Pie and Anglophilia

It’s not some sick euphemism, I promise.

As I mentioned previously, I am now engaged to a wonderfully delightfully awesome man, who happens to guard his privacy very closely. As such, let’s call him the Earl of Pie-ish Town, or just Earl for short.There’s a fine line between sharing myself with the world and sharing him with the world via our relationship, which is why I vet all my posts by him. Also because he can proofread the fuck out of writing, and my posts would be far more generously littered with profanity, missed words, and awkward sentence structures otherwise. What I can divulge is that he is British, and it is through him that I’ve come to realize why anglophilia is a thing. He is also partly why the recipes I post have metric conversions.

Americans are seemingly hardwired to love British accents despite our propensity to cast British people as bad guys, and counterintuitively given how hard we worked to declare our independence. Love Actually makes free use of this trope, suggesting that an asshole of cosmic proportions like Colin can not only score with three beautiful American midwestern women at once, but also convince a fourth to return to the UK with him in order to hook up with his friend – with his accent alone. I won’t lie, the accent is charming enough to make up for any number of sins, if the concept of sins existed in the framework of a relationship, which they shouldn’t because then we’d start thinking in terms of scorekeeping, and MY sins would come into question, and we can’t have that.

When I first started becoming acquainted with the British people, a number of things delighted me about them. Their amazing ability to line up (“queue”, as it were) was greatly impressive. The political system is admirable. Earl took me on a tour of London and started explaining to me how the British Parliamentary system works in comparison to the US polity. I was baffled and asked Earl, “What stops the House of Lords or the House of Commons from being enormous dicks and furthering their own agenda against the wishes of general population?”
He looked at me quizzically and genuinely confused by my question, he asked, “Why would they?”
Given how our Congress shut down the entire government in an act of what boils down to petulance, I was blown away by the notion that a lawmaking government body might take its responsibility seriously. By far what’s made the greatest impression on me, however, is the impeccable manners of the average British citizen (rabid soccer football fans notwithstanding).

I was in public being clumsy and probably inattentive somewhere (this is common for me) and stepped on a man’s foot. Before I could babble my apologies, HE apologized to ME! I made my apologies anyway, but for a few moments, I basked in this sort of aura of courtesy that probably prompts Earl to say, “lovely chap”. I later found out that “Sorry” may have been code for “Nasty fat American, we hates it forever!” But outwardly he was very polite! Even on the roads, British people are unfailingly polite and it truly makes for a pleasant experience on the highways – I say this as a passenger because I haven’t summoned the nerve to get an international license to drive in the UK yet. In the US, and specifically in the no-nonsense DC area, changing lanes can be a really harrowing experience. Sometimes you signal and the asshole in the next lane over closes up the gap you’re trying to merge into. Sometimes you signal, and you’re the asshole who doesn’t care in the slightest if someone is in that lane or not. Sometimes you’re one of those commercial vans, driving in what you realize at the last minute is the wrong lane, and you cut the lady in the next lane off so badly that she has to slam on her brakes, causing her to skid into and up the lane barrier, almost flipping her car and forcing her to stop on the shoulder so she can take a moment to gather her wits, while innocent bystanding bloggers stop to find out if she’s ok and offer to provide a witness statement to her insurance company saying that, yes, you are an accident-causing douchebag.

From what I could observe, in the UK when someone wants to change lanes, they signal, not making a move until the signal has ticked once per 10 MPH. At 60 MPH, that’s 6 ticks saying, “Hello there! Could I trouble you to let me merge into your lane please?” The car in the next lane flashes their lights indicating, “Yes, by all means, please merge into this lane.” The signalling car merges over and turns on its hazards briefly, saying, “Thank you, driver. Very kind of you.” If I exaggerate, it’s not by much. Can you imagine how many accidents we could prevent on our roads if Americans were this polite??

Being that this is a pie blog though, we do need to discuss British pies.

