My mum made pies, but like everything else she made the ingredients were top secret. No list of ingredients existed, I think she made it up as she went on her pie making journey. Not that she made the pie of all pies, but her idea of a pie was pastry with something inside. She always made the pastry herself. Unfortunately mum belonged to a generation where measuring instruments in the kitchen were an unknown tool. It was all done with judgement.
I was a kid and was watching. I was not allowed to help, because I did not now how it worked, I was unskilled and not inaugurated into the secret of pie making. We are back in the good old days of the fifties. Mum would take out a large china bowl, that had been hovering in the family from her mother’s days. As this bowl was almost antique, I had to appreciated the cracks and discolouration and recognise them as symbols of something solid and everlasting.
Mum took a packet of flour and emptied some into the bowl. Here again, do not ask how much, mum did not know either. I think she probably poured it into our family heirloom bowl to a certain mark, that only she knew. She took a handful of fat, and mixed it into the flour to resemble a breadcrumb state of substance. The fat probably originated in an animal known as pig and I believe the english name was suet. Butter was only used for spreading on bread in our home. It was not for financial reasons that she used no butter, but it did not enter into her culinary talents that butter might be better. If she found that the consistency of the pastry was too oily, then another few handfuls of flour were throw into the mixture. I think somewhere in the process she threw an egg or two into the mixture, adding more flour if it was too wet. Of course she could have added some sugar if the pie was covering apples, but i do not think she did. She just thew a couple of handfuls of sugar over the pie when it left the oven.
I am now jumping a few valuable steps of pie making according to mum. The pastry was ready. She took an oven pan, another family antique, showing the scars of usage over many years and filled it with the ingredients to be covered by the pastry. If it was an apple pie, it was OK. What could possibly go wrong? Peeling and chopping an apple was no big deal and the sizes of the pieces made no difference. You did not actually see the apple when it was hidden beneath a thick layer of pastry, and believe me, it was thick.
Of course we had a so-called rolling pin for rolling out the pastry. For some unknown reason mum always kept this rolling pin wrapped in a flour covered greaseproof paper. I do not remember her ever renewing this paper, but I survived. I was probably immune. Mum only ever used self-raising flour. This was an english flour already containing backing powder, so you did not have to worry about the pastry rising or not although my ideas of pastry today is that it does not have to rise, it forms a firm cover for the pie ingredients. Mum made pies like her mother made them and probably like her mother’s mother etc. etc. so the recipe originated from the english Elizabethan days, and I mean Queen Elizabeth I in the 17th century.
Mum might have made a meat pie. This was really something individual. She filled the pie dish with anonymous pieces of meat, mainly beef, filled the spaces with sliced onion and carrot, and buried it all beneath the pastry. Whether she made an apple pie or meat pie, it made no difference, the pastry rose to untold dimensions. To allow the steam to escape from the pie filling and to avoid the pastry cover exploding she made a hole in the middle and placed a sort of special earthenware steam escaping device in the middle of the pie, yet another relic from the previous century.
The finished pie was edible if you liked eating pastry. The ratio of the pie was approximately 10% filling at the base, and 90% pastry as a cover. Yes mum’s pies were unique. I feel no wave of nostalgia when reflecting on mum’s pies, but they were something completely different.
The nice thing about Swiss pies is that they do not really exist as such. A pastry base, filled with fruit and a beaten mixture of egg, sugar, cream, and milk and baked. And who makes pastry today? I do not. It can be bought already rolled out in the correct form. In any case, my husband, Mr. Swiss, is the pie maker of our family. Yes, see photo of one of this special apple flan pies.
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