#303 Cornish Charter Pie


In Jane Grigson’s book Good Things, she quotes from the diary of a Parson Woodforde, a Norfolk clergyman who obviously liked his food. He wrote in his dairy on the 13th of July that “[we] had for Dinner some Pyke and fried Soals, a nice Piece of boiled Beef, Ham and a Couple of Fowls, Peas and Beans, a green Goose rosted, Gooseberry Pies, Currant Tarts, the Charter, hung Beef scraped &c…”. All recognisable as nice food typical of the British Isles at that time, except, that is, for The Charter. “Was it [a] sweet or [a] savoury? Was it in fact even food at all?” she asks. Then, apparently on another occasion at the Parson’s brother’s, an incident occurred where a very naughty dog snook into the cellar and snarfed down The Charter all to itself. It was, at least, food, but dogs will eat pretty much anything, so the type of food isn’t possible to deduce.

My friend Katie has a dog that ate an entire chocolate cake once – fully iced as well. What happened to that cheeky dog’s bowels is not fit for a description in a food blog.

Parson Woodforde 1740-1803

Anyways, the editor of the Parson’s diary assumed it was some kind of custard. It wasn’t until Griggers stumbled upon the book A few choice recipes by Sarah Lindsay (a Lady) from 1883, who gives a recipe for a Charter Pie, saying it is a Cornish recipe and the filling is of chicken in cream. It’s a shame that Jane had no internet in her time; it would have made her life so much easier as I found this little fact on GoogleBooks pretty quick-smart.
Upon doing a quick recipe search on the internet, I found a few versions of the recipe, but they didn’t really give any more background to the pie. I did notice that one website listed it as American cuisine, so it must’ve been taken over the Atlantic at some point and survived there for a good few generations.

Anyways, I thought this pie would go down for my dinner party-cum-buffet that I had last weekend. The Meat Pies & Puddings section of the book has been rather hit and miss, so I did worry that would be a bit crap. Jane does big it up, and it does appear also in Good Things, so for it to occur twice in her writing, it must be good…

The recipe asks for two three pound chickens that have been jointed, so you can imagine that it is a decent sized pie, so make sure that you make enough shortcrust pastry to cover a large, shallow pie dish. The recipe specifies a rich shortcrust pastry too, so make it with at least five ounces of salted butter (and therefore ten ounces of plain flour), an egg yolk and some ice-cold water to bind.

Whilst your pastry is resting in the fridge, chop a large onion and soften it in two ounces of butter. Remove the onions from the pan and spread them on the base of a wide, shallow pie dish or tray. Toss your chicken pieces in seasoned flour, turn up the heat in your pan, add a two more ounces of butter and fry the chicken pieces until they are a nice golden brown. Do not crowd the pan, so cook in two or three batches if you need to. Arrange the chicken pieces tightly together in a single layer on top of the onions.

Next, chop a leek or six spring onions alongside a nice large bunch of parsley. Place in a saucepan and cover with a quarter of a pint each of milk and single cream (that’s coffee cream for any Americans). Bring to a boil and simmer for two or three minutes. Pour this mixture over the chicken and season very, very well with salt and pepper.

Roll out your pastry and cover the pie, using some beaten egg as a seal. Make a hole in the centre of the pie large enough to fit a kitchen funnel. Jane then asks us to make a pastry rose to fit on top of it that also has a hole (so the steam can still escape). Decorate with more pastry if you like. Brush the pastry with more beaten egg. Bake at 220-230°C (425-450°F) for the first twenty minutes and then lower the heat to 180°C (350°F) for the remainder of the cooking time – an hour should do it.

Just before the pie is ready, bring half a pint of double cream to the boil, so that when it is cooked, you can take the pie from out of the oven, remove the pastry rose and pour in, with the aid of your funnel, the hot cream. Then replace your rose.

The pastry is good hot or cold, says Jane. It went for just warm so that the sauce would thicken almost becoming jelly (a benefit of using chicken on the bone, rather than just the meat cut into pieces).

