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Christopher Greaves

Pie Pastry

My mother wasn’t stupid; she was quite intelligent. It’s just that she didn’t get a Math’s degree at university. Her mother likewise wasn’t stupid. My mother was a good cook because her mother was a good cook, and so taught my mother, who practiced cooking for the rest of her life. My mother would have taught me more about cooking had I not have to live away from home for my high school and university years. That is part of the price we pay for a degree in mathematics.

I remember being sent at age nine, into the garden to pick a bowl of gooseberries, or raspberries, or redcurrants or ... for the fruit pie at lunchtime. I remember the fat/sugar/salt of the Steak-And-Kidney pies on sale at the high-school tuck-shop and at Assize-Rules football matches.

My theory is that if I can recreate those fruit and meat pies, I will be nine years old again with my whole life stretching in front of me.

Ingredients: cooking margarine (or butter, or table margarine, or oil or ...), all-purpose flour (or cake and pastry flour of bread flour or ...), salt, egg, water.

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I have taken to buying cartons of cooking margarine; the cartons make ideal shelters for the test-tube vermicomposters I make from blown lamp-bulbs, but that’s another story.

I take a cake of cooking margarine – half a cup, a.k.a. 125 ml.

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I easily unwrap the chilled cake and drop it into my metal bread-mixer bowl and leave it there overnight to warm up to room temperature – nice and soft.

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I take an egg. This photo will serve to remind you what an egg looks like.

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I was all out of general-purpose flour but had lots of cake-and-pastry flour, so I used my plastic ½-cup measure to lift out (unsifted) three measures, a.k.a. 1½ cups flour.

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This is what a teaspoon of salt looks like. Salt is almost prohibitively expensive here in Toronto, but I have found a Harvey’s hamburger chain outlet on Yonge Street just north of St Clair Avenue that has a fantastic deal on salt: For about two dollars (cheap Canadian dollars!) they will allow you to carry away as much salt as you feel you can reasonably pack into your pocket AND they throw in a carton of fries that are, IMHO, the best fries anywhere on Yonge Street.

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The next morning I toss in the egg, add the flour and salt, and set the bread-mixer to work. Yes. I rose at four a.m. this morning.

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I add two to four dessert-spoons of water – one spoon at a time – just enough to make a soft dough the consistency of plasticine when you’ve been playing with it for an hour and it has turned a purplish-grey.

The pastry is of a consistency that suggests it will be dead-easy to roll out as thin as you want it to be.

Most pastry recipes say to refrigerate the stuff, so I lid the tub, pop it in the ‘fridge, and wander off to free lunchtime concerts, libraries and so on.

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Later in the day I extract the tub and sit it, lidded, on the counter to reach room temperature.

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With the pastry ball almost back to its original plastic consistency, I roll out a small handful, using my wine-bottle rolling-pin (SUFE!) and make use of a rigid Perspex lid as a six-inch diameter cutter.

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The circle of pastry is significantly wider than my aluminium pie dishes.

Look closely at the leading edge of the disk of pastry and you will see that it is quite thick. My pastry had not arrived at room temperature and so was still stiff to roll. I would have done better to let it warm for another three hours.

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I drape the disk over the pie pan and try to eliminate folds and pleats on the vertical walls.

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I generally have bowls of filling in the fridge. This filling is lean ground beef boiled gently to drive off the fat (separated to line my loaf tins), a ball of frozen peas and corn that I couldn’t be bothered separating, fried onions, herbs and spices, boiled up and then cooled and chilled.

Oh yes! I have also taken to adding a spoonful of corn flour to thicken up the mass. I figure that a jellied-consistency is best when eating a cold meat pie on a picnic.

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I roll another palm of pastry ...

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... and drape it over the filled bowl. But not before first wetting well all around the rim made by the lower pastry. Wet pastry makes a good bond.

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The back edge of a knife shears away the excess pastry. How well I remember watching grandma do this. From an awkward mass of raw stuff came an ever-so-neat pie!

In the photo the wetted lower rim and the new upper sheet appear to be well-bonded.

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I used to think that the forked grooves were an effete touch, but today I see that pressing the tines into the rim helps to make an effective seal of the two layers.

The point of the knife makes two vent holes.

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The scraps and edges of pastry go back into the pastry tub. When I mix up my next batch of pastry I shall toss these scraps into the mixer for the last minute or so of stirring.

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So!

Into the oven at 375º or so for forty minutes. Or so.

We see a teensy-tiny bit of leaked filling on the right-hand side of this photo.

The oven was not so hot as to cause the filling to spew out of the steam vents.

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And here is the pie shed of its plate.

It can exist as a stand-alone food; there is no need for me to lug an aluminium plate out to Peterborough and back.

The aluminium plate is re-usable.

I popped the pie into one of those resalable bags they give away with every half-pound of pitted dates (“I’ll pit my dates against your prunes any day”) and into the freezer it goes.

Should be OK in the freezer until spring gets here.

And you know that you can substitute any filling you want, including dry meat fillings (like a Cornish pasty) or fruit fillings (apples by the bag are unusually cheap) and I don’t see why not a rice-and-fried-onion filling.

Knock yourself out!


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Toronto, Friday, December 30, 2016 12:44 PM

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