It is a rich, historical tradition, food, files…and convicts. Smuggling implements hidden in the bellies of freshly baked cakes to aid the escape of prisoners from the belly of the beast is a well-worn cliché in many a crime drama. With the sophistication of today’s metal detection systems, it’s difficult to imagine that passing contraband could be as easy as taking candy from a baby. Pip is just such a baby.
Phillip Pirip, known throughout his life as Pip, is among Charles Dickens’ most celebrated protagonists. In a galaxy of supremely complicated and revered novels including Oliver Twist and David Copperfield, Great Expectations is a tale of an orphan’s long and painful coming of age in the age of Victoria, where children are harshly raised “by the hand” and an exacting class system takes its toll on everyone.
It is on Christmas Eve when Pip, visiting his parents’ tombstones on the bleak marsh landscape, encounters Abel Magwitch, an escaped convict, his ankles shackled in irons, his heaving great mass soaked to the bone. It is not difficult for Magwitch to bully the terrorized boy into bringing him some “wittles” and a file. As much an act of Christian charity as to keep the boogie man away, Pip returns to the graveyard with the ragtag spoils of a hasty raid on his shrewish sister’s larder:
“…I stole some bread, some rind of cheese, about half a jar of mincemeat (which I tied up in my pocket-handkerchief with my last night’s slice), some brandy from a stone bottle (which I decanted into a glass bottle I had secretly used for making that intoxicating fluid, Spanish liquorice-water, up in my room, diluting the stone bottle from a jug in the kitchen cupboard), a meat bone with very little on it, and a beautiful round compact pork-pie…”Magwitch does not forget the kindness when days later, caught by the authorities, he confesses to the thieveries to spare Pip the punishment certain to be inflicted upon him as an accessory. This is but one spectacularly rendered episode of compassion which hurls Pip’s life on a meandering and fantastic trajectory defying what anyone could have predicted for him. Pip’s course ultimately falls far short of its potential, but for the reader who endeavors to follow him along his path of fortunes and failures, Great Expectations is a story you will never want to escape from.
Roasted Root Vegetable Pot Pies – My own recipe
1 two-crust pastry recipe or store-bought pie crusts of your choice (I used this classic short crust recipe.)
Chanterelle Mushroom Béchamel Sauce (recipe follows)
1 cup rutabaga (a.k.a yellow turnip or swede), peeled and diced (about 1/3 of a large root)
1 cup white turnips, peeled and diced
1 large baking potato, peeled or well-scrubbed and diced
1 cup parsnips, peeled and cut into coarse matchsticks
2 carrots, peeled or well-scrubbed, cut into coins
1 cup pearl onions, peeled with ends trimmed (I used red pearl onions.)
2 tablespoons ghee (clarified butter) or mild-flavored oil (I used ghee.)
[Tip: Vary size of dice for each vegetable for additional texture.]
Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees F.
Heat the ghee or oil in a large cast iron skillet or roasting pan just until it thins out. Remove from heat and add all of the vegetables, tossing gently to coat in the fat. Position skillet/pan on center rack of oven and roast for 40 minutes or until vegetables are browned and crusty. Turn vegetables several times during roasting to ensure even browning.
Meantime, prepare the Chanterelle Mushroom Béchamel Sauce:
1/3 cup fresh or dried chanterelle or other robust mushrooms, coarsely chopped (I used dried which have to be chopped after reconstitution.)
¾ cup water
2 tablespoons butter or oil
2 tablespoons flour
1 ½ cups milk or cream, any fat content
1/2 cup mushroom stock
1 teaspoon salt (or adjust to taste)
½ teaspoon black pepper
In a small saucepan, simmer mushrooms in water over very low heat until water reduces to about 1/2 cup and browns into a stock. Remove from heat and set aside. Chop reconstituted dried mushrooms now if you have used them.
In a medium saucepan over low heat, prepare a roux by mixing the flour with sizzling butter or oil until all the flour is absorbed and smooth. Allow to cook a few minutes until thick. Using a wire whisk, beat in a thin, steady stream of the milk and mushroom stock until fully combined. Add salt and pepper. Beating constantly to prevent lumps, cook the sauce until it thickens again, allowing it to bubble without scorching. Remove from heat and set aside.
Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees F.
Fill four 4-5 inch diameter ramekins to the rim. Roll out pastry to a thickness of ½ inch. Cut 4 squares of pastry about 1 inch longer than the edges of the ramekins, reserving any leftover dough for another use.* Position a pastry square evenly over top of each ramekin, allowing the corners to drape over the sides. [Optional: Brush a bit of beaten egg mixed with chopped parsley over the tops of the pastry squares.] Carefully cut small vents into the pastry squares to allow steam to escape. Bake on a cookie sheet for approximately 35 minutes or until pastry is fully browned. Ramekins will be very hot; please use caution. Serves 4. --
* For simple jam-faced pastries, roll out leftover dough then cut into shapes. Place pieces on ungreased cookie sheet and spread with preserves or sprinkle with brown sugar. Bake in 400 degree F oven for approximately 20 minutes or until pastries are brown and topping is bubbly.
This post is being submitted to Simona of Briciole and Lisa of Champaign Taste, hosts of Novel Food, a four-seasons blogging event featuring all meals great and small, and the pages they spring from.
Been There, Done That ~
Crumb-Topped White Peach Pie
Other People's Eats ~
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Chicken Pot Pie