In deepest East Africa, pork is a rarity. Bacon can ease my mornings no more. I have only beef with my sausages. The bewitching smell of lard cooking out of a deliciously slow roasted shoulder of pork, rubbed all over with garlic, fennel and chilli, is but a fantasy to be encountered only in my wildest malaria tablet-induced dreams.
Yet above all else, I miss the pork pie, though the pork pie which is distinct to Yorkshire. I cannot abide the grey, sad variety which comes from Melton Mowbray. They have heavy and thick pastry, and a thin and distinct veil of jelly which does not penetrate the lump of solid grey meat in the centre. It cannot just be me who finds that this plug of protein refuses to be bitten in twain. Instead the first bite drags the whole clump out of its pastry prison. This I do not miss.
Yet in Yorkshire, and actually other places where you might once have encountered a butcher given over entirely to pigs, a different class of far superior pie can be found. Let’s start from the outside and work our way in.
The pastry matters. It must be crisp yet soggy from the meat’s juices. It must not be tough and leathery, and should flake delightfully. As a vittle eaten with the teeth, the pastry must yield neatly. A bite must be a bite. There should be no following strands of pastry. Moreover it should have a bronzed colour.
There must be jelly. A pork pie without the jelly is dry and tired. The jelly adds necessary moisture and must be flavoured. If it’s just pig juice then the pie will be rather flat. Instead the liquor must be flavoured with bay leaves, which compliment the traditional seasonings of the meat.
It’s at this point that things become a little trickier. A well-reared pig would need very little, perhaps a little salt, but I find mace, the old-fashioned spice, to be a delicious improvement. I also think the pork needs to be slightly cured. Far better the pink hue of saltpetre than the miserable uncured grey. It improves the flavour and texture as well.
The texture is key. In avoiding the solid, dry lump of other lesser pies, a Yorkshire pie should be minced roughly with plenty of fat. It should be loosely packed into the pastry so that it can be eaten cleanly. If it is so made then when the jelly is poured in it can permeate into the very centre, lubricating it most wickedly.
And so my jaw drips in memory. My heart beats in fond reminiscence.
Words & Photos: Oliver McKinley