Homity pies straight from the oven, hot and still in their tins, and served with a mixed salad and home-made croutons and a beetroot salad
I tasted my first homity pie in a wholefood restaurant in our town in the early 1980s. Sadly, that restaurant is long gone, but the memory of its delicious homity pies served with a variety of salads has remained. I asked the proprietor for the recipe and he told me it was from The Cranks Recipe Book which I then bought.
From what I’ve been able to ascertain, Cranks as a company no longer exists. It was a chain of wholefood vegetarian restaurants founded by David and Kay Canter and Daphne Swann, starting in London in 1961. At that time there were few vegetarian restaurants in this country and wholefood ingredients were hard to find. Indeed, it was named Cranks because vegetarians were, prior to these restaurants opening, considered to be “cranky”.
In time Cranks had restaurants in some other towns and there was one in the Cider Press Centre in Dartington, where we visited on Thursday. That café/restaurant is now called Bayards Kitchen and I hope that David and Kay (both now deceased) aren’t spinning in their wholefood, vegetarian graves as I noticed that meat has been added to the menu, with meat pies and pasties. But nonetheless, there are still plenty of vegetarian options. (There also used to be a Cranks wholefood shop in the High Street, Totnes where I would buy their delicious wholemeal bread which was, admittedly on the rather ‘solid’ side of bread, the complete opposite of a light, crusty French baguette, but also very nice when fresh (when a little stale you could use it as a building brick!)
All the illustrations here are from my Cranks Recipe Book, published by Dent in 1982
(My edition is hardback, with dust jacket, published in 1984)
The Cranks’ menus at first consisted mainly of salads, not just the humble round, limp lettuce with a bit of cucumber and tomato, but all kinds of vegetables and pulses. The style of the restaurants was different from what had gone before, too. They were styled similarly to the 1960s coffee bars (wine bars hadn’t yet been invented, let alone the coffee shops of today although, as we know, coffee houses have a long history dating back to the days of Samuel Pepys) with natural oak tables, hand-thrown stoneware pottery, quarry tiles, woven baskets … I’m sure you get the picture.
I love the rustic colours of the illustrations (by John Lawrence, Calligraphy by Donald Jackson) in the Cranks Recipe Book
Here is the recipe for homity pie …
I don’t, however, use wholemeal pastry for homity pie. I find it far too heavy, too solid. I use ordinary shortcrust pastry made with plain white flour and margarine, bound together with an egg and a little milk if that is necessary. You can make as much or as little pastry as you require, just bearing in mind that you use half the amount of fat to flour, so 150gr of flour would be 75gr of fat (margarine or butter or whatever you use to make your pastry.)
I don’t blind bake. If you use very cool ingredients, allow the pastry (once made) to rest in the fridge for at least half an hour, use good quality tins that transfer the heat quickly (ceramic isn’t a good idea for pastry, although some ceramic flan dishes are very pretty, I admit), roll the pastry as thinly as possible and have the oven hot to start with, I have found blind baking totally unnecessary.
Basically, you boil or steam potatoes, and chop them up into chunks. Chop and saute an onion or onions (depending on how many pies you wish to make, or if you are making a large individual pie for a family meal) …
A large homity pie, straight from the oven, still in it’s loose-bottomed flan tin
Grate cheese (strong cheddar or a mixture of cheddar, gruyere and parmesan, whichever you prefer), chop parsley (it doesn’t make any difference whether you use flat-leaf or curly-leaf parsley, but use plenty of it) and then combine the four ingredients, the potato chunks, the chopped sautéed onion, the grated cheese and the chopped parsley, adding about a tablespoon of milk and seasoning. The recipe mentions garlic but I find garlic can ‘take over’ and so rather than using garlic myself I saute the onions using garlic butter, which gives a much more subtle garlic taste to the mixture. But this is a personal preference, so if you like garlic, add that when you are sautéing the onions. The recipe says add the crushed garlic with the cheese, but I like the garlic (if I use it) cooked before it is added.
Now, pile this mixture into the small tins or a large flan tin lined with pastry and bake for about 20 to 25 minutes at around 200C, middle shelf, checking the oven from time, perhaps turning down to 180C if the mixture is cooking too quickly, but the oven must be hot to start with so that the pastry starts to bake immediately and there is no chance of a ‘soggy bottom’.
You can serve homity pies with whatever you like – baked beans for a supper dish, or a green or a mixed salad, coleslaw, tomato sauce, etc.
Until next time.