Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Huff Paste.

There is to be found in cookbooks of the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries, something called huff paste (or pastry). The Oxford English Dictionary does not acknowledge it, which is rather remiss of that marvelous reference, but nevertheless huff paste did perform a useful role in the kitchen in times past.

Huff paste was a mixture of flour and enough water to bind it to a thick, elastic dough, and was used to wrap a large joint of meat (especially a gammon) before boiling or roasting, or to tightly seal a baking dish in lieu of a lid. Sometimes fat was added, making huff paste similar to suet crust or hot water paste, but regardless, the resulting dish was essentially the same as a medieval pie or bake-meat, with (it is usually said), the pastry being discarded when the dish was served at table. This is not to say that it was not eaten by someone , somewhere in the pecking order – it is difficult to believe that the meat-juice soaked crust was thrown out to the pigs or dogs, is it not? Occasionally the crust was removed and broken up and added to the contents of the cooked pie to thicken the gravy - a fresh ‘proper’pastry lid then put on, and the pie briefly returned to the oven.

Most sources refer to huff paste as a particularly northern British concoction, although the recipe I give you today is from Devizes, a market town in Wiltshire in the South of England.

Devizes Pie.
Thin slices from a boiled calf’s head with the brains and tongue cut into strips. Also slices of cold cooked bacon and lamb and rounds of hard-boiled eggs. Salt, pepper, and ground allspice and cayenne. Brown gravy that will form a jelly when cold. A flour and water paste, and sprays of parsley.
Arrange the prepared meat, &c. in a pie-dish, adding plenty of spice and seasoning. Pour in enough gravy to cover and put on the paste. Bake in a slow oven (325 deg F) for an hour, take out and leave till cold and the gravy set. Now discard the crust and turn the jellied pie out onto a flat dish. Garnish with the parsley and the eggs, shelled and halved.
[The Times, Nov 19, 1956]

Quotation for the Day.

Promises and pie-crust are made to be broken.
Jonathan Swift (1667-1745)

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