrial vs. artisanal (maybe you don’t – who has the energy?) then a baseless pie, cooked at family size and dished up with a serving spoon around the dining table, is arguably more authentic.

Finally, I think there might be a north v. south thing going on.

Of Grigson’s pie recipes, those with a base tend to be northern, such as Cheshire pork and apple pie and Westmorland lamb pie.

Elisabeth Orsini’s 1981 The Book of Pies seems to back this theory up: for example, Leicestershire pork pie has a pastry base, Devonshire pork pie doesn’t.

Pies are complicated, they contain multitudes –  multitudes stewed beneath pastry lids.

News, nuggets and longreads 10 August 2019: sexism, shandy, Smithwick’s

Here’s everything that grabbed our attention in beer and pubs in the past week, from the Great British Beer Festival to comedians in pubs getting bladdered.

Undoubtedly the biggest story of the week, making it into multiple newspapers and even on to breakfast TV, was the fact that this year’s Great British Beer Festival was decisively, convincingly welcoming to women. Here’s how Rebecca Smithers reported it for the Guardian:

Drinks that have fallen victim to crude stereotyping – such as Slack Alice, a cider described as “a little tart” and pump clips featuring scantily-clad buxom women – have been banned from this week’s event at London’s Olympia which is set to attract tens of thousands of visitors… The blanket ban goes a step further than a new code of conduct launched by the campaign group last year… All 1,000-plus beers, ciders and perries available at the festival have been checked to ensure they adhere to Camra’s charter and strict code of conduct, which sets out its commitment to inclusivity and diversity.

This seems to chime with the experience of women who were actually at the festival, such as beer industry veteran Rowan Molyneux (who also happens to be in the photo at the top of the Guardian article).She had this to say on her blog:

From the start, there was a general feeling that this year was going to be different. The news that beers in keykeg would be present seems to have piqued people’s interest, for one thing. It signalled that CAMRA was taking a step into the modern world, and that mood carried throughout the rest of the festival. Take this year’s charity of choice, for example. I never thought I would see Great British Beer Festival attendees being able to donate to Stonewall and wearing stickers that state “Some people are trans. Get over it!”

Melissa Cole also seems to have been won over:

This all sounds pretty good to us, goes far beyond the tokenism and half-hearted gestures of the past, and sets up CAMRA well for the future.


Kilkenny

Liam at BeerFoodTravel has put together a comprehensive set of notes on pre-20th century brewing in Kilkenny, Ireland. A dogged and detail-focused scholar, we always enjoy reading the fruits of his research, especially when he’s battling to bring down bullshit brewery backstories:

The early brewing history of Ireland is often quite murky, and trying to pinpoint the exact position of breweries and the brewers that operated in any give location is quite a tricky job until we get to the era of commercial directories, better record keeping, accurate maps and archived content of newspapers. Even after that point the history and development of breweries is difficult to track, especially beyond The Pale. Kilkenny’s brewing history is similar in one way but somewhat different in another, as much of that history is difficult to clearly see due to being muddied by decades of marketing spiel which has been repeated and reprinted over the years.


Beautiful beer glass.

Jeff Alworth challenges an often-repeated assertion in a piece entitled ‘Are Pilsners really the hardest beers to make?

The difficulty of a pilsner is its simplicity, but the difficulty of a good IPA is its complexity. Brewers must harmonize much stronger flavors, and this presents its own challenge. Figuring out how the hops will harmonize, when there are dozens of hop varieties available that can be used in thousands of combinations, and jillions (technical term) of combinations when you consider all the opportunities during the brewing process to add these thousands of combinations of hop varieties… The idea that other beers are “easier” to make is refuted by all the mediocre examples out there. How many crap IPAs have you had? Is the batting average for excellent IPAs any better than excellent pilsners? Not in my experience.


'Ginger Beer Makers and Mush Fakers', 1877.

