Stop fidgeting at the back there; or the Huntingdon (fitchett) Pie

Why am I writing about a mere pie you may ask? OK, for any number of good reasons (foremost of which of course is: “it’s a PIE, stupid, what’s not to like?”) but really there are two main ones:

  1. It’s a great traditional dish made with pork & apple that’s been produced in and around Huntingdon and dates back hundreds of years &
  2. It used to be made with bacon taken from the Huntingdon Black Hog, now sadly extinct. A local pig, dear to my heart, especially as it was so similar to my beloved Berkshires.

© Slow Food UK

It’s such an important specimen (the pie that is, obviously; sadly the pig isn’t with us anymore) of the history of the food in this country, that the very wonderful Slow Food UK movement have added it to their Ark of Taste programme as a prime example of one of around 80 or so English products felt to be under threat of either disappearing completely or being changed beyond recognition i.e. read “cheapened”.

The Berkshire (along with the British Lop, Gloucester Old Spot, Tamworth and other rare pig breeds) is also in there, right next to our regional cheeses, ancient fruits, endangered sheep and traditional fish, all coming under a heading we could and should call “best of British”.  Do you see a theme emerging here?

So, back to the Fidget (“fitchett” is an alternative spelling as one suggestion for the derivation of the name is that it was originally ‘fitched’ or five-sided in shape; however, reading Stefan’s Florilegium also suggests the origin could indeed be fitchett †, a slang word for ‘apple’). However you choose to pronounce this beauty, with pork and apples cooked inside a golden-brown short crust pie, what’s not to like about it? And along with onions and cider, that’s the basis for this deceptively simple dish.

[NOTE: some recipes also throw in potato — but that’s some horrible aberration straight outta Shrophire, so will be ignored here and henceforth by all right thinking people].

Back in 2007, a Grauniad journalist ¹ tried to find a Huntingdon Fidget Pie he could sample whilst on a family visit to the town; with a singular lack of success. Things haven’t improved any in the 7 years since then. Still no one is offering them in the town. Not one place.

These majestic pies — that were once produced here and all over the Midlands and described memorably as “meals on wheels for working men” ¹ — are the hyper-local equivalent of the bulging Cornish pasty or those packed hot pies coming from Lancashire but you’re hard pressed to find them being made anywhere now even (especially!) in their home-town– and that’s a crying shame.

© Visit Cornwall

© Richardson’s Butchers, Lancs.

So, to redress this balance I intend making these regularly. And with Berkshire bacon as I can’t get the pork from a genuine Huntingdon Hog. There are a number of recipes floating around the web now but this is the one I’m slowly fine-tuning.This will probably serve four (small) people. I’m not sure that’s correct — “your mileage may vary” — so you may want to scale up the numbers below …

INGREDIENTS:

  • 100 g (4 oz) unsalted butter, cubed
  • 250 g (9 oz) plain strong flour
  • 1tsp fresh thyme
  • 1tsp caster sugar
  • salt and milled pepper
  • 225 g (8 oz) back bacon, rind off, roughly chopped
  • 1 medium onion, skinned and roughly chopped
  • 225 g (8 oz) mixed cooking & eating apples, peeled, cored, roughly chopped
  • 15 ml (1 tbsp) chopped fresh parsley
  • 150 ml (1/4 pint) dry cider
  • 1tsp corn flour
  • 1 large egg yolk, beaten for the glaze

    PREPARATION:

  • We’ll start off with the pastry:  sift 225 g (8 oz) of the flour and a pinch of salt into a bowl, add the thyme. Rub the butter in gently until the mixture looks like breadcrumbs then add just sufficient cold water to mix to a firm dough. Ball up the dough and knead lightly then cover the bowl in clingfilm and put it in the fridge for 30 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, cook off the bacon and onions in a little pork fat until the former starts to crisp and the latter to go translucent. Combine the two, tossing in the corn-flour and then place with the apples into a 568 ml (1 pint) pie dish. Add the parsley & caster sugar and season to taste with salt & milled pepper.
  • Take the remaining flour and slowly add the cider, a little at a time, until it’s a runny paste; pour this into the pie dish.
  • Roll out the pastry until it’s approx. the depth of a £1 coin. Cut off a thin strip long enough to go around the rim of the pie dish. Moisten the dish rim with water and place this strip onto the rim, pressing down lightly all the way round.
  • Roll out the pastry again until it’s a circle approx. 1/2″ wider than the dish diameter
  • Now moisten the strip of pastry, place the pastry circle on top and press firmly to seal. Knock up and flute the edge using a fork.
  • Make a diagonal cross in the centre almost to the very edge of the dish and fold the pastry back to reveal the filling. Chill it all in the fridge again for 30 minutes.
  • Take out and brush the pastry all over with the egg. Bake at 190ºC (375°F) mark 5 for about 45 minutes or until the pastry is deep golden and the filling is cooked.
  • It’s perfect served straight from the oven along with a green vegetable — I’d suggest a purple sprouting broccoli or some curly kale or you can let it chill and then match it with a salad & a sharp pickle.

And this is the result. Well, one of them. In this version from last weekend, I’ve used diced pork loin rather than bacon, to ring the changes and experiment. Hey, no carping criticisms eh? My town, my recipe(s), MY frickin’ pie.

† interestingly, there’s a Fitchett mentioned in connection with the eponymous town of Huntingdon, VA. Nothing to do with pigs or pies but still, one of those nuggets of useless information (in this case about Cherrystone oysters) that you’ll thank me for one day …

Doran S. Callahan Collection, Eastern Shore Public Library Accomac, Va. 1900

References:

  1. Fort, Matthew. “Start fidgeting”. The Guardian, 17 November 2007

About Salute The Pig

Charcuterie, smoking, curing, brining and all things porcine. Brought to you from deepest, darkest Cambs, England by Chris Bulow. In the smoker or in the kitchen....Salutate porcum!
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