This is perhaps a good point to mention the proper English way of serving up a pie like this. Using a knife, cut away the piece of pastry you would like to serve and place it on the side of the pie. Next, spoon out the filling onto the plate and perch the pastry on top of it. Do not go digging straight in there with your spoon messing up the pastry and getting all mixed up with the filling. This is a deadly sin at the Buttery residence and you will be thrown out should you attempt it.

#303 Cornish Charter Pie. What a great pie! The ingredients made a thick creamy chicken soup that is delicious in itself and the chicken was wonderfully tender from being cooked in all that milk and cream. Much better than the last chicken pie from the book, which was insipid by comparison. This will be my staple recipe for chicken pie in the future (unless anyone has one that can beat it). 8.5/10.

#274 Saffron Cake from Cornwall

A man who is stingy with saffron is capable of seducing his own grandmother.” Norman Douglas, 1848-1952
It goes without saying that saffron is a wee bit pricey. Only three tiny stigmas are plucked from each autumn crocus which means that a pound of saffron strands requires up to 75 000 flowers and can cost up to £2500 per pound in the UK and $5000 per pound in the USA. Lucky for us it is very pungent and is only needed in very small amounts. I bought a small packet for about $10 which I have used in a few dishes already like the Fifteenth Century Apple Fritters and the Coronation Doucet. In days of yore, if you wanted to impress your guests and flash your cash a bit, you couldn’t go far wrong by sprinkling some saffron your pottage or whatever. The long-distance trade in saffron goes all the way back to the second millennium BC at least and there has even been a war over it. It was also thought to cure the black plague. For this recipe it takes centre stage, and so it should, I love the stuff though it wouldn’t necessarily lead me to fisticuffs…

The saffron flower
For some reason saffron isn’t used that often in English cuisine – I only really see it pop up in Asian food and in fishy things like paella. However, it has hung on in the form of this bread from Cornwall. I’d not heard of it myself, but it is interesting in that this recipe predates the invention of raising agents such as baking powder, so to make it light, yeast is used. Because it’s fermented, it appears in the bread section of the book rather than the cake section.
The evening before you want to make the cake (actually cakes, as this recipe makes two) put a generous pinch of saffron strands into a few tablespoons of warm water. It will steep and infuse to make a stunning orange-coloured scented water.
Weigh out two pounds of plain flour and eight ounces of sugar then make the leaven. For the leaven, crumble an ounce of fresh yeast into a small bowl. Pour over a quarter of a pint of warm water along with 2 heaped tablespoons from the flour and a heaped teaspoon from the sugar. Whisk everything together and leave to rise and froth up for around half an hour. Mix the sugar and flour together in a bowl and place it in the warming oven for 10 minutes or so. Remove from the oven and mix in half a teaspoon each of nutmeg and cinnamon and a pinch of salt. Now rub in six ounces each of lard and butter. This is quite easy as the flour is warm.
By now the yeast should be metabolising like a crazy thing, so make a well in the centre of the flour and pour it in alongside the saffron liquid and strands plus half a pint of warmed milk. Using your hands, mix everything together to form a dough. Cover with a damp cloth or cling film and allow to rise and double in bulk. The time this takes depends on the temperature of your kitchen.
Knock-back the dough and mix in 8 ounces of mixed dried fruit and 2 ounces of chopped, candied lemon peel and place in two greased loaf tins. Cover again and allow to prove until they have puffed up. Bake in the oven for 40 minutes at 220°C (425°F). Let them cool for a few minutes before taking them out of the tins and placing them on a wire rack.
Jane doesn’t suggest a way to eat the cake but I ate it with some cream cheese and honey.
#274 Saffron Cake From Cornwall – this was rather unusual. The cake was leavened with yeast (was that a tautology?) rather than baking powder which made it rather dense; more a cross between a tea loaf and a scone than a cake. I wasn’t sure about it at first, but it grew on me rather. The saffron flavour came through and I thought it gave the cake slightly anaesthetic properties. I expect if you ate enough you could have a root canal without wincing no problem. I brought it into work where it seemed to go down quite well, which is always nice. People scored it quite highly, but I’m a right stingy marker – 5.5/10.