My poor Mum really went through it with me when I was a kid. I didn’t eat a great deal and was not interested in food at all. Now as an adult, I’m borderline obsessed with the stuff, how ironic! She tried various tricks to get some protein and vitamins into my measly diet – adding extra eggs to the cakes she baked, making me hot honey and milk to drink every day, anything she could think of.
Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t scarily underweight or unhealthy, I just had a kind of mental block when it came to eating. I was beyond fussy and for some reason I’d get half way through a meal and just suddenly decide that I was full and that was it, I’d struggle to eat any more. But there was one dish that my Mum made which I actually looked forward to and was able to eat a plateful without drama: Mum’s meat pie. This was one of my childhood food legends, so on my pilgrimage up North earlier this year, I asked my Mum to show me how to make it…
Firmly sticking to the ‘waste not want not’ principle that she was dragged up on (and in turn so was I, thankfully), Mum will add anything she has lying around which will work in the pie. She routes around in the fridge and after a thorough rinse under the tap, she slices half a leek into the pan with a ninja precision that would leave me covered in cuts and with fingers missing.
As children, me and my Sister we were taught good table manners, but we didn’t stand on ceremony. In our house, branded sauce bottles were allowed on the dinner table, whereas some people insist on decanting their condiments into fancy dishes with their own spoons. There are so many conventions like these that you pick up as a kid which are hard to shake in later life. How you hold your knife and fork is one, as is how you make a cup of tea (leave the tea bag in while you add milk or take it out first?). How you refer to certain meal time accompaniments is another. To us, ‘tomato sauce’ was ‘tomato sauce’ and not ‘ketchup’, but it was always Heinz and never a cheaper alternative. Yet we called ‘HP Sauce’ exactly that and not ‘brown sauce’. Why, I have no idea. The same applied to ‘Lea & Perrins’ instead of saying ‘Worcestershire sauce’, which was an essential in Mum’s kitchen cupboard – and is still now. A dash of this slightly strange concoction features in Mum’s meat pie, as it adds a salty, tangy flavour, she tells me, as she shakes the bottle vigorously into the pressure cooker.
As the mince and vegetable mixture is subjected to high pressure on the hob, Mum wastes no time in cracking on with the pastry. Despite my lack of culinary interest as a child, I did love watching Mum in the kitchen, although I think it was the baking that I was interested in, or more specifically eating the left-over cake mixture out of the bowl. One of my favourite ‘tools’ I remember Mum using was an old Robertson’s Golden Shred jar as her flour sprinkler. The jar had been thoroughly washed and dried, filled with flour and the metal lid had a series of holes punched in the top, making an excellent tool for scattering flour on the board.
As a working and busy Mum, moved fast in the kitchen and this is another trait which I’m glad to have inherited. Although I love to take my time over creating a culinary masterpiece when I can, I also have the ability to rustle up a tasty morsel in no time, which I think is a very useful skill to have. As Mum turns the pastry out onto the board, quick as a flash she has it kneaded into submission. She moves like lightning, turning and rolling the pastry until she has the right shape to line the pie dish.
The pressure cooker has now cooked the mince to within an inch of its life and is whistling a mandrake-like scream to let us know our filling is ready. Mum pours the mixture into the pastry-lined pie dish and that familiar smell brings all kinds of meal time childhood memories flooding back. According to Mum, the less handling the pastry has, the better and she gently folds over the pie lid, which she’s already slashed three vicious steam holes into.
Next she firmly presses her thumb all the way around the edge of the dish to seal the pastry layers together, making a pretty pattern in the process. A final trimming of the excess pastry finishes the job – Mum doesn’t bother with a milk or egg wash on top of the pie – this is traditional hearty home cooking done quickly.
At this point I am already salivating but I need just 30 minutes worth of patience while my childhood food legend cooks in the hot oven. When the pie emerges, it is a light golden brown with the steam arrows in the centre. My stomach growls and I feel that childish excited feeling of looking forward to my tea. I’m not really sure why this particular dish appealed to me so much more than other foods. Perhaps it was because I’d watched Mum create this, hanging around as a wee nipper watching her work her magic in the kitchen as she sung along to her favourite songs. Or maybe it’s the Wiganer in me that has always loved a good pie. Whatever the reason, I cannot wait to tuck in.
Served with vegetables and a generous dollop of mash, I can’t think of anything else I’d rather be eating. Of course I’d usually drown the plate in gravy but for the purposes of taking a good photo I held back from this ritual for a moment. Once the camera was away, the food hardly touched the sides and it tasted just as I’d remembered. The crunchy pastry melted in the mouth and the meat was well seasoned and moist. At once I was a nine-year-old again sat with my legs dangling off the kitchen stool, for once happy at the table because I know I’m going to finish my tea without a problem. Perhaps the meat pie was the start of my transformation from food-hater to food-lover. Whatever the case, on this Mother’s Day I think it’s more than appropriate to say….thanks Mum!