Gloucestershire Squab Pie, Gloucestershire
Contrary to what might be expected, Squab pie (at least in Gloucester and its environs) does not involve the use of tender young pigeons, but rather lamb as the meat ingredient.
This is a dish that has elements of the medieval about it - spices, the use of fruit with meat - yet strangely just such combinations are becoming fashionable with chefs again. Maybe that will save squab pie from culinary extinction - a survey recently published by the supermarket chain Sainsbury's found that fewer than 3 per cent of British teenagers had tried this dish, putting it on the 'at risk' list of British classics.
Gloucestershire still raises plenty of lamb, so the meat is one that would have been available locally since time immemorial. Some suggest the use of leftovers, and nothing wrong with that on occasion, but this is plainly not a dish originally intended for using up, given that it uses a good deal of spice that even just a couple of few centuries ago would have placed it in the luxury range.
The other major ingredients are apple, and again this is a region rich in orchards, and onion, both sliced, and if preferred blanched before being baked in the pie.
A pie dish is layered with lamb, apple, onion, and again lamb, apple, onion. Allspice and grated nutmeg are added, with none too light a hand, they are meant to be more than a hint in the background. The filling is seasoned, a little hot lamb or if no lamb is available chicken stock is poured on, and then this filling is covered with a butter-brushed shortcrust lid (ideally made with some lard as shortening), and the whole baked until the top is nicely browned. As the filling is substantial the cooking time is likely to exceed an hour, running towards an hour and a half, so the top may need protection if it is veering towards the overdone and you don't judge the filling to be ready yet.
Pastry is the traditional topping, but some would have us use mashed potato, or a combination of potato and swede, but this is not as appealing, or in all likelihood as original, as the pastry version. Who after all can resist the aroma of pastry wafting in from the kitchen?