Mark Dredge has both a new website and a new book on the way, on the history and culture of lager. As a side investigation, he’s been looking into the history of shandy, or shandygaff, with reference to primary archive sources:

[The] first mention for lager and lemonade that I’ve found… [is] from 1870. It comes from the Spanish city of Seville [and was reported in] Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer. It’s interesting to me that there was a lager brewer in Seville in 1870 – that’s early for lager’s spread into Spain. I also like that it was served with a ladle. I’d like a shandy ladle.


Louis Barfe

If you want something to listen to as opposed to read, there’s this by historian of light entertainment Louis Barfe for BBC Radio 4 on the connections between drinking and comedy.


Finally, the usual mischief from Thornbridge’s in-house provocateur:


For more links and good reading check out Stan Hieronymus on Mondays and Alan McLeod on Thursdays.

Brewing in Georgian Bristol: smells and cellars

When I’m not obsessing over beer I sometimes obsess over architecture which is why I’ve been reading Walter Ison’s The Buildings of Georgian Bristol.

It was first published in 1952 and revised for a second edition in 1978. It mostly comprises fairly dry research into buildings and street layouts – who designed or built what with reference to original contracts, whether the pediment is segmental or not, and so on – but you won’t be surprised to learn that there are a couple mentions of brewing that leapt out.

The first is with reference to Queen Square, which you can see from Small Bar on King Street, to give a beer geek friendly reference point. Originally marshland, it was divided up into plots from 1699 and built up between 1700 and 1718. It had a dual carriageway running through the middle for most of the 20th century but is these days once again a peaceful public space.

Ison quotes from the city records for 1699 which include the terms of what we would now call planning permission for the first house on Queen Square:

[No] Tenement [is] to be lett out to any sort of Tenants particularly no Smiths Shopp Brewhouse nor to any Tallow-Chandler or to any other Tradesmen who by noyse danger of ffire or ill smells shall disturbe or annoy any of the Inhabitants who shall build neer it…

This was a classy development for well-to-do folk and it wouldn’t do for it to pong or otherwise exhibit evidence of people working. These days in Bristol, breweries tend to be on industrial estates – the logical conclusion of this kind of zoning regulation.

The second reference comes in a description of the development of Portland Square from 1788. Here, Ison quotes for a sale notice for the middle house on the south side of the square from 1812:

[The house contains] three arched under-ground cellars, a servants’ hall, housekeeper’s room, back-kitchen, larder, brew-house, and other offices…

A brewhouse is an interesting addition to a large, fashionable house as late as the early 19th century. Other houses nearby seem to have had wine cellars rather the brewing facilities, at least according to Ison’s notes, so the owner of this one was clearly one of us.

But who did the brewing? What did they brew? Where would we even start looking to find out?

Main image: detail of ‘The Mansion House at the corner of Queen Square looking along Queen Charlotte Street’, Samuel Jackson, 1824, via Watercolour World/Bristol Museums.

A Nice Cold Pint at the Winchester

“Take car. Go to mum’s. Kill Phil, grab Liz, go to The Winchester, have a nice cold pint, and wait for all of this to blow over. How’s that for a slice of fried gold?”

The above line in Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg’s 2004 zombie comedy Shaun of the Dead, accompanied by a cartoonish wink and the raising of a pint of lager by Pegg, spawned a meme and summarises a whole (pointedly flawed) philosophy of life.

Shaun of the Dead is one of the all-time great pub films. Few others feature a pub so prominently as both a location and in dialogue; hardly any make a pub so pivotal to the plot. Shaun’s attitude to the pub, to this particular pub, defines his entire personality and directs the course of his relationships.

It has an added resonance for me in that, for several years in my own flat-sharing twenties, I lived around the corner from The Winchester.

And, to be clear, I don’t mean that I lived near a pub that was like The Winchester: the actual pub you actually see in the actual film was about four minutes walk from my house in New Cross, South London.

It was called the Duke of Albany and I never went in.

Why? I was too scared.

I was, in general, fairly brave, regularly drinking in several pubs near my house that others might have balked at – the kind of down-at-heel, last-legs places where it was a choice of Foster’s or Stella, and everything was ripped, stained, broken, or had initials carved into it.

