Thursday, 9 October 2014

Fictional Food Adventure: Making Katy's Paradise Picnic Pie

It was with some trepidation that I set out to make Katy's Paradise Picnic Pie.

I had, until the previous weekend, never made pastry. Mostly, due to lack of time, and also a bit of laziness. Even professional cooks are happy to buy ready-made pastry so I haven't felt too bad about it but the other day I wanted to use up some stewed apples and blackberriess to make my favourite little "Brambly Hedge Pies", individual lidded shortcrust pies, like mince pies, but filled with stewed fruit. Mum used to make them and I've always loved them so they've become a part of our household too. Anyway, I realised I didn't have any pastry in the freezer and no opportunity to pop to the shops so I thought, hold on, this is silly. I want pastry. I can have pastry. I found a baking book on our shelf and found a likely looking recipe and set to making it. I then decided it would be fun to do one big pie, as my parents were coming for dinner that night and we have a lovely enamelled pie dish that we've become rather keen on. It was surprisingly simple and quick and the resulting pie was a real success. The pastry was so tasty and nicely thin and crisp. The bottom wasn't soggy either, although I think people are far too fussy about that anyway. So, I am a new convert to the make-your-own-pastry brigade.

Days later I finished reading What Katy Did and got ready to make the pie that makes all the Carr children's fingers sticky on one of their many picnics to their "Paradise", a patch of land a little way from home, where they find a cosy little clearing between some bushes, to form a precious bower. Cramped but secret and exciting, and visited regularly by the tribe of little Carrs, lead by Katy, the eldest. Here the children while away many a Saturday or holiday, with readings of poems and stories, sometimes written themselves, and enhanced by a generous hoard of provisions, kindly prepared by Debby, one of their cooks.

The pastry for this Paradise Pie was a much shorter pastry, and more like a Rich Shortcrust pastry, with lemon juice instead of water, and an egg yoke.

While the pasty chilled and firmed up, I got on with the filling, which was an intriguing combination of two parts.

The first was a sort of sandy mixture, made up of a lot of dark soft brown sugar, a little flour and lots of lemon zest.

The second part was double cream, warmed

I'd never blind-baked a pastry tart before, but it worked out nicely.

Then the sugar mixture is added and smoothed over before pouring the cream over to fill to the top edge.

Now, here is where I hit a dilemma and realised the tart tin was not suitable. I had the right width but clearly not the right depth. There was far too much mixture, so even just the sugar mix completely filled the pastry case. I was rather disappointed as I'd been so pleased with the pastry case but I had to go with it and make the best of it so I removed some of the sugar mix to leave some depth free for the cream. I poured over as much cream as I could, but it really wasn't enough. You could see the dark brown sugar through it.

Anyway, that was the best I could do this time around so I got on with baking it and kept careful watch. The timings were completely wrecked by being too shallow a tart so I just waited til the custard-ish filling was set, and golden brown. The recipe said brown, but I think it really meant golden, so it was a bit of a judgement call.

Apart from the weird mottling from the sugar underneath it looked fairly nice. I wanted to taste it straight away but had to wait til the evening as we were heading out to some friends to dinner. Our usual contribution is to make the bread to go with the soup but we took along this oddity for pudding too.

When it was finally time to slice it up, it was pleasing that the pastry was well cooked and tasty, and a nice consistency, and cut well. Everyone liked the pie except for me. It was just so sugary and not a lot else going on. It had a very sticky-toffee-pudding type of flavour and it just wasn't wonderful to eat. Perhaps if I'd been advised to use a deeper dish and I had been able to pour in a nice load of the cream, there would have been much more of the custard to counteract the brown sugar, but hey ho. I've learned a bit more about pastry and recipes and since then I've baked two rather nice Tarte au Citron, and had more practice at the timings for blind baking and what to look for. I've also learned from several books that recipes books are often vague or actually just wrong. But I have to say, that the me before this challenge would never have thought of making a pastry tart, let alone bothering to actually do it.

I love the idea of a celebratory pie, but this is not really the pie for me and although some part of me would like to bake it again to prove that I can make a better job of it I'm not sure it's worth it.

I'm glad to have done it. I'm glad to be a pastry-maker. I went and bought a book about pastry and have since made pastry several times and will not be afraid of it again.

Maybe I should decide on my own filling and start a new tradition of picnic pies. I loved reading What Katy Did, and I love picnics.

Thursday, 2 October 2014

Fictional Food Adventure: Reading What Katy Did, by Susan M Coolidge, and a few extraneous wafflings.

