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TND – Ploughman’s Dinner

November 2, 2012

Continuing on my recent theme of childhood nostalgia, or possibly by eager anticipation of being in London this year for Christmas, this is a meal brought to you by a trip my parents and I took around England when I was about nine. I can’t remember why we were there, or where else we must have gone in Europe on that vacation (on our way back from Hong Kong? I have no idea – Dad?). I do remember an endless stream of pub lunches eaten out on the patio because I was too young to be allowed in the pub room, and pint glasses of cold spicy ginger beer (non-alcoholic). I remember the chalk horse at Uffington,  the Iron Age earth works at Maiden Castle, the standing stones at Stone Henge (building a henge are we?), and wandering across the moors collecting tufts of wool left by wandering sheep (because I was the kind of kid who collected tufts of wool in the hopes of being able to card them and learn to spin them into wool – yes, I read entirely too much historical fiction as a child).

I was also a child whose literary vice of choice was obscure British children’s books. There was no particular unifying theme to those books – some were fantasy (E. Nesbit & Susan Cooper), some were historical (Rosemary Sutcliffe), some were all about learning how to sail and eat pemmican (which sounded far more appealing before I discovered I get sea sick and what pemmican actually is – Arthur Ransome).

What they did, however, all have in common were the descriptions of the food. I can almost taste the slab of bread warm from the oven slathered in butter and jam that Titty is given in Swallowdale. Endless watchings and readings of the James Herriot novels introduced me to the perilous timing of a Yorkshire Pudding, and the appeal of a slab of cold meat pie and cheese on a windy day (after one has, of course, delivered a calf in a frozen wind blasted field and washed ones hands with icy water).

Oddly enough the year I spent in Edinburgh did not involve many ploughman’s lunches. It did involve a lot of good beer, and haggis with neeps and tatties at the Last Drop, and chips with brown sauce at Pasquales (best chips in Edinburgh), and at least one deep fried mars bar (because you have to if you’re there). It involved a lot of roasted red pepper soup and double chocolate muffins at the Metropole Café, and chicken tikka sandwiches at a restaurant on Buccleuch Street which appears to no longer exist, and late night kebabs with yogurt and chili sauce. There were snacks of sausage rolls, and sampling the myriad of chocolate bars, and introduced me to Hob Nobs to go with tea. The year in Edinburgh also involved a lot of afternoons at the National Portrait Gallery, and trips to York and Inverness and Durham, just in case you thought all I did for the year was eat.

This winter’s trip to London will probably also involve a lot of good pub lunches, afternoon tea, a lot of museums, a little theater and concerts, and, if I can talk my parents into it, some inventive modern Indian cuisine (although given that I’ve already talked my mother into experimental modern ballet, and both my parents into an exhibit of ballgowns at the V&A I’m not sure how far I can push my luck). In both a salute to the memory of that first trip to England, and in eager anticipation of the next trip, I give you a mostly authentic Ploughman’s Lunch (or, well, Dinner in this case).

Pork Pie
Cheddar Cheese / Cranberry Wensleydale
Earl Grey Dried Cherry Mustard
Branston Pickle
Apples/Pears/Radishes
Bread
Salad

Pumpkin Ale (because I wanted some and needed an excuse to open a 24 oz bottle)
Apple Ginger Hard Cider (the apple seems a little redundant in the name, are there other kinds of cider?)

Pork Pie
(serves many many people – okay, realistically about 12-16)

This is not particularly difficult, but it is time consuming. It is a multi-day effort, but none of the component parts are very taxing, and it looks incredibly impressive when you serve it.

Just to note (because three separate people have now asked me this), I did not actually go out and buy a pig shaped cookie cutter to decorate the top of this pie. I already, serendipitously, owned a pig shaped cookie cutter and could think of no better time to use it. Although, I am a little unclear as to why I own a pig shaped cookie cutter.

Crust
4 cups flour
6 Tbsp butter
6 Tbsp Crisco/lard
½ cup milk
½ cup water
1 tsp salt
1 egg, beaten (+ 1 egg for egg wash)

Combine butter, lard, milk and water in a saucepan and heat until the fats melt.

Sift together the flour and salt. Make a well in the center and mix in the beaten egg so that it is half mixed into the flour. Pour in the melted fat mixture and mix together to form a soft dough. Add additional water if necessary. Wrap and chill at least 1 hour, or overnight.

