As you may have noticed from this post, I seem to have fallen seriously out of love with Valentine’s Day of late. Yup, call Relate, book a last minute romantic weekend to Paris, maybe even buy a puppy; Cupid and I are on a slippery slope to divorce, one lonesome 14th of February at a time.
And if a Valentine's spent watching Loose Women and eating chocolates still hanging around from Christmas are what I have to get used to now that my boyfriend is leading a busy (and far away) life as an Artillery Officer, then I am well and truly getting the practice in. As couples all over the land cuddled up with a bottle of wine or tried to hold hands over candlelit tables for two without setting their sleeves alight; I was in a cold village hall, surrounded by middle aged women in jogging bottoms, trying to stop myself from falling asleep as I rolled about on the floor pretending to do Pilates. And the romance did not stop there; my Mother and I followed our evening of deep breathing and cat stretches with a candlelit fish pie at the pub, encircled by heart shaped napkins and still wearing our trainers and tracksuits.
And, to be honest, aside from the fact that I actually own a tracksuit (and wore it in public), I don’t really see too much wrong with that. Without a boyfriend in the vicinity to lavish me with flowers, chocolates, champagne and anything else expensive (which he obviously would have done...) there is just not really much point. Eating a few of these cupcakes to celebrate is fine, even opening the card that you know is from your Mum but still pretending you have a secret admirer is kind of acceptable; but without someone else sitting on the opposite side of the table, candlelit dinners should really be saved for power cuts.
But it is not all doom and gloom on the romance front; the celebrations were just pushed to the weekend, avoiding the tables scattered with rose petals and dodging the meal deals just perfectly. And the gifts have followed my somewhat unromantic outlook. Continuing the practical theme that led to my boyfriend buying me a Satnav for Christmas, I went for a gift that I am absolutely, 110% sure will not end up hidden under the bed or attracting moths in the wardrobe (like the seemingly miniature shirt I accidentally bought him for Christmas..) Yup, this year, avoiding anything covered in glitter or rose petals, I presented my boyfriend of 4 and a half years, with 4 pork pies. Homemade of course, and based on some pretty solid reasoning.
It is fair to say that my boyfriend has rather a penchant for these little pies, particularly those from motorway service stations, and has been known to eat six, one after the other, over the course of one car journey. So, based on cold, hard fact, I know that this present will go down a lot better than the miniature shirt. Maybe it was romantic after all?
To be frank though, I hate those plastic wrapped, lurid pink centered, slimy jelly filled parcels that I so often have to wade through to find the seat of R’s car. The almost neon, plasticky meat gives me the heeby-jeebies, and as much as I adore the pastry, it’s not really the done thing to buy a pork pie and eat around the pork. But these little gems, stuffed with real, local, Dingley Dell pork from the brilliant butcher round the corner, flavoured with sage, smoky bacon and sweet, juicy apricots, have well and truly won me over.
One of the biggest surprises resulting from this gift idea, was how easy pork pies actually are to make, proving my Great British Bake Off based pre-conceptions almost entirely wrong. The hot water pastry, made with melted lard and hot water, requires a quick hand and a little bit of organisation, but if you have a muffin tin, these will not prove too much of a disaster. And even if they do not look altogether picture perfect when you put them in the oven, as the juices ooze out from the beautiful pieces of pork (no bright pink plastic here) they will come out looking deliciously rustic and wonderfully homemade. And I really do mean that in a good way...
PS. Three of these were eaten within an hour of opening the box- I told you they would go down
Apricot, Sage and Bacon Pork Pies.
400g pork shoulder, diced into small pieces
125g streaky bacon, diced
Handful of dried apricots, diced
1 tbsp fresh sage, chopped
½ tsp allspice
¼ tsp nutmeg
Salt and pepper
450g strong white flour
Large pinch of salt
150g lard (chopped into small pieces)
Beaten egg, to glaze
100ml hot chicken stock
1 gelatine leaf
Preheat the oven to 180oc
To make the filling, mix the pork shoulder (chopped into small pieces,) bacon, apricots, sage and spices. Season well and test by frying a small piece of the mixture in a hot pan and tasting.
Now make the pastry. In a large bowl, mix the dry ingredients. Heat the milk and 50ml of water in a small saucepan and add the lard.
Heat gently until all of the fat has melted, before bringing just to the boil.
Pour the hot mixture onto the flour and mix using a wooden spoon. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and (if cool enough to handle) knead slightly.
Now it is essential to work quickly, before the pastry gets cold and cracks. Take two thirds of the dough and separate into 8 pieces.
Put each piece into a hole of muffin tin. Using your thumb, work the pastry up the sides of the tin, leaving about ½ a centimetre overlapping the edge of each hole. When you have a thin pastry case, make absolutely sure that you have no holes in the pastry- If you do the jelly will seep out and make everything soggy later.
Divide the pork between the pastry cases. Now roll out the remaining pastry for the lids. Cut into rounds (about 8cm in diameter) and brush around their edges with the beaten egg.
Place on the pie, egg side down, before crimping the edges together using a fork or your fingers.
Make a steam hole in the top of each pie, glaze with egg and bake for 50 minutes, or until the pastry is golden and crisp.
Leave to cool in the tins, and make the jelly.
Soak the gelatine in cold water until soft. Squeeze out the excess water, before whisking into the hot stock. Using the nozzle from a piping bag, pour a small amount of the stock mixture through the hole in the top of each pie. Leave to cool completely in the fridge, for at least a few hours or overnight.
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