The 4 P’s of British Cooking: pies, pastry, potatoes & puds

This autumn is packed with “new” in my world; New job, new travels, friends. It will be a busy time but I’m really looking forward to it! I’m especially looking forward to heading to the USA in two weeks to drive from Austin, TX to New Orleans, LA to Gulfport, MS to Mobile, Al and then finally ending in Orlando, FL to spread Thanksgiving with my family. The Hubs is going to love it and I can’t wait to eat (and write about) all the great grub along the way. With all this change coming in the next few months, I’m still committed to not losing the momentum that I’ve built this past summer.

The changes that I’ve made in my life have made me a much happier person. I’ve curtailed my drinking and re-established my fitness. Sure, I’ll miss the days of liquor-fuelled spontaneous shenanigans but how many more do I really need? Let’s be honest, I’ve had a SOLID run. I’ve made room for writing and (I like to think that) my voice is more defined and entertaining.  I relish having the time and attention to focus on activities and skills that are genuinely more rewarding.

That being said, I’ve worked up a bit of a culinary curriculum for myself that will keep my skills paring-knife sharp and, hopefully, my new colleagues will enjoy. This autumn I have challenged myself to master (or, at least, attempt) the pillars of English cooking: Pies, Pastry, Potatoes & Puddings

Pies are a special thing in the UK indeed. Originally created as merely as an unappetizing flour, salt & water casing for Knights on the go, pies are as special as the regions and towns in which they hail. Unlike the USA, pies are almost always savory and there are numerous types of pastry that are each used in each type of pie. Speaking of a pastry….

I think that we can all agree that I am not much of a baker. Other than sweet shortcrust (even that I’d rather buy), my experience and knowledge of pastry in very limited. Britain has an array of pastries to grace its culinary classics: hot-water crust pastry, puff pastry, suet pastry, rough cut pastry. Sometimes a single pie will call for more than one pastry type!  Why? Because! That’s why!

Some pies and pastry are backed but some pies and steamed…and we enter the realm of puddings. I could (and probably will one day) write an entire article about the evolution of the word “pudding” as it relates to English colonization. But, for now, let’s just talk about the most traditional English pudding: the Christmas Pud. Made with a suet (yes, folks, that’s beef fat) batter, it is filled with spices and dried fruits (so fancy!) and then steamed into a very, very moist cake that is them drenched in hard liquor. Domed in shape because it is steamed on a crockery, it is practically mediaeval.  In fact, it may be mediaeval! I will openly say that I don’t understand the obsession that has caused this pudding to stand the test of time – other than it’s the same reason that pimento cheese and a J-ello mold with floating cottage cheese still grace our collective holiday tables.

I will take a moment to note that, technically, Yorkshire puddings, also fall into this category. Why and how two completely different items are both called puddings will have to be investigated but, as one of my favorites components of the British institution that is the “Sunday Roast”, it will be tried and it will be mentioned…right….here.

Finally, there is the humble but versatile potato. A global phenomenon, I noticed that, when I moved to the UK, my potato consumption went up tenfold. When I saw that an entire chapter of Jamie Oliver’s Christmas Cookbook was dedicated to spuds alone – my suspicions were confirmed! Brits love a potato and they know what to do with it! Most Brits wouldn’t consider a meal complete if potatoes aren’t represented. There were practically fisticuffs when I tried to insist to my friends that our London “Thanksgiving” needs to have mashed potatoes. Roast potatoes were what was served. And that’s ok! Any British cook worth their salt knows at least a dozen ways to prepare a potato and, as the chilly nights set in, I aim to also be one of them.

The Classic Pork Pie
Two Pies & a Pint!


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