I’ll warn you, this is not a light flaky dough that will shatter into ethereal shards when you cut into it. That’s fine, it’s not a sweet pie dough; it’s a dough that has to stand up to 2 hours of baking, meat juices and several cups of stock without burning, breaking or getting soggy. It is sturdy and should be rolled fairly thick.  This is also not a situation in which you can cheat and take the easy way out with a frozen  pie crust – you need the really sturdy dough to withstand the filling + the cooking time.  upside, this is a really forgiving dough, so even if you hate making/rolling out pie dough as much as I do this still isn’t that onerous.

Filling
½ lb sausage meat
1 lb ham steak, cut into cubes
1 lb pork shoulder, cut into ¾”cubes
1-2 apples, peeled & diced
(optional) Handful (1/3 cup?) of dried fruit, roughly chopped (I used cherries)
¾ tsp black pepper
¾ tsp salt
¼ tsp allspice
Fresh thyme/sage, minced
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce

Mix all together and set aside.

Stock
2 cups good chicken stock
2 envelopes gelatin

Sprinkle gelatin over 1 cup of cold stock and allow to hydrate. Warm the remaining 1 cup of stock and then add the cold stock/gelatin mixture to it. Make sure that all the gelatin is dissolved and combined. Allow to cool slightly – it should be warm, but not boiling (i.e. you should be able to stick your finger into it comfortably).

Alternatively, you could make your own pork stock from pig trotters, but the chicken stock method is a lot faster and there’s only so far I’m willing to go in search of authenticity (and finding pork trotters and making pork stock is a line I’m perfectly willing not to cross).

Assembly
Roll out ¾ of the dough to form a 14” circle. Press into the bottom & up sides of an 8” spring form pan (or an 8×8 pan lined in both directions with parchment paper – less for sticking dangers and more so that you can lift the pie out later – also, if you’re using an 8×8 pan roll the dough into a square shape rather than a circle). Roll out remaining ¼ of dough and reserve to form lid of pie.

Spoon the filling into the pie shell and pack down loosely. Cover with pastry lid and seal edges with some beaten egg. Cut a 1/3” circle in the top of the pie for venting. Use any extra dough you have leftover to decorate the top of the pie.

Bake in a 350 oven for 30 minutes, then lower temperature to 325 and bake for another 60-75 minutes. Remove the pie from the oven, carefully release the sides of the spring form pan (or carefully lift out of 8×8 pan using the parchment sling) and brush the top & sides of the pie with the remaining beaten egg and return to the oven for 15 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown. Remove from oven and allow to cool slightly.

When pie is still warm but no longer piping hot, carefully pour in the warmed stock through the steam vent cut into the top of the pie until the pie is full and stock is just starting to come out of the top, tilting the pie to make sure you’ve gotten stock into all the nooks & crannies. You may not need all the stock – I used about 1 ½ cups). Cool to room temperature and then refrigerate overnight. Allow to come to room temperature before serving.

Earl Grey Dried Cherry Mustard
(makes 2+ cups)

Really any mustard would do, but I was looking for an excuse to make this. It will taste very sharp when you first taste it, but it (a) mellows a little as it sits in the fridge; and (b) won’t be as sharp when you eat it with something rather than just off the spoon.

2 Tbsp earl grey tea
2 cups boiling water
2 cups dried sour cherries
¼ cup Dijon mustard
¼ cup coarse grain mustard
¼ cup dried mustard powder
Splash of a mild vinegar (white wine/fruit)
Salt/honey, to taste

Steep tea for 5 minutes, strain and discard leaves.  Add dried cherries and steep for 5-10 minutes to soften.  Add mustards and mustard powder.  Blend until pureed. Adjust seasonings to taste.

Cheddar Cheeese / Cranberry Wensleydale
The cheddar cheese is the traditional component of a ploughman’s lunch, and I did in fact select a British Cheddar cheese (as opposed to Wisconsin or Vermont, or even (heaven’s forefend) an Irish Cheddar).

Wensleydale is also a traditional British Cheese (as amply demonstrated by Wallace & Gromit – http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0112691/quotes), but the cranberries are a deeply unorthodox American addition to the experience. However, when you live in New England you’ll find that many things come with cranberries added to the mix, and well, I quite like it.

Branston Pickle
I have absolutely no idea what’s in Branston Pickle*, which is more like a chutney than a pickle anyway. It comes in a jar, and no ploughman’s lunch would be complete without it. I did not attempt to mess with perfection. And it really is perfection with a nice piece of sharp cheddar cheese; those Brits are on to something.

* Having said that, we did look at the ingredient list on the jar after Dinner and it turns out it’s a mixture of swede (side note – I would not recognize a whole swede if it came up and hit me on the head), carrots, onions, apples, and gherkins pickled in a tomato vinegar sauce. So there you go.

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