Tag Archives: British cooking

Old English Fidget pie

So many old traditional British dishes have wonderfully quirky and obscure names and Fidget (Fitchet or Figet) pie is one of them. I’ve seen it called Shropshire Fidget pie, Cambridgeshire or even Huntingdon fidget pie but I believe its origins may date back to Anglo-saxon times. As for the name; it’s been suggested that it was given because of the way the ingredients ‘fidget’ about inside the pie.

Fidget pie is a traditional farmers pie which was most often made for the farms harvest workers. Its main characteristic is the marrying of pork, onion and apple and sometimes potato: Meat, two veg and fruit (dinner and pudding all in one go!). I’ve seen recipes that use minced pork, ham or gammon, but I used my favourite dry cure bacon which gave it a slightly salty, smoky flavour, counteracted beautifully by apples, cider and cream.

I love these simple hearty dishes (see the Orwell inspired essay in wrote back in March) many of which had until recently dropped out of favour. But now, as we return to our traditions and once again embrace the national dishes and that characterise our changing seasons. I reckon its time Fidget pie made a come back!

Another reason for my decision to include it on the menu of last weeks wedding was that I found a fantastic variation in a wonderful recipe book I was given last Christmas. Elizabeth Hodder’s The Book of Old Tarts (yes, ha, ha, a friend with a sense of humour!) has I’m ashamed to say sat disregarded on my book shelf for far too long, not because there is anything wrong with the  recipes, some of them look far too tempting, but primarily because my teen hates ‘Quiche’ and it’s not particularly good for the waistline.

I really love crisp, buttery well made pastry though and pies and Quiche really come into their own when cooking for a big function or large buffet. They are hearty and filling and when there is no skimping on the filling, are absolutely sublime.

The bride wasn’t totally convinced when I ran it by her, but in the end she let me go with it and I don’t think anyone was disappointed and the simple Fidget pie won the day. It brought the most compliments out of the three different Quiche I made with its  unexpected and strangely unusual taste (which sounds strange seeing as it is such an old and simple dish). I have to say though, full credit goes to the fantastic local produce that went into its making…..which included apples straight from my tree!

Fidget pies on the table at the wedding...the unexpected success of the weekend!

Figet Pie:

Pastry:

225g plain organic flour

1 pinch of Halen Mon sea salt

115g Calon Wen unsalted butter

a small amount of cold water.

Filling:

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 large red onions

225g smoked, dry cure bacon chopped

450g eating apples, peeled, cored and sliced

1 tablespoon sage and 1 of parsley

2 eggs

150ml double cream

150ml organic Welsh cider (Taffy apple I used)

a grate of nutmeg, salt and pepper

 

Rub butter into flour and salt until it resembles fine bread crumbs. Add water a trickle at a time until the dough comes together in a ball. Wrap in cling film and put in the fridge to rest for at least 15 minutes.

Cut the pastry into two pieces, one larger and one small. Roll out the larger part on a floured board and use to line a 23cm/9inch loose bottom flan tin. Prick the bottom and line with foil or greasproof paper and baking beans. Bake in the oven gas 6/200 degrees C for about 15 minutes then remove the foil/beans and bake for another 5 minutes until set and firm. This prevents your pie developing a soggy bottom.

Heat the oil in a pan and fry the finely chopped onion gently until softening. Add bacon and continue to cook for a another couple of minutes stirring occasionally.

Put a layer of apples in the pre-baked case, then top with half the bacon and onion mixture, half the fresh herbs and some salt, pepper and nutmeg.

Add another layer of apple, followed by bacon and seasoning.

Mix the eggs, cream and cider in a bowl season lightly and pour over the top.

Roll out the remaining pastry to make a lid. Dampen the edges of the case and pinch the top and bottom together to seal. Make a couple of slits in the top and brush with some extra beaten egg. Bake in the oven for about 15 minutes, then turn the heat down to 180 degree C/gas 4 and cook for a further 35 minutes until golden brown.

You can serve this as a dinner pie with potatoes, vegetables and gravy or cold with coleslaw and chutney as part of a picnic…or buffet.

 

 

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Food the British Way

George Orwell once wrote “It will be seen that we [the British] have no cause to be ashamed of our cooking” *, but it seems to have taken about 50 years for us to actually realise this.

Over the past five to ten years Brits have started to realise that the produce on their own doorstep and the recipe books lining their shelves, passed down from parents and grandparents, (Mrs. Beeton, Good housekeeping etc) are just as good (if not better) than those in the ‘exotic’ cook books that stand next to them. Orwell decried the demise of good old British cooking when rationing was still in operation. He stated that as a country we did ourselves no favours with our lack of decent eateries serving traditional British food, but this was in the post-war era when Britain’s were becoming upwardly mobile and aspiring new and greater things.

The cold austerity of rationing was followed by a desire for the new and exotic. For the moneyed set, it was the French restaurant, offering ‘class and sophistication’, while the less well off, but similarly experimental, sought out the new influx of Greek, Chinese and Italian restaurants that were popping up on the High Street corners of our major cities, offering cosy niches and a taste of warmer climes.

Meanwhile, Orwell craved kippers, yorkshire pudding, muffins and crumpets, treacle tarts, Oxford marmalade and a variety of very traditional pickles and preserves.

British food hadn’t exactly disappeared, it was simply hidden behind closed doors, replaced on the high street by the new and exciting. British traditional food became the preserve of the poor working classes, while those that could afford it were looking for a new trend. Additionally the post-war period saw the American influence leave its mark in the form of fast food; burgers, milkshakes and fries hit the streets and so saw the dawning of a fast food generation.

Now as the young affluent middle classes begin to return to their roots, have children and hanker after the home comforts of their own childhood, there is a rediscovery of British traditions and a recognition that buying local and cooking fresh seasonal produce is better for  the pocket as well as the planet. It is a choice based on conscience as well as necessity in the current economic climate.

We are seeing more people choosing to eat ‘Modern British’, more restaurants fusing traditional dishes with diverse elements from other cultures, more growing our own produce and a greater celebration of what Britain has to offer.

This essay by Orwell was a major inspiration to me as I returned to cooking traditional British food, although like any cook I still love top experiment and make dishes from across the world. Over the years I have collected quite a few cookery books and plenty have simple British recipes much used in my kitchen.  My favourites are Hugh FW, Nigel Slater, Gordon Ramsey and of course Nigella’s cakes.  Two of my favourite books (which will be used for two very British secret suppers) are not by any well-known chefs but are simple reflections of British fare. The 1980’s book The Taste of Britain by Kim and Marc Millon, bought for me years ago by my rather eccentric uncle and Eating for Victory a stocking present from my hubby. A tongue in cheek gift due our skintness at the time and my assertion that we did actually live on war-time rations!! The former has been well used and I just love looking over the 80’s pictures and modifying some of the recipes for fantastically named dishes such as Tweed Kettle, Cruibins, London Particular, Bubble and squeak, Toad in the hole, Star gazey pie, Kentish Huffkins and my favourite Angels on Horseback. I’m sure there will be similar experiments with the latter when I get a minute.

Loving the pink 80's get up and budgie smugglers

All this reflection is down to the fact that I’m cooking for the new series of Britain’s Best Dish and of course having a show that celebrates British food is another testament to the Brits return to celebrating their own. As far as I’m concerned there’s no better British Dish than trifle and I hope my Scottish variation, Tipsy Laird, comes up trumps! It uses the best of my own local produce and fuses Scottish, Welsh and English elements…can’t get more traditional than that eh?

* George Orwell Shooting an Elephant and other essays (2003) Penguin Books

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