Friday, February 08, 2008

Pork Pie, without the Pork.

February 8

The Internet firmly believes that Cape Breton Island was granted to Sir Robert Gordon of Lochinvar by Charles I, on this day 1631 – which was going to lead me to an anniversary exposé of the strangely porkless ‘Cape Breton Pork Pie’. I fear that The Internet has it a little wrong however, as in the fine print elsewhere it claims that Sir Robert died in 1628, and that he received the gift in November 1621. Any Scots or Nova Scots historians who can clarify, please do let us know the real truth.

A little factual confusion must not be allowed to get in the way of a good story however – so the famous pies it is. The Internet is strangely silent on the story of the porkless pork pies, save that they exist, and contain dates where the pork would be expected to be, and sugar, which would not be expected at all. The provenance is in great doubt, with a number of alternative myths where the history ought to be.

Cape Breton was settled by the Scots, then the French, then the Irish, then there was a second wave of Scots immigration in the first half of the nineteenth century. There is no doubt that the island culture proudly reflects its Scots heritage, and it is assumed (where any assumptions are made at all) that the porkless Pork Pies are a legacy of that heritage. To me, this seems unlikely. Pork in any form is not writ large in Scotland’s culinary history. Surely Cape Breton Pies with a Scots history would be muttonless mutton pies?

Perhaps they once did have pork in them, in the grand tradition of medieval mincemeat pies, and they kept the name after they lost the pork? Perhaps there used to be pork fat in the pastry? Perhaps they are so called because they stand up proudly like little raised pork pies (the same rationale for the naming of pork-pie hats)? Maybe the name is – like that of Welsh Rabbit (poshly called rarebit) – an ethnic slur by outsiders or a bit of self-mockery by insiders?

The Internet has many recipes for the date tart that fancies itself as a pork pie, and I invite you to ask Google to show you some Cape Breton Pork Pie instructions. If a definitive, historical recipe with provenance turns up, please do announce it to us all. In the meanwhile, there is a Scottishly frugal recipe for apple pie in Cookery and pastry. As taught and practised by Mrs. Maciver, published in Edinburgh in 1787.

An Apple Pie with Potatoes.
Boil some potatoes; pair [pare] and cut some apples; lay a row of apples in the dish, and a row of potatoes above them; then put some pieces of fresh butter above the potatoes; put apples, potatoes, and butter alternately until the pie is filled up; sweeten it to your taste; take rather more apples than potatoes; it is much better of having a little citron and orange-peel in it; put at little water in all apple pies; cover it with puff’d paste.

(Presumably this refers to sweet potato at this point in history.)

Monday’s Story …

The Other Mrs. Child.

Quotation for the Day …

Man who waits for roast duck to fly into mouth must wait very, very long time. Chinese Proverb

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

My grandmother, from Cape Breton (Newaterford), used to make mincemeat pies, which had no meat at all, but rather were sweet, and date and nut laced. She never referred to a recipe.
I enjoy your blog, fascinating.