Despite having been born in England, I had never tasted even a modest shop-bought pork pie, much less the festive Gala Pie. I had seen mention of these savory meat pies in books, had re-wound a few British television programs and films to catch a glimpse of one, but somehow, improbably, I hadn’t actually eaten one. As a girl who appreciates arcane, extravagant, and tasty pig parts, I’ve been planning on embarking on a pork pie adventure for a while now.
Around the time I was pondering this pastry-clad porky project, I also discovered journalist Tim Hayward, who writes about food for the Guardian, as well as publishing Fire & Knives, a food magazine that I’d really love to read. And at the Guardian web site, I found exactly what I was looking for: a beautifully photo-illustrated set of instructions on how to make a really special version of the pork pie, called a Gala Pie.
Skip ahead to September: my life is in turmoil, as it has been for a year or so now. Moving twice since March, with a third move planned for the end of December; a renovation project on the building I live in which has swung between nightmarish and exhausting; and for the second year in a row –enough farm and garden commitments to keep me from my favorite pastimes of fishing, fly-tying, kayaking, silver-smithing –namely: of anything that smelled even remotely like smelling the roses. The farm and garden overbooking is entirely my own responsibility, and I wonder if in fact I could have handled it better were it not for the renovation and moving madness. I do really love growing stuff.
Okay, enough grousing, on to the pie. I was determined to not be rushing trying to get in just under the wire for the Charcutepalooza part of the pie project, so I made plans to start the pie project on Saturday, and finish on Sunday morning, and then I’d take the pie out along with my excellent farmer goddess friend for an afternoon of mushroom hunting and pie eating. That would give me four whole days to put together a good account of the pie adventure. I’d be grateful for the extra time more than once!
Sunday night I made a nice savory pig’s foot jelly:
The pig’s feet, aromatics and herbs were kept at a bare simmer for around three hours, until the flesh was falling from the bone. After straining and cooling, I put the sticky fragrant liquor into the ‘fridge. One note: don’t be tempted to season (salt) your jelly until you’ve established that your piggy liquor will in fact stiffen into a proper wobbly jelly. I salted mine as I warmed it up just before use.
In the morning I started by making the forcemeat. I followed Tim’s recipe with a few tweaks; I ground all my spices fresh, and tossed in some dried sweet shishito peppers. They were right there next to the spice grinder and seemed a good idea, and I expect they did add a subtle sweet pepperiness. At the very least, the little red-orange flecks looked pretty in the finished product.
Where Tim ground half of his forcemeat blend and kept the other half as 1 centimeter dice, I blitzed three quarters of mine and left the rest as 3 centimeter dice. After blending the blitzed and diced meat well by hand, I set the forcemeat aside to assimilate all the spicy and salty goodness, and set about making the pie crust.
This was also my first time making hot water crust pastry. I used lard and bread flour (our strongest locally available flour), and it turned out pretty well. It wasn’t as smooth as I thought it might be, from looking at Tim’s photograph, but I was able to roll it out and line the pie dish satisfactorily. Speaking of the pie dish: I did try to find a pork pie dish (via FreeCycle), but got no bites, so using the measurements given in the recipe as a guide, I settled on a small springform pan: 7 inches by 3.5 inches; it worked great.
Once I had lined the pie dish, I put 3/4 of an inch of the forcemeat into the bottom. Then, and I’m sad to say that I didn’t remember to get a picture of this part, I nestled four peeled hard-boiled eggs atop the forcemeat, arranging them neatly so that they formed an eggy cross. Tim has a great picture of this accompanying his recipe. Oh, and don’t forget when you put the eggs in to make marks on your pie dish so you can cut the Gala Pie open to best effect!
I continued to carefully add more forcemeat, a spoonful at a time, keeping the eggs in their cruciform arrangement and lined up with their marks, and trying to keep from creating air pockets. Even with shaping a slight mound, I still had a bit of forcemeat leftover, which made a delicious brunch when fried for a few minutes on each side and accompanied by a fried egg and a slice of toast.
