Surprise pies…

This week has been British Pie Week – the list of ‘national awareness days’ just keeps on growing! The past week has also been ‘National Conversation Week’ (and I do mean conversation and not conservation!) and the whole month of March is designated ‘National Bed Month’! But let’s focus on the all important Pie Week… I decided to do some Googling about pies and it was quite a surprise!

Pies have been around a very, very long time. Technically, everything used to be a pie. The pastry shell was originally nothing more than a baking dish and storage container for the filling. The Romans would use meats, oysters and fish in their fillings while a mixture of flour, oil and water made a sturdy shell, or case, to keep the filling in place. Not surprisingly, the pastry was tough and inedible and designed to be thrown away. Our wonderful west country pasty’s distinctive ‘D’ shape was apparently designed to enable hardworking miners and labourers, with grubby hands, to eat their meal more easily using the thick crimped crust as a handle.

It’s hard to believe a culinary dish can have a sinister side to it, but the pie does. As someone always on the look out for an ‘interesting’ way of finishing people off for murder mystery purposes (literary, not literally!), I was amazed at how often the pie has been used as a way of killing characters.

The evil Sweeney Todd has to be the most famous pie-killer. He and Mrs Lovett baked their victims in pies and sold them. A fictional character who first appeared in a Victorian ‘penny dreadful’, it has long been speculated that it was based on true events, but I couldn’t find any clear evidence. Even the bard himself, William Shakespeare, has turned to the pie as a weapon and killed off two characters with a pie! In Titus Andronicus, Titus wreaks revenge on Queen Tamora and her family for their evil deeds by baking her sons into a pie and serving it to her. Ugh!

That king of killjoys, Oliver Cromwell, virtually banned the pie in 1644, when he decided it was a ‘pagan form of pleasure’. It wasn’t a complete ban on pies though, just a ban on Christmas celebrations and foods that were associated with the ‘pagan’ holiday, such as mince pies and turkey pies. Fortunately, the ban was lifted, but not until 1660.

I think most of you will remember the nursery rhyme ‘Sing a song of sixpence’ that contains the rather worrying line ‘Four-and-twenty blackbirds baked in a pie’. It seems that in 16th century England ‘surprise pies’ were all the range among the upper classes and live animals would jump out when a pie was cut open – extraordinary! All kinds of creatures were placed inside pies including frogs, squirrels, foxes and, as we know, large numbers of blackbirds. Some records even suggest that at a dinner attended by Charles I, a huge pie was put on the table and when the crust was removed, a dwarf jumped out! My goodness, we think there are some strange things on the internet these days, but it seems some people have always had a taste for the bizarre!

After discovering such a lurid background, I’m not entirely sure I shall ever be able to regard a pie as just a tasty thing to eat ever again!

Main photo: @britishpiesweek

 

4 Comments

Old Uncle Tom Cobley and all!

widecombemare“Tom Pearce, Tom Pearce, lend me your grey mare.
All along, down along, out along lea.
For I want for to go to Widecombe Fair,
With Bill Brewer, Jan Stewer, Peter Gurney,
Peter Davy, Dan’l Whiddon, Harry Hawke,
Old Uncle Tom Cobley and all,
Old Uncle Tom Cobley and all!”

…so goes the well-known Devon folk song about a man called Tom Pearce, whose poor old horse dies after someone borrows it to travel to the fair in Widecombe with his many, many friends. Although not at all funny for the grey mare, it is a humorous song and often performed by rowdy crowds (all NINE verses of it!) that have enjoyed a little too much cider! It’s such a well-known song that the term ‘Uncle Tom Cobley’ has come to be used as a colloquialism meaning “anyone and everyone”.

widecombehistoryPossibly because of the song both Widecombe and its Fair are famous throughout the country. Widecombe-in-the-Moor, to use its full name, is a picturesque village in the middle of Dartmoor, with a magnificent church (the interestingly named Church of Saint Pancras!), visible from all the surrounding hills and tors and known as ‘the cathedral of the moor’.

widecombeproduce

Widecombe Fair takes place annually on the second Tuesday in September, attracting thousands of visitors to the tiny Dartmoor village. It is still a traditional event full of farmers and local craftsmen and as popular with locals as visitors and well worth a visit. My partner in crime writing, Julia, went along this year to take some photos and soak up the rural tranquillity and a way of life that has gone on for centuries in the Dartmoor valleys.

widecombeanimals

There were sheep shearing competitions, cattle, sheep and pony classes, vintage cars and agricultural machinery and some stompingly good live folk music in the beer tent from morning through to midnight! The obligatory produce tent, crammed with huge vegetables, jams and flower arrangements (and you wonder where we get our inspiration for the Swaddlecombe books?!) is always worth a visit. There was also an interesting area dedicated to ‘Living History’, complete with thatchers and other traditional craftsmen demonstrating their skills. Add to this ferret and terrier racing and the intoxicating smell of steam engines and you have the perfect rural day out!

widecombeadam

Left to right: Was the Reverend Ruminant present at the Fair? Certainly looks like his car! Adam Henson and his BBC film crew… and a traditional bit of ferret racing!

Such is Wideombe Fair’s fame, Julia spotted Adam Henson, the farmer presented from BBC1’s ‘Countryfile’ programme, busy filming at the fair… so, if you keep your eyes peeled you might get to see it on TV!

 

 

 

 

2 Comments

Giving it some welly!

