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Easy as pie

Easy as pie

It struck me last week when I went to an uncle’s funeral back in Wales that outside of this splendid country you very rarely see a corned beef pie! Yet at every family gathering in my childhood – birthday, wedding or wake – you would go home mildly disappointed if you hadn’t crammed a slice or two of this in your gob at the buffet table. Often made in a baking tray for large gatherings and cut into squares, mam used to make her version in a battered old enamel pie plate. It was the thing I most craved when I left home to go to university.

Mam was THE best pastry maker … ever. To this day I still don’t know what made her pastry so light, crumbly and melt-in-the-mouth gorgeous. She said it was because she had cool hands, but even when I run mine under a cold water tap until my fingers go numb I can’t reach the same heights of pastry Nirvana. Perhaps it was because she used a mixture of lard and stork margarine – something during my days of studying to be a Dietitian I couldn’t bring myself to do – or perhaps she was just a witch!

As it was National Pie Week last week and coming up to Mother’s Day, I though I should have a bash at recreating this cherished dish from my childhood. Unfortunately as my mam passed away many years ago – without as far as I know writing the recipe down – I have had to plumb the depths of my memory to recall how she made it. All I can really remember (apart from the type of fat she used for the pastry) was that she used to boil all the filling ingredients together and that I always stole some corned beef when her back was turned!

Corned beef pie – Ingredients

For the pastry

  • 500g plain flour
  • 100g lard
  • 100g stork margarine
  • Approx 200ml ice-cold water
  • 1 egg

For the filling

  • 340g tin corned beef – cut into chunks
  • 2 large potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
  • 3 large carrots, peeled and cut into chunks
  • 1 large onion, peeled and sliced
  • butter
  • salt & pepper

Corned Beef Pie – Method

  1. To make the pastry, sieve the flour into a large bowl. Cut the lard and margarine into small pieces, add to the bowl and then rub into the flour until it resembles breadcrumbs. Add as much of the water as you need to bring make a soft dough. Knead briefly, then wrap in cling film and chill for about 30 mins. Of course you can do this in a food processor, but mam didn’t have one of these so thought I should do it the old fashioned way.
  2. To make the filling put all the veg into a pan of boiling water (yes even the onions) and cook until tender. Add the corned beef for the last 5 minutes. Drain and then mash with copious amounts of butter and salt & pepper. Mam probably used white pepper but I succumbed to the ground black variety.
  3. Pre-heat oven to 200C and place a flat baking sheet in the oven. Generously grease a pie plate.
  4. Divide the pastry into two and then roll out one bit into a round slightly larger than your pie plate. Use to line the tin.
  5. Pile the filling into the pastry case – you should have enough to make a nice domed shape. Brush the edges of the pastry in the dish with beaten egg.
  6. Roll out the second piece of pastry and use to top your pie, pressing the edges together firmly. Trim the edges and then either crimp or simply make fork marks all the way around the edge to seal, which is what I did. Make a few little slits in the top of the pie. You will have a fair bit of pastry left. I made some decorations from the pastry scraps for the top of the pie and froze the rest – I think mam used to make some jam tarts for my dad.
  7. Brush the top of the pie with the rest of the beaten egg, place in the oven on the baking sheet and cook for about 35-40 minutes until golden brown.
  8. Let it sit for about 10 minutes and then serve in all its glory, perhaps with a big pile of peas and lots of proper gravy.

Corned Beef Pie – Verdict

The filling was just as I remembered it – but the pastry? Well it just wasn’t like mam used to make. But a pretty good pastry nonetheless !