Thursday, 9 March 2017

London Pie - Sort Of

I was reminded of this dish while meandering along the back alleys of some old cookbooks. It's a variation on cottage pie and the most obvious difference is that you don't usually get fruit in a cottage pie. I don't know the exact history of this recipe but I'm sure that this pie was around in some form during the period of rationing after the war. At that time small amounts of meat were often mixed with any available veg and fruit to make it go further. I can remember eating something like it in the 1970s but it seemed to fade away around the end of that decade. Meat combined with fruit has a very long history in British food and is common enough now in more fashionable, imported dishes so I thought I'd try a personal London Pie revival.
London Pie
Less sweet varieties of apple are best for this recipe in my opinion and I've used both cooking and eating apples to give a contrast in texture. The sour quality of the apples is offset by the dried fruit and the sweetness in the topping. A pure potato top would be much more traditional but this variation is sweeter, lighter and adds a bit of colour. I've used types of dried fruit that I like and that I happened to have in the cupboard but other types would work just as well.

Of course, the flavourings I've used aren't typical of the 1950s, especially not the chilli sauce or the cumin, but they're what you might have lying around the place in these non-rationing days. Unless you really love chilli it's probably best to use a mild chilli sauce - I used one that I picked up in The Little Chilli Shop on Anglesey and that's well worth a visit if you're in the area. This will serve 2 pretty generously.
London Pie
1 onion, chopped
3 carrots, chopped into small dice
250 g lean minced beef
1 small cooking apple, peeled, cored and roughly chopped
1 small eating apple, peeled, cored and roughly chopped
2 tbsp sultanas
30 g dried pears, chopped
20 g dried apricots, chopped
1 tsp cumin
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
100 ml mild chilli sauce
1 tbsp sherry vinegar (optional)

For the topping:
     2 potatoes, medium or large
     350 g butternut squash flesh in chunks
     3 tbsp mango chutney
     A squeeze of lemon

Start the onion and carrot frying in a little oil then add a couple of tablespoons of water to the pan. Keep cooking until the water has evaporated then stir in the beef. Fry until coloured then add the apple, dried fruit, cumin, chilli sauce and Worcestershire sauce. Season with salt and pepper, add around 4 tablespoons of water (you need the dish to be nicely moist rather than swimming in water), cover the pan and cook gently for around 25 minutes. If your apples are not sharp then add the sherry vinegar. Remove the lid and continue cooking until any excess liquid has evaporated but the mixture is moist and all the ingredients are cooked through.

While the filling is cooking, prepare the topping. Peel and chop the potatoes and steam (or boil) along with the butternut squash. When they're both softened, drain thoroughly and mash. (I use a potato ricer because I find that it’s easier to get rid of any excess moisture that way but it's just a personal preference.) Once mashed to your liking, season with salt and pepper, stir in the mango chutney and the dash of lemon juice.

Place the filling in your chosen ovenproof dish and top with the mash. I prefer to leave the mash looking a little rough on the top. (You could dot with butter if you don’t mind the extra fat). If you want to make the dish in advance then you could chill it at this stage until ready to cook or, probably better still, chill the filling and topping separately.

Preheat the oven to 180ÂșC. Bake in the oven for around 30 minutes (you may need a little longer if the mixture is chilled) or until it’s thoroughly hot throughout and the top has a little bit of brown here and there. Personally, I don’t think you need anything with it, but a little green veg will give a nicely contrasting colour.

15 comments:

  1. Unusual recipe! The origins seem medieval to me; I can't imagine war-time cooks wasting fruit in a meat dish when, with the addition of some stale bread or whatever flour and fat was left from the rations, they could make a filling pudding. Maybe the clue is in the name though. Things were different in London! ;)

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    1. It does sound medieval, I agree. I don't remember rationing (I'm old but not quite that old) but I do know that two items that were relatively common in my area of south London in the late 40s and early 50s were apples and rabbit. I know that because many of my relatives and neighbours when I was little would avoid both of those foods whenever possible, either because they got so bored with them during rationing or because they just dredged up bad memories.

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    2. I had no idea: apples and rabbit.

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  2. I love this combo of sweet and savoury. Bring on the revivals - have you ever tried 'Invalid Pie'? Google it if not!

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    1. I hadn't come across Invalid Pie before, but I've Googled it now and I definitely fancy trying a generous portion.

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  3. Sounds quite delicious and on my to-do list. Thanks. Cheers Diane

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    1. Thank you Diane. It's worth a try and you can easily vary the ingredients according to what you have to hand.

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  4. Looks and sounds delicious. The first meat and fruit combos I had were the early home made curries and of course coronation chicken.
    Rationing was still in place when I was born although I don't remember it or any shortage of food. Although I think frugal cooking was the norm throughout my childhood, small amounts of meat supplemented but huge quantities of home grown veg. No wonder we were such a healthy lot!

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    1. You're absolutely right, small amounts of meat were always stretched as far as possible when I was young. Sadly we didn't have anywhere to grow veg but anything we could get that wasn't too expensive was added to leftover meat. I particularly remember lots of potatoes and runner beans.

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  5. An interesting pie; Like the combination of flavours and ingredients. I too was born when rationing was still in place, but like Jean, I don't remember there being any shortage of food at home. Having a farmer grandfather probably helped!

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    1. Being related to a farmer was probably a huge bonus at the time. I certainly don't remember ever going hungry as a kid, although I can't pretend that the quality or variety of food was always what we expect now.

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  6. I have the little WWII booklet of recipes, I'm dashing to bookshelf to find it (see you if I re-emerge) and I'll keep you posted.

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    1. The recipe might not be quite that old. In the last week I've been told that this dish was definitely invented in the 1950s, although I've yet to see any real evidence for that. It would be interesting to know if anyone's seen a recipe from earlier than the 1950s.

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  7. I checked, it's same same but different as the pre-50s involves mutton

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    1. Thanks for checking. I'm not too surprised that mutton was used. Personally, I'm sorry that mutton isn't easier to get hold of today. At least I can legitimately disagree with anyone who insists that this is a modern recipe.

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