I’m going to start with a bit of a caveat; I don’t eat meat and haven’t done for almost 18 years (though I do eat seafood). People often ask me why and it’s really for a mix of health and environmental reasons. My body doesn’t feel good when I eat meat. The production of meat can also be intensely damaging to the planet. However meat remains an important part of many people’s diets, so I’m still interested in the caring and responsible rearing and slaughtering of animals. I also want to make sure rare breed animals are protected, along with any artisan skills involved in preparing and cooking meat.
This leads me on to pork pies. One of the most famous pork pies is the Melton Mowbray Pork Pie, which has a long heritage dating back to the 1780’s. It was granted protected designation of origin in 2008. The pork pie has a proud history, and is a particular favourite of my husband. We’ve even made the odd diversion to Melton Mowbray to pick up a pie (and a bit of Stilton). When I discovered a pork pie making course run by Flammen & Citronen, it had my husband’s name written all over it. I thought it might be an interesting experience to go along too. It also meant my husband would get both his and my share of pie so he was very pleased. As it turned out, I was the only female among 7 participants.
Flammen & Citronen is run by Jo Jo and she holds classes in her Rotherhithe flat, which is quite a different environment to a cookery school. We all got up close and personal in Jo Jo’s cosy living room, sitting around her dining room table with boards and knives for chopping up pork. Because the class only had a small number of people it was very easy to get chatting. We were also invited ahead of the class to bring along beverages (alcoholic or other), so the addition of a few chilled beers made things very relaxed.
Jo Jo has an immense amount of energy and a slightly bawdy sense of humour, so that it was hard not to feel enthused from the very beginning (even for someone who doesn’t eat meat). Jo Jo has Danish heritage and did her baking training in Denmark. She has also worked extensively in the UK, including some time in Scotland where making a good pie was essential to her trade. From this experience she has developed her own version of the pork pie, using a hot water pastry recipe with lard to give a nice crisp finish. The pie can be made, cooked and eaten within the space of a 3 hour class.
I didn’t actually unveil myself as a non-meat eater till the end of the class, so got stuck in with chopping up pork belly and shoulder into small pieces. One of the men was assigned as top mincer and was given the task of grinding the pork through a meat mincer. A little bit of pork, plus some chopped bacon, was separated out beforehand so there were also a few more meaty chunks in the pies. Jo Jo was very liberal with the spices she added into the meat mixture (particularly allspice), which meant the pies had a lovely warm aroma when they came out of the oven.
The pastry was a mix of flour and a saucepan of boiling water and lard. It was still warm as we rolled it into thin sheets, and then cut circles to line the muffin tins used to shape the pies. I’m surprised there was enough pastry left given the amount that my husband munched through on the side! He found the warm lard flour combo a bit addictive, even its unbaked form. The pies looked pretty good with their crimped edges and fortunately there was enough pastry to make 24 muffin-sized pies – plus a decorative pastry pig whose head unfortunately detached itself in the baking process. A few of the pies were cut up to eat at the end of the class; cue lots of happy male sighs of pork pie satisfaction. We had a few pies to take home, so I was followed by a trail of porky wafts on the tube and train journey home, which I’m sure delighted fellow passengers.
The classes are very reasonably priced and are often on Groupon so you can find a great deal. Jo Jo is planning to open a new shop in Wimbledon, so will also run some of her classes from there in the future. One thing I’d say is not to expect organic or rare breed pork ingredients, but the results still looked and smelled good (and according to my husband also tasted good). There was plenty of opportunity to get to grips with the pork pie basics, so you can then have a play at home with a few different ingredients.
If you’re after a good value, fun night out, Jo Jo will definitely provide you with lots of entertainment. I don’t think I’ve ever laughed so much in a cookery class. It was unconventional, but I did come away feeling confident about being able to recreate the recipe at home. While I’m still not going to be eating any pork pies in the future, it was great fun spending a night with men making pies. It also might mean a few less Melton Mowbray detours in the future as my husband can now make his very own pork pies – as long as he doesn’t eat all the pastry first.