Monday, 7 November 2011

Melancholy Pie

Life is a strange beast and when times are hard there's only one thing to do. Make a pie.

Today marks one week since I left the macrobert arts centre, a company I have worked in for eight years. Initially meant to supplement my already dwindled student loan, at the age of 20 I applied to be an usher so I could hang out with my best friend Kirsty and ultimately get paid to go to the cinema. A brilliant plan, I'm sure you'll agree. Unfortunately my CV bulging with catering experience across the globe meant that I was plucked from a future snoozing in the back row to a life filled with lattes, kids parties and, the horrors, curly fries. Welcome to the macrobert cafe bar. 

Situated on campus and with a pretty decent program of films, live shows and youth workshops it is the perfect place to work post lectures and pre pub. Disastrously my first shift was crippled with a hacking, full bodied cough that was so horrific I couldn't even keep dry toast down. Coupled with the experience of being locked in the backstage toilets for half an hour and none of the boys behind the bar mumbling a word to me, it was not the most glittering of beginnings. But from humble beginnings come great things, and being part of the macrobert family for the last eight years is one of the greatest.

I managed to evolve from coffee monkey over the years and with every promotion I grew more and more passionate about making the cafe bar the best it could be. It wouldn't be far from the truth to say that breathed, slept and ate everything macrobert from noon to night, Monday to Sunday. I've laughed til I cried, cried til I laughed, had my heart broken, shouted a fair amount, collapsed with pure exhaustion and got very very drunk. Never before I have I been lucky enough to work with such brilliant people, so many people that are now friends for life and without which I couldn't have never got through the days. You know who you are.

But my days of Catering Manager for the macrobert cafe bar are now at an end. Like most places the purse strings are pinching and no matter how hard we've fought, that job is officially redundant, and with it so am I. It's ok, I'm ok - mostly. I hope that a restructure will breath new life and allow the whole company to flourish.  I also hope know that this change is a good thing. I'm getting really excited about new challenges, new ideas and a new life centered around what I am really passionate about - good food.

This week though, I'm allowing myself to be sad. Not morose or inconsolable, just a little glum.  So I ask myself - WWJB? Those unfamiliar with this acronym will have to look towards one of the most underrated films of all time, I'm talking of course about Waitress.  Written and directed by Adrienne Shelly our hero is Jenna, a pregnant and very unhappily married diner waitress who dreams of escape.  Jenna is a phenomenal baker of the most magical pies inspired by her dismal life.  Who really can resist an opening scene like this...

So What Would Jenna Bake? As mentioned she bakes pies that reflect her situation in life, Bad Baby Pie (after finding out she was pregnant with her horrible husbands baby), I Hate My Husband Pie (self explanatory) and Naughty Pumpkin Pie (after starting an affair with her very handsome doctor). The contents of these pies often reflect their titles, I Hate My Husband Pie is made with bittersweet chocolate, and each is put on special in Joe's Diner. So this week I baked a pie, I'm Glum About Leaving My Job Pie.  Made with plums because it rhymes with glum (slightly tenuous link) and spices for medicinal purposes

You don't have to be especially glum to make this pie because as would luck would have it, it also perfectly celebrates the last of Autumns bounty too. Plums were made for pudding and have been used in British cooking since the dawn of time. The second most cultivated fruit in the world (after apples) they have a place in almost every cuisine, from Chinese Crispy Duck with Plum Sauce to Italian Plum Cake. I tend to find golden and red plums sweeter than their purple counterparts but their dusty blue skins are almost too beautiful to resist, in photographs at least. For this recipe I used Victoria plums, probably the most well known but I refuse to knock them for being ubiquitous. I mixed them with apples for the pie to give another Autumnal dimension and cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg for warming spice. Please count the cloves before you put them in and make sure that you find them all before filling the pie. I could only find 3 out of 4 and pie eating in this household turned into clove Russian roulette.

Please don't judge but I used pre-made shortcrust pastry.  It shrunk so lesson learned and I promise never to be so lazy ever again. Probably. If you are diligent and want to make your own I recommend this recipe but triple the amounts for this pie. The pastry isn't blind baked, which might have added to the shrinkage, so make sure that the pie lid isn't too tightly fitted.

Melancholy Pie 

Serves 8

500g dessert apples - British please
400g plums
140g golden caster sugar, plus extra for sprinkling
1/2 tsp of cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
4 cloves
1 heaped tsp of cornflour
plain flour, for dusting
500g shortcrust pastry
1 egg, beaten to glaze

Heat the oven to 200c/180c fan/gas 6 and put a large baking sheet on the middle shelf to heat up. Butter a 24cm pie dish and place in the fridge.

Place the plums, apples, sugar and spices in large saucepan and heat until the sugar has dissolved and the plums are juicy. Mix the cornflour with a small splash of water and add to the plum mixture, heat for a few minutes until the juices thicken. Leave to cool.

Dust the work surface with flour and divide the pastry into 2 parts. One for the pie base, which needs to be the largest piece, one for the lid which should be slightly smaller. Dust a rolling pin with flour and roll out the pie base until it is 1/2 cm thick. Line the pie dish by moving the rolled pasty carefully with the rolling pin, press into the side but leave the extra over hang.

Fill the pie with the cooled plum and apple mixture. Roll out the lid to the same thickness as the base and place on top of the fruit. Pinch around the pie with your fingers and then crimp together with the prongs of a fork. Using a knife cut the extra pastry away.

Use this extra pastry to make decorations for the pie top, I went for leaves but you could make plums, unicorns - what ever takes your fancy. Use the beaten egg to stick them to the pie lid and brush the rest over the top.  Sprinkle with golden caster sugar. Place on the hot baking sheet and bake for 30 - 40 minutes or until the pie is golden brown.

Serve with vanilla spiked custard or cold ice cream to contrast with the bubbling hot fruit.

P.S I thought I would show off my new pinny, courtesy of my lovely flatmate Stevie, bought on his recent trip to New York.  I now strut around the kitchen pretending I'm Rachel Green.


  1. Beautiful pie and post. Hoping there are great things around the corner for you.

  2. What a perfect post. Thank you for sharing your story of the Macrobert cafe bar. Given the passion you have for food and people I am sure you will soon find a career for your talents.

    The plums look delicious and the film sounds fun, I think I may have seen it, it rings a bell!

  3. Kate Timperley1:48:00 pm

    Lovely post my dear. And wow, I am mega jealous of the pinny!! See you soon, Kate x

  4. Anonymous6:53:00 pm

    Em. I know things are a bit tough at the moment but you have so much talent. Follow your heart with your cooking and your writing. The good days are not far away I feel sure. Findy xx

  5. Thank you all for your support and kind words. The pie was gooood medicine! x

  6. Dianne Comrie10:15:00 pm

    That's a lovely reflection on your time at the arts centre. And now I know that your blog is the best way to keep up to date with what's happening in your life. The future will be bright and wonderful, I'm sure. xxx ps I'm jealous of the pinny too.