Last week as I monitored the nail-biting end of the Ashes test match between England and Australia, it occurred to me that it would be fun to tease our good friend Sam, who is Australian. "Would you like to come over tonight for humble pie?" I wrote him. "I figure either you or the Critic is going to be eating some tonight!" For those of you who are unaware of the Great Tradition that is The Ashes, it's an old story, an old, war-torn story. In 1884, for the third time Australia sent a team to play cricket against England. And they won. You wouldn't think this would be such an earth-shattering thing, but then you are not a Victorian Englishman, full of the consciousness of your superiority to all other beings, especially those from the colonies. The Sporting Times ran an obituary "in affectionate remembrance of English cricket, which died at the Oval on 29th August, 1882". And in due time, the English team burned a wicket (history is unclear whether it was one of the wickets in the actual game) and presented it to the Australians. Since then, the game has become a traditional battle. You can read the whole story on the BBC Sports site.
For the last 19 years, Australia has won. And this year, for the first time in nearly two decades, England won. Humble pie for the Australians!
Although most of us only know humble pie in its metaphorical sense, there actually is a dish called "humble pie", which was popular from the middle ages in Europe and was brought over to the US by the English. Originally, the "humbles" were the offal (awful) bits of venison and other game: liver, intestines, lungs, etc. These were boiled and stewed until tender and then encased in pastry with a thick gravy.
I didn't think either the Englishman or the Australian would be very happy with a strict interpretation of humble pie, so I tried to make an updated version for the squeamish modern palate. Basically, it's a beef-and-onion pie with a bit of preserved gizzards (gésiers, to give them a more elegant name)added to give a nod to the offal origins. I love gésiers and though I know the Critic thinks he hates them he would undoubtedly find them tasty in a pie. Especially if he didn't know they were there.
Humble Pie (serves three)
300 grams beef
2 large onions (I used sweet pink Roscoff onions)
4-6 plump cloves of garlic
a handful of small potatoes
150 grams preserved gizzards
100 grams mushrooms
1/2 cup peas
2 Tbs butter
1 Tbs olive oil
1 glass of red wine
1/2 cup beef broth
2 Tbs finely chopped rosemary
1 Tbs finely chopped thyme
1 tsp salt
generous grinding of pepper
Because I made this dish on a week night, I made a few shortcuts so we wouldn't be eating around midnight. In an idea world, you would be able to stew the filling for a couple of hours and would make your own pastry. Instead, I used the pressure cooker to speed the tenderizing of the meat and used pre-made pre-rolled pastry. This brought the preparation time down to 1/2 hour more or less plus half an hour in the oven.
In a pressure cooker, melt the butter and add the olive oil. Cut the meat in bite sized pieces and brown them quickly on a relatively high fire. While they are browning, slice the onions in thickish wedges and toss them in with the meat. Lower the heat slightly. Chop the garlic roughly and add it to the pot as well. When the garlic smells sweet and the onions are soft, add the wine to the pot and scrape any brown bits from the sides and bottom of the pot. Add the carrots, potatoes, gizzards and broth and bring to a boil. Put the top on the pressure cooker and set it merrily puffing away for 15 minutes or so.
While this is happening, clean and chop the mushrooms, chop the herbs and prepare your peas. (I used frozen, so not much preparation was necessary.) Pre-heat the oven to 200c and remove the pie crust from the refrigerator. It will unroll more easily if it is slightly warm. Prepare your oven-proof pie bowls by wiping the interior with a little olive oil, using a paper towel. Line the bowls with pastry, put a few dried beans in the bottom of each one and put them in the oven for about ten minutes, until they just start to turn golden.
Remove the bowls from the oven and spill out the dry beans. Turn off the heat under the pressure cooker and release the steam. Stir into the pot the remaining ingredients and taste for salt. If your broth was very salty you may not need much, but I think it needs a fairly generous amount. Carefully ladle the filling into the pie bowls. Use the remaining pastry to top the bowls and crimp the edges prettily with a fork. (I used two store-bought pie crusts for three pies.) Poke a hole in the top to allow steam to escape and bake in the oven until golden and bubbling inside.
And so the victor and the vanquished were both rewarded with a nice meaty pie. But the Australian was humbled. (Finally, some would say!)
One of the interesting footnotes to this story is the fact that although one speaks of England or Australia taking possession of the Ashes, in actual fact for many years the urn has remained in England. This is because the English claim the trophy is "too fragile" to travel. Let's stop and consider this one. For 19 years it could have just stayed in Australia in a vault somewhere; there wasn't a whole lot of exchanging of the ashes going on. And last night on the Southeast England news, I saw the urn being passed around a classroom of 8-9 year olds. Yes, English children can be trusted with the delicate trophy but we wouldn't want to risk sending it first class to Australia. After all, there are Australians there. (And you know how savage they are!)
If you are reallly masochistic, you can try to understand the rules of cricket (the game with a thousand ways to win) here.