When you live in the real countryside, ’sensible’ outdoor footwear is something of a necessity. True Devonians will always smile and say you can ‘spot the incomer’ a mile off by their inappropriate choices of heels, open toed or pale coloured shoes. You can buy all sorts of fancy boots but, at the end of the day, the wellington boot is the countryman’s footwear of choice!
WellyDrain

I shared this fun photo (right) on Facebook this week as it made me smile and think that Albert, the lead male in our Swaddlecombe Mysteries, would find this a good use of a leaking welly. In contrast, Victoria, our leading lady, would probably use a pair of old wellies as planters for some organic herbs…

So what’s the history of the wellington boot? How did this rubberised footwear come into being? The wellington boot is associated with Arthur Wellesley, the first Duke of Wellington (1769-1852). The Iron Duke, as he was known, instructed his shoemaker, George Hoby to modify his hessian 18th-century boot and make it out of calfskin leather.

WellyMontageWellingtons first appeared in 1817 and proved popular with the troops because they were hard wearing for battle, yet comfortable for evening wear. The boot leather was treated with wax to make them softer and more waterproof. The new boots became a very popular fashion accessory for gentlemen. Considered fashionable and foppish in the best circles, they remained the main fashion for men throughout the 1840s.

American, Charles Goodyear (1800-1860), who invented a vulcanisation process for rubber, began making rubber boots. Hiram Hutchinson saw the potential for agricultural workers in France and bought the patent from Goodyear in 1852. The new waterproof boots were quick to become established and sold well within the large rural population. Amazingly, by 1857 the company were hand–making 14,000 pairs of boots per day!

Fellow American, Henry Lee Norris, moved to Edinburgh and started producing rubber wellington boots in 1856. Norris believed Scotland was a good place to manufacture wellingtons because of the country’s high rainfall – good decision! He founded the British Rubber Company and four former boot–makers from New York trained the Scottish workforce The company went into production first making rubber shoes and boots and then quickly expanding to produce an extensive range of rubber products, included tyres, golf balls and hot water bottles.

Come the outbreak of the First World War (1914- 1918) the trench war ensured high production of rubber boots and again, in the Second World War, the armed forces used vast quantities of rubber wellington boots.

And so to today, when the Wellington boot has gone full circle and become highly fashionable again. When I was a child, wearing wellies was deemed very boring. They were always plain black and not very comfy and you would go out of your way to avoid wearing them. Now, when we are so sophisticated with technology coming out of our ears, I find it amusing that something as simple as old-fashioned as a boot made out of rubber is so much in demand. You can have them in various designs and in any colour and, if you choose green ones, you can even spend a fortune on them!

3 Comments

Malted Chocolate Cake

We decided we needed to celebrate the ongoing success of our latest Swaddlecombe Mystery novel ‘ A Fowl Murder’… and what better way to celebrate than with a cup of tea and homemade chocolate cake!

The recipe is by Mary Berry from her ‘Absolute Favourites’ cook book ­ – an excellent buy by the way!

Cake Ingredients

  • 30g (1oz) malted chocolate drink powder
  • 30g (1oz) cocoa powder
  • 225g (8oz) butter softened, plus extra for greasing
  • 225g (8oz) caster sugar
  • 225g (8oz) self raising flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 4 eggs

Icing Ingredients

  • 3 tbsp malted chocolate drink powder
  • 1 ½ tablespoons hot milk
  • 125g (4 ½ oz) butter, softened
  • 250g (9oz) icing sugar
  • 50g (2oz) dark chocolate, melted
  • 1 tbsp boiling water
  • 20+ Maltesers to decorate

Method

You will need 2 20cm (8 inch) round sandwich tins. Preheat oven to 180c/160 fan/Gas 4 and grease the tins with butter and line the bases with baking paper.

Measure the malted chocolate drink powder and cocoa powder into a large bowl, pour over 2 tablespoons of water and mix to a paste. Add the remaining cake ingredients and beat until smooth.

Divide evenly between the prepared tins and bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes. Set aside in the tins to cool for 5 mins then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

To make the icing, measure the malted chocolate drink powder into a bow, add the hot milk and mix until smooth. Add the butter, icing sugar and melted chocolate and mix again until smooth, then add the boiling water to  give a gloss to the icing.

Place one cake on a plate and spread over half the icing. Sandwich with the other cake and spread (or pipe) the remaining icing on top using the tip of a rounded palette knife to create a swirled effect from the centre to the edge of the cake. Arrange the Maltesers over the top.

8 Comments

A Murderous Success!

Well, what can I say other than ‘thank you’? My partner in crime writing, Julia, and I have been thrilled by the response to our latest novel, ‘A Fowl Murder’. It has sold incredibly well and the early reviews have all been very kind.

We have, tentatively, started thinking about a fourth novel in the series, set in the winter time. However, we both lead fairly hectic lives and have all sorts of other projects ‘on the go’, so we need to sit down and discuss it further…

Of course, the talking and the plotting is the fun bit! We both enjoy creating new characters and thinking up dastardly ends for some poor unsuspecting soul or other. Writing as a team has distinct advantages – egging each other on when the going gets tough, but has disadvantages too – as when continuity gets scrambled and characters have been known to change name or completely vanish!

Going over and over your work and editing and correcting can be a hard slog and cups of tea tend to mysteriously change into glasses of wine every now and then… and then of course, there’s the need for all the cake baking and recipe testing to ensure authenticity! It can be a tough job…

There’s also the fear of arrest. Julia was sitting in a pub garden discussing a potential plot idea with a friend and said: “I really don’t know if we could get away with stabbing him. It’s too obvious, perhaps poison might be better?” At which point, her friend pointed out that a passing waiter has turned pale and has now having an urgent whispered discussion with a colleague. A flurry of embarrassed explanation followed, and she was able to leave after her drink with nothing more than suspicious glances, and not in handcuffs.

I have been known to wander around garden centres asking about the poisonous potential of plants and shrubs. I may even have used my Granddaughter, Grace, as the reason for my concern, disgraceful!

And so, dear readers, if you ever hear of two middle aged women from Devon being held in custody, you will come and explain, won’t you…?

 

8 Comments