Few dishes link Britain so closely to its gastronomic past as the pork pie. Indeed it’s one of the rare everyday foodstuffs that would be instantly recognisable to our medieval forebears. Perfect for picnics but spectacular enough to form the centrepiece at a party — they were the Christmas Day breakfast of novelist DH Lawrence — a pork pie is a foodstuff for every occasion.
According to The Oxford Companion to Food, by Alan Davidson, the pork pie is a direct descendant of the medieval raised pie, or coffyn, in which a sturdy crust acted as packaging for something more delicate and valuable. One might send wild venison into town wrapped in pastry, for instance. The likes of veal and ham, or mixed game, are still popular in raised (i.e. freestanding) pies; chef Calum Franklin has recipes for everything from coronation chicken to mac and cheese raised pies in his book The Pie Room. Plain pork, however, is now by far the most common filling.
The Leicestershire town of Melton Mowbray has been known for its pork pies since the 1700s — a by-product of the local cheesemaking industry (stilton is produced nearby), whose surplus whey proved ideal for fattening pigs. The resulting pies were an easy packed lunch for labourers, and became more widely popular thanks to Melton’s position in prime fox-hunting country. Wealthy huntsmen took their taste for this handy horseback snack away with them, and bakers began to sell to London by stagecoach in 1831.
Melton Mowbray pork pies are now available in every major supermarket, and were awarded EU protected geographical indication status in 2009 — which later became a UK protected geographic origin mark — limiting their production to a fixed region around the town.
The most important element of a pork pie is the pastry, for it’s this robust casing that sets it apart from sausage rolls or hand-held, pasty-like pies. Rather than crumbly shortcrust or airy puff, it’s made from hot water crust pastry, a dense dough of flour, lard, salt and boiling water, thoroughly kneaded to develop the gluten and make it as strong as possible. Traditionally this was formed around a wooden ‘dolly’ mould and then baked without support, leading to a pie with the slightly bulging silhouette still found in the Melton Mowbray version, but others today are often packed into straight-sided tins instead.
Once upon a time such pies were probably a repository for more unusual parts of the pig, but these days they tend to be made with shoulder (as in Mark Hix’s recipe), belly (as preferred by the late Keith Floyd), or a mixture of both, minced — but not too finely. Because it contains fresh — rather than cured — meat, the inside of a Melton Mowbray pie is the grey of roast pork, rather than the
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Since its inception, Alpine’s vision has been and continues to be, to ensure students gain the specific skills, professional attitude, updated knowledge and practical experiences in the hospitality industry that employers want and need, now and in the future.
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