When I was a kid, they used to sell these meat pies at the school canteen, and my mum used to let us get a pie once a week. She was a health food freak, so a meat pie was the equivalent of lunch neglect for her kids and she couldn’t bring herself to do that too often.
Usually my mum would load me up with a banana, a pack of dried raisins, a juice (not juice drink but 100% fruit juice) and a sandwich with wholewheat bread, margarine made from olive oil, lettuce, tomato, beetroot, ham, cheese, cucumber, alfalfa sprouts and pickles. The sandwich was truly inspirational, in an artistic sense. The beetroot reds would mix with the intense yellow from the pickles, making the blues, the greens, the oranges…the only problem was that I had to eat it, not put it on the wall.
My mum’s sandwiches were actually really delicious; I just didn’t eat much back then. I was one of those kids who didn’t eat and was always feeling a little bit nauseous from lack of caloric intake. I was always on the verge of passing out. The idea of chewing and swallowing food was repulsive to me. I think I was born that way. I’m ashamed to admit that I wouldn’t even feed from my mama’s breast, which is absolutely ridiculous looking at it from today. There’s nothing nicer than female breasts.
But the meat pie was different. I used to like eating that. Maybe because it was an exception. Maybe because it was everything I was not supposed to be. Unhealthy, uninventive, uninviting, unsophisticated. It is minced meat in a pie. The only thing to jazz it up is a bit of onion. That’s it. And salt and pepper, which, are not even real spices if you ask me; they are more like staples. No oregano, or chives, or cilantro, or coriander. No Cornish place of origin; it’s not the ‘Salt Lake of Larnaca Meat Pie’, or the ‘Check your Boots for Tarantulas Before You Put Them On Meat Pie’. Nothing Fancy. It’s pork, minced, with gravy and onions, in a pie.
I used to like eating the meat pie, but still, I could never eat it all. I used to eat half, and give the rest away or throw it in the trash. And if ever you find yourself with a meat pie, you need to know that it must be eaten with ketchup. Which takes us from lunch neglect to lunch suicide. It might be helpful if you have the day off and a bed nearby, you might need the extra time for digestion purposes. But, let us make some clarifications. Ketchup is a must for the meat pie, not any other kind of pie – not steak and kidney, not liver and bean, not chicken and leek, in fact, any pie that has a two-ingredient title is not under discussion here.
So, I have spent a large part of my adult culinary journey trying to create the meat pie of my childhood. Sometimes I get swept away and I adulterate the recipe by adding something exciting from my expanding horizons (chorizo doesn’t work, neither do curry leaves), or succumbing to the peer pressure of those around me (‘don’t use pork, use lamb, lamb tastes better’; not in this case it don’t – it has to be pig, but in all truth, I’m not sure exactly what kind of meat they used to put in there). I don’t have a recipe per se. I have tried hundreds of different ones, and I have slowly developed a kind of mental road map that takes me in the vicinity of the meat pie I used to know as a kid, but never right there.
I came the closest ever last night. I was 98% there. The taste was so close, I could almost feel myself shrinking in my clothes and becoming 8 years old again on a Friday at school, when the canteen ladies used to deliver the ordered lunches to each class, and it was the one day when I got a package delivered to me too, a piping hot meat pie with the ketchup already pumped in there. No healthy sandwich for me that day. And I used to get so excited, I’d eat more than half and forget about the rest of the stuff: the dried raisins, and the juice, and the banana, which, inevitably would get squished in my school text books and turn everything green by the time I remembered it was in there. But, no matter how many times I brought it back, whether mouldy and decaying between books, or in good shape to live another day, my mum never let me leave home without a banana.
Dedicated to everyone’s mum for Mother’s Day.