My copy of What Katy Did, but not my original
copy, and I'm not a fan of the cover, but looking
online I can't find any covers I do like.
Katy could do with a stylish new look. 
Happily, for once, I can say that I have already read the Katy books, unlike many other books in this wonderful list. So you can stop worrying that I never read anything as a child. I did read things. Lots of things actually. But not the same selection of things as you, or maybe as most people. I love that we will all hold different, particluar books dear, a unique selection of books that have been part of our lives, that overlap with other people's selections, but aren't a duplicate. There are books that I have loved forever that most people have never heard of, let alone read. And there are books I haven't yet experienced that most people will have read yonks ago. But I don't really think that it's ever too late to discover and enjoy a children's book. Great children's books are a joy for anyone who is sensible enough to let themselves enjoy them. As a child I shunned Winnie the Pooh, Swalllows and Amazons and The Narnia Chronicles. At age 18 I thoroughly enjoyed them and will read them again and again.

As an example, (skip this indulgent paragraph if you want to get straight to Katy, sorry), my fine Mummy and I have always loved Tales from the End Cottage, by Eileen Bell. There are a couple of volumes, and our worn, paperback copies came from a jumble sale originally, I believe. They were read countless times, at bedtimes. Each chapter was a separate little story so a couple of these, or as many as I could persuade out of Mum, were ideal for bedtimes.

A reassuring sight in any puffin book - if it's edited by
Kaye Webb, you're most likely in for a treat. Look out for her
name in the front of puffins when you're in a charity shop. 
After I got married and made my own home, Mum bought me my own copies, which I promptly spilled orange juice over, but I have them; forever comfortingly on my bookshelf. I was SO thrilled the other day when I was out walking with a dear friend, who came into my life in the last couple of years. We were chatting about books, as we often do, and she said that when she was younger her family kept chickens. Then she said an almost miraculous and rather tentative statement. "I doubt you'll have ever heard of these stories, but they were about this old lady who lived in a cottage with her dogs and cats and she was called Mrs Apple." The whoop I  let out rather surprised the couple just passing us but I couldn't help it. Sarah, dear Sarah is the first person I have ever encountered who knows these stories and it is just too lovely to be restrained about! Mrs Apple is the most comfortable lady in the world, round and wrinkled, and forever popping a pie in the oven or sitting by the fire, or feeding her chickens, surrounded by her Pekinese dogs and her striped cats. Tales from the End Cottage is a tonic for the giddy rush of today's world. It is pure, unspoiled homely comfort weaved into throughly absorbing little stories, which even my lovely nephew who loves Power Rangers and Digimon, will happily curl up like a dormouse and nestle into its loveliness.

Now, as for Katy, who I have so rudely negelected in my witterings; it was so lovely to get to know her again. I don't know when I first read What Katy Did, or the two sequels What Katy Did at School and What Katy Did Next, but I must have read the first one more than once because as I read it, it was so vividly familiar. I really enjoyed it and was desperate to get back to it whenever I had to put it down again. What I hadn't remembered about it was that the writing is really zingy and, for an older book, rather dryly hilarious. The story made me titter, guffaw and weep at various points, and I was sorry to have finished it. I actually miss the characters, and find myself thinking about them still, as I'm going about my day. Susan M Coolidge places you in the centre of a full and busy household and introudces you to everyone living there, giving you a wonderful viewpoint over all that happens, as children race about trying to find their shoes before school, and entertain themselves with raucous games at weekends, and savour every tasty morsel that comes their way.  One such yumminess is Katy's Paradise Pie, which I am due to show you in the next blog post, and which forms a very special part of one of their epic picnics in their private bower. They are very generously catered for on such occasions, by their kind cook, with long lists of treats, mostly very American and nonsensical. Then their meals at home are often very plain and stark, even for Sunday lunch. I had to look up the word Biscuit, as it kept appearing, in the singular, on its own, not "a biscuit" but just "biscuit" on its own. It appears to be some sort of cake, but I wonder about lots of the other things like ham between biscuits. Odd, but intriguing.

Many people might think of What Katy Did as a bit preachy or too obviously trying to teach a lesson or give a message. But I think you'd really miss out if that's your preconception of it. Yes, Katy goes through many trials and one particular experience which shapes her as a person, and yes, I guess the writer is hoping to show the reader the importance of the lessons which Katy learns, but is that a problem? Assessing life and how you live yours is not exclusive to morality tales; many modern novels take you and shake you up and deposit you, not always gently, in a different place to where you started from. And I think that despite the obvious lessons learned by Katy, the journey for her, and for the reader is a heartfelt one, full of compassion and sensitivity and not dry or dreary. I personally found the whole transformation of Katy very profound and a wonderful reminder of how to be good and kind, and how to think of others, and how to always "make the best of something." What Katy Did is not soppy, is not dry, but is a dear story that gives us a very generous insight into what bravery and love is really like. Katy is a wonderful character and as you read about her you will will her on and not be content to leave her on the last page, but to go merrily on, following her doings wherever she goes.

Without this challenge, I'm not sure when I would have picked up What Katy Did again. This is why I am so, so enjoying the Fictional Food Adventure. It really is a wonderful opportunity. And it's changed my cooking life too, as you'll see when I make Katy's Paradise Pie.