There are all sorts of different reasons for writing, some of them more refined and elevated than others. Sometimes the impetus comes in the form of a book laid aside (perhaps vigorously) in disgust, as the writer says, “Dammit, I could write a better book than than one!” and then goes and does just that.
At other times, the book begins with a hunger for something – a plot twist, a story element, a certain flavor to the prose, a particular slantwise way of looking at the subject matter – that none of the books in the reader’s chosen genre has been able to provide. Lots of readers experience this hunger; a few of them go on to address it by telling their own stories to satisfy the desire. “I wrote the book I wanted to read that nobody else was writing” is a sentiment often found in authorial memoirs and interviews.
Which reminds me of the time when I decided I wanted a pork pie like the one that sometimes showed up as a lunchtime special down at Howard’s Restaurant. This was a pork pie of the French Canadian, not the English, variety, because the small New Hampshire town I live in is about fifteen minutes south of Quebec and the local foodways reflect this sometimes. Because this is the twenty-first century, I turned to the internet for help – and discovered (to nobody’s surprise, I’m sure) not just one, but dozens of recipes, all slightly different. I ended up conflating several different recipes, and tweaking the result – much as a writer tweaks story elements and plot lines – until I got the dish and the flavor I wanted.
French-Canadian Pork Pie
- Pie crust sufficient for a two-crust pie (I used pre-made, but if you’ve got a light hand for pastry and the patience to go with it, you could make your own. Sources I’ve read say that for the ultra-traditional, a lard-based pastry is the way to go; I’ve never bothered.)
- 2 large yellow onions, chopped fine (I ran mine through the food processor)
- 1.5 pounds ground pork
- 3 medium-to-large white potatoes, cooked (you could boil them; I steamed them) and coarsely mashed
- 1 cup beef stock (I used stock base from a jar and made it up double strength)
- 1 egg, beaten
- 1/2 teaspoon allspice
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1/4 teaspoon thyme
- dash of nutmeg
- dash of cinnamon
- two or three grindings of black pepper (the stock was sufficiently salty that I didn’t bother with adding more salt.)
Cook the ground pork and the chopped onions together in a frying pan until the pork isn’t pink any longer. Drain off the fat.
Add the pork and onion mixture to the mashed cooked potatoes and mix them up.
Then add the beef stock, the beaten egg, and the spices, and mix them up some more.
Have your pie pan ready with the bottom crust in place. Put in the filling. If you’ve got a pie bird, this is a good time to get it into place. Put on the top crust, and crimp it down. Cut slits in the top to facilitate the escape of steam. (At this point, I suppose one could do one or another of the various things one does with egg or milk to put a glaze onto the crust; again, I didn’t bother.)
Bake in a 375 degree oven for 20 minutes, then turn the heat down to 350 and bake 45 minutes more. (It’s probably a good idea to put a foil-lined baking sheet on the rack below, in case of spillover.)
When it’s done, remove from the oven, let cool for 10-15 minutes, then serve.
Given that Howard’s Restaurant is now closed, and also is in danger of collapsing into the river, it’s a good thing I worked out the recipe for myself.