After rolling out the pastry lid, and brushing beaten egg around the periphery, I pressed it into place. I cut a hole in the center of the lid, then used a pair of scissors to trim the edges of the pastry seam, and then shaped a nice crimped edge with my fingers, and finally brushed it all over with beaten egg.
It was handsome, but I’d been dreaming of adding a bit of fancy to this pie, so I used the leftover scraps of pastry to shape some leaves, vines, and berries, which I affixed to the lid of the pie with extra beaten egg.
Oh, it’s already so fine!
I baked the pie in a 350° oven for 90 minutes, and it came out looking impossibly, deliciously beautiful:
By now it was early afternoon, and my mushroom-hunting plans involved a long drive, so I gave up my plans to finish the pie and take it with us. I set the pie to cool, and left for a deeply pleasurable meander in one of my favorite old woods with my farmer-goddess friend, and we found that the rain-washed forest was full of mushrooms. A beautiful pile of chanterelles, and a whole variety of boletes to spore-print and identify, and farmer-goddess found her very favorite prized chaga mushroom! A long, sweet drive home, and we agreed to meet for our Gala Pie picnic the next day.
By the time I got home, late, the pie had cooled completely, and it was time to unlatch the springform and look at the whole pie. I found that the crust inside the pan was still a bit pale, and so I put the naked pie in a very hot oven for around 20 minutes; this crisped and colored the crust nicely. I set the pie to cool again, and went to bed.
The next day was busy. Upon waking I heated up the pig’s foot jelly and found a small funnel, then carried out the painstaking last step of filling the gaps inside the pie with jelly. Into the ‘fridge to set, and the work day commenced. Once all the packing, chores, sundry appointments and such were finished, farmer-goddess arrived and we once again set off, this time with a picnic cooler full of savory porky extravagance along with some beers, pickles, mustard, and cider. And chocolate. And fruit.
One funny thing: before we headed to the spot I’d thought of for our picnic, I had a last appointment to see about temporary housing. Remember I said I need to move on the 27th of September? We got to the office of the woman in charge of these house rentals, and I had a great meeting with her. We discussed the particulars, exchanged contact information, and shook hands. I was leaving, and suddenly I turned back and asked her in a rush: “Wanna see my Gala Pie?” It’s a testament to what an excellent individual she is that she grinned and answered, “Yes!” So we went out and I showed her the pie all fine in the picnic cooler. She was really impressed, and I was beaming. Another round of hand-shaking, and the goddess and I were off.
While we hadn’t planned on more mushroom hunting, we found some really interesting specimens as we drove to the meadow where we’d be having our tailgate pie picnic, including one giant bolete, which I’m almost certain was a king bolete.
Turning down a dirt track and driving through a high meadow filled with a profusion of late summer wildflowers, lots of goldenrod, milkweed, and purple aster, we finally got to the perfect spot and set up our picnic on the tailgate of my truck.
Now came the moment I’d been looking most forward to, cutting into the pie. Would it look as splendid as I imagined? Would it be tasty? Would farmer goddess like it?
We were both on tenterhooks as I sliced, and when I pulled the pie apart we both made happy exclamations of amazement. Farmer goddess breathed, “Wow.” I was enthralled and giggling. I cut one of the halves in half again, and then cut one of the quarter pies in half again, giving each of us a slice.
The pig’s foot jelly sparkled in the late afternoon sun, and we each took a few of last year’s cornichons and some mustard.
We decided that next time we’d bring forks, but this time we just used a knife to cut each of our slice into bite-sized pieces, and our fingers. The sharp English mustard was my favorite, while farmer goddess preferred my own home-made Dijon with green peppercorns. Both of us agreed that the pickles were the perfect bright foil for this splendidly luxurious pie.
We kicked back for a little while, munching on grapes and chocolate, quietly marveling at the glory of the pie, as the full moon rose.