A pork pie brought home after a trip to Suffolk was meant to be a light-hearted bit of competitive analysis. It soon became a test of resolve to even swallow the thing.
The crust, which shouldn’t give before your teeth touch it, somehow did, as though anticipating an assault and giving up before any violence took place. It’s not hot water paste as it should be.
Then the sensation of overly-minced, over-cooked grainy sausage of indeterminate origin, bound with little more than a hope it will all come together on the night.
Worse still was the shock of an industrial dose of dried sage, a medicine once used to cure snakebites and haemorrhoids.
Sage, like cloves, needs to be treated with respect. And context. Fresh leaves fried in olive oil and butter poured over a mushroom-filled raviolo is stupendous.
Handfuls of year-old dried sage from catering-sized tub is not. Unless you’re happy to swap antiseptic cream with mayonnaise, you’d be best to avoid it.
Now, with a mouthful of desiccated sausage and a dose of bitter sage, you’re thinking your afternoon couldn’t get any more miserable. Alas, your next sensation is a gloopy sweet one, a blob of what might possibly be chutney beneath the sandy sausage meat.
Is this meant to be a pleasant surprise, a treat for the tastebuds, the pièce de résistance of the pork pie chef at the height of his powers?
Our boy has the same tolerance as our nine-month-old puppy for ingesting virtually any organic matter on the planet as long as he’s hungry – which, as he’s 13, means 24/7. And it’s virtually impossible to get him or his 11-year-old sister to gag on a meat-filled pastry product, even on a miserable petrol station sausage roll with a use-by date mysteriously falling in the next decade.
But they did. After her experience, our always-caring 11-year-old daughter told her mum: “Make sure you have plenty of water handy before tasting it.”
She didn’t. Her subsequent dash to the sink was accompanied by a triumphant “I told you so,” which, to be fair, she often says but in this case it was within an actual and heart-felt health and safety context.
I’ve tasted many a repulsive thing in the interests of research (and just as many in the distant past simply to line a beer-filled stomach), but there’s something particularly reprehensible about this pie in question (a well-known brand).
Mostly, because a pork pie is a ridiculously simple concept: savoury pork, seasoned how you like, in a hot-water paste cooked long enough to achieve a biscuity pastry, before adding more or less jelly made from the bits of rind and other leftover piggy stuff.
And like any other food, its textures and flavours should marry and meld, complement and contrast in equal measure, to create an exciting and harmonious whole that leaves a taste you’re happy to savour.
But here we have a complete riot (in a bad, socially dysfunctional way) of flavours and textures and components: grainy, flavourless overly-minced sausage, medicinal sage, and non-descript chutney (or something sweet and moist) wrapped in a short pastry whose fat content was only reduced because much of it had leeched into the brown paper bag it came in.
Call me old-fashioned, but there’s something to be said for simple, well-made food, produced with care and affection and with a deep understanding of all its ingredients.