Fidget pie is a traditional English meal containing apples, onions and ham. I don’t remember my grandmother ever making this recipe, but she had it tucked away in her recipe book from my grandfather’s family from England. Turn it into a proper harvest lunch with some country bread and piccalilli.
2 nine-inch pie crusts
3 medium white, red or Yukon gold potatoes
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 tablespoons butter
2 medium yellow onions, peeled and sliced crosswise
1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
2 tablespoons flour
½ cup warmed chicken broth, preferably homemade and somewhat rich
3/4 cup fresh apple cider (unpasteurized), divided
2 tablespoons natural (unpasteurized) cider vinegar
1/2 teaspoon coarsely ground brown mustard
1 cup coarsely grated sharp cheddar
1 ½ cup cooked ham, cut into bite-sized pieces
2 medium-sized tart apples (but not Granny Smiths), peeled, cored and thinly sliced
6 small Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved lengthwise
Pinch of freshly ground nutmeg
Freshly ground pepper, to taste
Egg wash: 1 whole egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water
Prepare the crust and have it ready to fill. Refrigerate it until the ingredients have been prepared. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.
Slice the potatoes about 1/3” thick and toss them with the olive oil and a pinch of salt. Roast them in the hot oven for ten minutes. You want them to be somewhat cooked, but not crisp. Allow them to sit on the baking sheet for at least ten minutes before removing. (They’ll come up much more easily, if you do.) You can do this step in advance and store the potato pieces, tightly covered, in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours. Warm them gently, though, before assembling the pie.
In a heavy skillet, cook the onion slices in two tablespoons of butter (or bacon fat, or a combination of the two) with a pinch of salt over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for at least ten minutes, or until lightly browned. Remove the onions with a slotted spoon and set aside.
In the same skillet (without wiping it), melt the remaining tablespoon of butter or bacon fat and sprinkle the flour over it; cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until you have a somewhat dry paste. Continue to stir while cooking until the mixture becomes a light, nutty brown color.
Add the chicken broth slowly, stirring constantly. Add the thyme leaves, continuing to stir. Slowly add 1/2 cup of the apple cider and stir well. Cook for about two minutes, add whatever juices have collected in the bowl with the onions, and cook for another minute, stirring. Add the mustard, the cider vinegar and the cooked onions and stir to combine. You can do this step in advance and store the mixture, tightly covered, in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours. Warm it gently, though, before assembling the pie.
In the bottom of the prepared pie shell, layer the cheese, then the potatoes, then the ham, then the onion mixture, and then the apples. If you are adding Brussels sprouts, add them between the ham and onion mixture layers.
Slowly pour the remaining 1/4 cup of cider over the filling. Sprinkle the nutmeg, a good pinch of salt and freshly grated pepper, to taste, over the pie filling.
Paint the outer edge of the lower crust with egg wash. Put the top crust on, paint with egg wash, and lightly sprinkle on a few pinches of coarse salt. (The best way to do this so you don’t end up with clumps of salt on the crust is to hold your hand about 16 inches or more above the pie while sprinkling.)
Vent by cutting 1 ½ inch slits around the outside edge and in the middle. Cut as a vent in the center of the pie the initial of someone who will be at the table when you serve it. This is very important.
Cook at 425 degrees for 15 minutes. Reduce the heat to 350 degrees F and cook for another 45 minutes. Check after the pie has been in the oven for a total of 20-25 minutes; if necessary, cover with a foil frame or whatever method you prefer to prevent the crust from getting too dark.
Serve with roasted carrots and roasted Brussels sprouts or broccoli (if you’re not cooking the Brussels in the pie).
Grandma’s Hot Water Pie Crust (use store bought if you don’t want to make homemade)
¾ cup high quality leaf lard or organic, non-hydrogenated shortening
¼ cup boiling water
1 tablespoon hot 2% or whole milk
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
If you are using lard, make sure that it is at room temperature before you begin making the crust. In a medium bowl, whip the boiling water and hot milk into the lard or shortening with a fork until the fat melts and the ingredients are combined. Allow to cool to lukewarm.
Add the flour and the salt and stir well until combined.
Divide into two, with one piece — to be used as the top crust — slightly larger than the other. Quickly gather up one portion and wrap it in plastic wrap. While in the wrap, shape the dough into a rough disk about six inches in diameter. Put it into the refrigerator. Do the same thing with the other half of the dough.
Refrigerate for at least an hour.
Roll out each piece between two large pieces of plastic wrap (or a pie crust bag, if that’s what you typically use), lightly flouring the bottom piece, and lightly flouring the top of the dough. If you’ve refrigerated it overnight, it helps to let it sit on the counter for ten or fifteen minutes before rolling. Put one rolled crust in a 9-inch pie plate, removing the bottom sheet of plastic, and leaving a half-inch overhang of dough. Keep the other piece of plastic on it, tucking the edges so that the crust remains wrapped. Wrap the edges of wrap on the other crust so that it is fully covered as well.
Return both crusts to the refrigerator until you’re ready to assemble the pie.