The Duke of Albany always seemed next level scary, though, perhaps because it was a Big Millwall Pub. Or maybe because it was on a backstreet rather than the main road – the only street, in fact, where anyone has ever tried to mug me. I have a faint memory of there always being dogs outside and I don’t mean 10/10 floofy internet doggos – real face-chewers. You couldn’t see in, either, which meant walking through the door would have been a pure gamble.

And that fortress character is, of course, exactly why Shaun chooses it as his base for the zombie apocalypse.

The pub In Shaun of the Dead, though it is The Duke of Albany, isn’t the Duke of Albany. It represents every decent but unpretentious, tatty but not grotty, functional neighbourhood pub in London.

As such, it is lovingly, carefully depicted, Edgar Wright’s hyperactive camera swooping in on resonant details: a cowboy boot tapping a brass rail, the fireworks of the fruit machine, textured wallpaper varnished with nicotine, and frosted glass that speaks of privacy and mischief. TV screens, flaming sambucas, glasses that only just barely look clean…

It’s an attempt to depict a real backstreet, outer-rim London pub, not the romantic Olde Inne of popular imagination. An ideal, sure, but not a fantasy.

It picks up on threads laid down in Spaced, the cult TV show that launched the careers of Jessica Hynes, Simon Pegg, Edgar Wright and Nick Frost. One episode in particular, ‘Back’, the opening to series two from 2001, features a Matrix-like fight sequence in a very real-looking, unglamorous pub.

You might discern a progression, in fact. In Spaced, about post-adolescence, pubs are important, but just part of the mix alongside nightclubs, raves and house parties. By Shaun of the Dead, with characters staring down the barrel of 30, pubs have become the default, with fancy restaurants and dinner parties the threatened next step. And in The World’s End, pubs have definitely become a problem, something to be shaken off with maturity.

Simon Pegg has said as much outright, in fact, acknowledging last summer that he had stopped drinking, and describing The World’s End as a way of admitting his problem with alcohol.

Re-watching Shaun of the Dead recently both Jess and I were struck by the extent to which the specific pub culture depicted has already begun to fade out of existence. The portrayal of a lock-in, for example, gave us a rush of nostalgia for the world of drawn curtains, low muttering and conspiratorial glee.

The Duke of Albany closed a few years after the film came out and is now flats. When I visited New Cross last year I found that other similarly rough-and-ready pubs had also disappeared, either re-purposed, demolished or gentrified into something fundamentally different.

The Windsor had some of the old Winchester atmosphere, though, with chat about pool cues being broken over people’s heads (‘Don’t Stop Me Now’) and elderly drinkers whose faces told stories.

But would I hole up there during the end of the world? No chance. After all, man cannot survive on scratchings and Extra Cold Guinness alone.

Out of the loop

A milk carton of IPA.

I ended up sat in Bottles & Books on my own on Friday night, hovering around the edge of a conversation about beer that made me feel totally ignorant and out of touch.

Bottles & Books is our local craft beer phantasmagorium, with fridges full of cans, a wall of bottles, and a few taps of draught beer served by the third and two-thirds measure.

On Friday, the discussion turned to IPA, and it was when I heard this sentence that I knew I was out of my depth:

Brut IPA died a death fairly quickly, didn’t it? And NEIPA just tastes a bit… old fashioned. It’s all about the Hudson Valley style now.

Hudson Valley? Is that a region? Yes, but it’s also a brewery, as profiled in this article, which has a headline apparently designed to annoy conservative beer geeks who already think brewing has been fatally compromised by the amateur tendency:

Hudson Valley Brewery Makes Beer Based on Instinct, not Instructions

Sour IPA is, I gather, the long and short of it, and sure enough, when Jess and I went to the Left Handed Giant taproom yesterday, there was one on the menu.

We gave up trying to stay on top of trends years ago but there was something intoxicating about all this new information, all the names and details, that made me think… Should we try?

The odd educational eavesdropping session probably wouldn’t do us any harm, at least.