“Pheasant pie?” huffed a long-nosed young man, who had just arrived to their table, staggering under the weight of a huge pie.
“Oh, yes. Thank you.”
Sweat beading on his forehead, he bent his knees and slide the pie onto the table between them, where it steamed.
“I tell you, I could live off this pie!” Nanette said with a feverish glint in her eyes.
The Tale of Mally Biddle, Chapter 2
When it comes to my writing, food plays a huge part. The dishes and drinks that my characters consume paint vivid pictures of their culture, lives, and personalities. It’s helpful that I genuinely love to eat and cook. My own passion for pleasing my gut makes writing food not only fun but necessary. Whenever I read a book that takes the time to showcase food, my opinion of it lifts.
The excerpt above is taken from Chapter 2 of my novel The Tale of Mally Biddle. In it, one character (Cayla — she is not mentioned in the excerpt) has been very depressed. In hopes of cheering her up, the other character (Nanette) takes her to dinner. Isn’t this what we all do when a friend is feeling down? Don’t we try to lift spirits with good food, good company, and (perhaps) good drinks?
The pie that the waiter is struggling to carry is an adaptation of a very real dish. In the novel I made it a Pheasant Pie because that sounded more rustic and old world. I’m sure that if you got your hands on a pheasant, it would make a delightful version. The real pie, though, is a Beef Pie from one of my favorite cookbooks. It takes time and makes and unholy mess, but if you’re up for an utterly amazing dish, give it a whirl. For true Biddle fashion, turn on some Irish fiddle music in the background, turn off the lights, light a few stumpy candles, and pour yourself a dark beer.
Beef Pie (from James Beard’s American Cooking — get this book, it’s amazing)
3 pounds beef — chuck, rump, or round — cut into strips 1 1/2 by 2 inches
3 to 4 Tbs flour
1 Tbs salt
1 tsp freshly ground pepper
6 Tbs finely chopped beef suet
1 onion stuck with 2 cloves
1 clove garlic
1 tsp summer savory
1 tsp thyme
Water to cover
12 mushroom caps
4 Tbs butter
2 large onions, sliced
1/4 cup chopped parsley
Pastry (I use a pie crust recipe that uses both butter and beef tallow)
2 Tbs heavy cream
This pie can be made almost entirely in advance. Customarily, the meat and sauce are prepared the day before cooking and cooled or chilled, and the crust is fitted on the dish just before it is placed in the oven. Puff pastry or rough puff pastry work extremely well for this purpose, and a suet pastry or cream cheese pastry are quite successful also.
Combine the flour with the salt and pepper, and dredge the meat in it. This most easily is done by putting the flour mixture and meat in a paper or plastic bag and shaking it. Melt the suet in a large skillet or braising pan, and when it is quite hot, sear the meat quickly on all sides. When it is nicely browned, add the onion, garlic, carrot, summer savory, and thyme. Pour in water to just cover the meat, bring to a boil, then reduce the heat. Simmer about 1 1/2 hours. The meat should be tender, but not completely cooked.
While the meat is simmering, melt the butter in a hot skillet. Add the sliced onions and sliced mushrooms to the pan. Add salt and pepper. Cook over moderate heat until the onions become translucent and the mushrooms tender.
Allow the cooked beef to stand about 15 minutes, then remove the onion, garlic, and carrot, Skim off any excess fat that rises to the surface. In a 2 1/2 quart baking dish arrange alternate layers of beef and onion/mushroom mixture; pour the sauce over all, and add the parsley. Allow to cool an hour or so. If it is to be cooked the next day, cover and refrigerate. At least an hour and a half before cooking, prepare the pastry and chill it. Roll it out. Moisten the edges of the dish slightly. Cover the dish with the pastry. Trim any overhang and crimp the edges. If there are open patches, patch them with strips of left over pastry. Cut a vent in the center. If you like, place a paper cornucopia in the vent as a funnel for the steam. You may also decorate the top with leftover pastry cut into flower and leaf shapes, moistening the sides to be attached. Brush the entire pastry with the egg beaten together lightly with the cream.
Bake 10 minutes at 425 degrees. Reduce the heat to 375 degrees and continue cooking until the crust is nicely brown and steam is rising through the vest, about 45 minutes to 1 hour. Serve at once. A puree of carrots or turnips is a pleasant accompaniment.
The Tale of Mally Biddle by M.L. LeGette
When Mally Biddle agreed to spy upon the King of Lenzar and his overbearing knights she knew she was
heading into danger. She didn’t know she’d find a family unlike any other.
Posing as a servant in Bosc Castle, Mally serves tea and tends fires for the most dangerous men in the
kingdom. Her goal is to learn the truth of what happened sixteen years ago, when the infant princess
met her death … a death that is surrounded by more questions than answers.
Along her search for the truth, Mally meets the energized Lita Stump, the strict and matriarchal Meriyal
Boyd, and the opinionated Archibald Diggleby. Then of course there are the knights: Leon Gibbs who
is slicker than a greased hog, Adrian Bayard, hot tempered and violent, and the worst of the lot: Sir
Illius Molick, Captain of the Knights. And then there is Maud, a mysterious woman who just might know
“To say I loved this book is an understatement. Mally is a wonderful character and she encounters so
many quirky folks on her assignment. Very well written and engaging story! And an added bonus of a
love triangle! I enjoyed it from beginning to end!! I will definitely be looking for more from this author!”
Author Melissa LeGette
Melissa LeGette lives in Georgia where she helps run a family farm, so her nails are a fright. The Tale of
Mally Biddle is her second novel.