3 December 2011

Old Tom Pie

The nights draw in, the skies are clear, the wind keen. Time to bake Old Tom pie.

I'm not sure how this translates to those outside the UK. Here an Old Tom refers to a mangy male cat of a certain age and disposition, but I hasten to add that the meat used in this pie is beef, not feral puss. The Old Tom is the Real Ale used to moisten the meat mixture and give it a cracking taste. It is a dark ale, with aromas of rich autumn fruits and ripe malted barley, but with an 8.5% alcohol rating it is not for the fainthearted palate to sup, which is why, in our house, it goes in a pie.

It was a quirk of fate that we happened to have a bottle lurking in a corner, as obnoxious cats tend to do. I could have baked a Black Sheep pie, or a Nutty Black, or a Blandford Flyer, or a Sleck Dust, or a Speckled Hen pie beloved by gastro-pubs, or any of a host of others just from my area, each with its own distinctive flavour.

Real Ale has had a true resurgence in the UK thanks to micro-breweries housed in farms and privately owned pubs together with the quaffing capabilities of CAMRA members. These are not binge drinkers of British infamy, but discerning connoisseurs of regional draughts the same way true wine drinkers are.

And it’s nothing new. Back in mediaeval Britain when it wasn’t always a good idea to drink the water, it was part of a woman’s house-wife duties to provide a palatable and safe drink. And being Britain, if it had a kick to it, all well and good. And if it brought a little money into the household coffers, so much the better.

Two mashes would be produced from the same grain, a strong ale which could be stored or be sold, and a lighter ‘small beer’ which the household would drink. Often different herbs, and spices if they could be afforded, were added to each mash, the recipes closely-guarded to ensure that satisfied customers returned. If they returned often enough, a true business enterprise ensued.

There’s nothing new about Real Ale, or even Real Ale pie. Except, perhaps, that now the meat that lurks beneath the crust can be vouched for.

Bottoms up.

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