My idea of a magic weekend is exploring the countryside and stopping for a picnic beside a river, on a beach or a mountain trail - providing, of course, the day is warm and sunny.
Savoury pies make great picnic fare and are one of the most popular family-friendly foods.
It is believed that pies were developed as soon as stone age men discovered they could grind cereals to make a flour. Galettes - discs of pastry - were wrapped around honey.
The Romans made pies containing curd, probably the precursor to the cheesecake.
The Egyptians were fond of very large pies . There is reference from Abd el-Latif, a physician, to one such 12th-century pie that contained three lambs stuffed with a mixture of fried minced meat, many spices and herbs, plus 20 chickens and 50 smaller birds.
Pies today can be large or tiny, with double crusts (two-crust pies), or a single crust either on top or below the filling.
Flaky, puff and short pastries are usual for pie crusts, but many things can be substituted, including bread and mashed potatoes, and the dish is still called "pie".
Short pastry is easy to make at home. The secret is to keep everything cool and don't over-blend as it will become tough. And too much water will make the pastry hard.
I make my short pastry in the food processor using short sharp bursts. It can also be made by rubbing the butter into the flour with your finger tips.
Do allow the pastry to rest before lining a pie pan.
Some cooks like to add a half teaspoon of baking powder to two cups of flour when making short pastry - the raising agent expands the dough and joins any cracks that may occur.
Carry your pie to your picnic in the container in which it was baked. Wrap it in a clean tea towel and tie a knot at the top to make for easy carrying.
GREEN EGGS & HAM PICNIC PIE
You need about 375g short pastry. This pie is cooked in a cake pan.
Rich Short Pastry:
2 cups plain flour
125g butter, coarsely chopped
1 egg yolk (use the white in the filling)
tsp lemon juice
1-2 Tbsp ice-cold water
2 cups frozen peas
9 eggs + the leftover white
cup each: milk or cream, finely chopped parsley
salt and pepper to taste
200g ham off the bone, diced
1 small onion, diced To make the pastry, place the flour, salt and butter in a food processor. Process in bursts, only until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.
Add the yolk, lemon juice and enough water to bind the mixture.
Roll into a ball and flatten with your hand. Cover and refrigerate for at least an hour.
Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius. Lightly oil an 18cm round, 7cm deep spring-form cake pan.
To make the pie shell, roll out the pastry to cover and base and sides of the cake pan. Trim top. Line with foil, pressing it lightly against the pastry.
Bake for 15 minutes, remove foil and continue baking for 5 minutes, until golden. Cool slightly before adding the filling. Reduce temperature to 180C.
To make the filling, place the peas in a microwave-proof bowl with three tablespoons of water. Cover and cook for about 3 minutes, until the peas are cooked and hot. Puree in a blender, then sieve. There should be about cup of pea puree.
Beat eggs, milk/cream and parsley together. Mix in the puree. Season.
Place the ham in the pastry shell. Top with onion. Pour in egg mixture.
Bake for about 50 minutes, until the centre is set.
Lay a sheet of foil over the top if browning too much. Serve warm or cold. Serves 6-8.
Use the meat from your favourite sausages. The pastry is plaited over the top of the filling.
400g flaky pastry
Filling: 500g sausagemeat
2 rashers bacon, diced
1 hard-boiled egg, coarsely chopped
1 small onion, diced
1 tsp mixed dried herbs
salt and pepper to taste Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius.
Roll the pastry to make a 30cm x 23cm rectangle. Using the point of a knife, lightly mark the pastry into three equal strips running lengthwise.
Place on a lightly oiled tray. On each long side, cut slits about 2cm apart from the edge to the centre third.
Gently combine the sausagemeat, bacon, egg, onion and seasonings. Place the filling along the centre third of the pastry.
Plait the sides of the pastry over the filling.
Brush with lightly beaten egg or milk, if preferred.
Bake for 30-35 minutes. Serve hot or cold. Serves 4-6.
CORN & CHEESE BREAD-CRUST PIE
6-7 thin slices brown bread
1 onion, diced
1 cup frozen whole kernel corn
3 eggs, lightly beaten
1 cups milk
salt, pepper and chilli powder to taste
cup shredded tasty cheddar cheese Remove the crusts from the bread. Cut each slice in half diagonally.
Spray a 20-23cm pie plate with oil. Line with the bread, standing the points up over the rim of the pie plate.
Spray a frying pan with oil. Saute the onion until softened. Add the corn, stirring until thawed.
Pour into the pie plate. Whisk together the eggs, milk and seasonings. Pour over the corn mixture. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 180C. Sprinkle with the cheese. Bake for 40 minutes or until set.
Great served garnished with chopped parsley. Serves 4.
QUICK CHICKEN POT PIE
2 cups chopped cooked chicken
2 hard-boiled eggs, sliced
cup each: frozen peas, whole kernel corn
teaspoon each: dried tarragon, thyme
salt and pepper to taste
420g can condensed cream of chicken soup
cup each: chicken stock, cream
2 Tbsp flour
2 sheets ready-rolled flaky pastry Preheat oven to 200 degrees Celsius
Lightly oil a 1-litre pie dish or casserole. Layer in the chicken, eggs, peas and corn. Season. Whisk together soup, stock, cream and flour and pour over the chicken mixture.
Top with the pastry, trimming the edges and pressing well on to the edges. Any leftover pastry can be cut into decorations. Glaze with a little beaten egg or cream, if preferred. Bake for 35 minutes or until the filling is bubbling and the pastry is risen and golden-brown. Serves 4-5.
Copyright Jan Bilton
- The Marlborough Express