It seems to be common knowledge that pie in the US generally refers to dessert, whereas in the UK, savo(u)ry pie is king. Our pies are direct descendants of English pies, which were brought over by the colonists in the 17th century. By then, however, pie had already had a long and interesting history. Richard II ate pie (with actual birds inside, meant to fly out once the crust was cut). Henry VIII ate pie. Henrietta Maria, Charles I’s queen and after whom Maryland is named, was gifted with a gigantic pie in which an 18-inch tall seven-year-old boy named Jeffrey Hudson was hidden. He leaped out of the pie and Henrietta Maria kept him, being that he was a present to her and you just don’t turn down seven-year-old boys who are gifted to you. In 1816, when Antonin Carême created a 100+ course dinner for the future Tsar Nicholas of Russia, there were at least 2 pies on the menu (rabbit and mushroom) plus a miniature version of the Royal Pavilion in Brighton made out of pastry. Victoria served a huge 2-foot diameter pie for Christmas. And Frances totally won The Great British Bake Off (Season 4) with her peach pie and rainbow picnic pie.

So it seems somewhat symbolic given the history of pie in the UK and my obsession with it that my first meal ever with Earl involved a steak and kidney pie. It was tasty, and I ate the entire thing, but there was a strange aftertaste to it. When I commented on this, he winced and said that they may not have washed and treated the kidney thoroughly. “So what you’re telling is that I just ate cow pee,” I said.
“Sorry,” he apologized, even though none of it was his doing. By then I was on to his British politeness.

After we decided that transatlantic dating would be a really spectacular idea, I went over to visit him again, and we traveled around the Cotswolds for several days before it came time for Earl to take me to the airport for the flight home. Just as I was packing my luggage, I received a call from my airline informing me that my flight had been canceled and that they’d booked me on another flight the next morning. I had no hotel reservation, and Earl was in the middle of buying a house and had no place of his own for me to stay. He called his parents and asked if I could crash there for the night, and his mother said, “Of course!” and like that, one month into dating I was meeting my intercontinental boyfriend’s parents. They welcomed us in and his mother served up a fish pie. Prior to that moment, my idea of fish pie was limited to stargazy pie, so you can imagine my relief when I was presented with a casserole dish full of chunks of fish meat and vegetables in a delicious creamy sauce, topped with mashed potatoes. Apparently when British people say “pie”, half the time they mean “delicious meat in sauce topped with mashed potatoes”.

I intend to try stargazy pie someday, incidentally. It’s not that fish heads bother me – I am Chinese – but after a long day of having my flight canceled, an impromptu trip to Stonehenge and getting drenched in the rain, and then the long car ride back, I just didn’t feel like dealing with my food looking up at me.

That wouldn’t be the last I’d heard of British hospitality and manners and pie though. Earl came to stay with me for several weeks about a year after we started dating. I’d just moved into my new house, and on a gastronomically adventurous bender at a farmer’s market, I’d bought some ground lamb. I’d never eaten lamb in my entire life up until that point because I’d been haunted by some imagery bestowed upon me by my mother, involving a baby lamb crying little lamby tears, and kneeling down on its little lamby front legs just before a butcher killed it. I suspect now that she made the whole damn thing up, but it was very effective in keeping me from even trying lamb. Anyway, while I was at work, Earl fumbled around in my kitchen politely IM-ing me every so often to ask where the bouillon or broth was, or where I kept my potato peeler. He informed me that he was making me and my daughters a shepherd’s pie to inaugurate my foray into eating lamb.

I came home exhausted from work, and he apologized that dinner would not be ready the second I walked in the door as he’d hoped because it had taken him much longer to mash the ever-loving shit out of the potatoes without a potato ricer. Instead, I would have to wait five or even as many as ten minutes before the pie would be ready to come out of the oven. When it finally did – a glacier melted, I am sure – we sat down to eat and I, with great trepidation at putting this formerly baby, crying, kneeling animal in my mouth, ate a bite of shepherd’s pie.

The mashed potatoes that he’d worked so hard on were indeed lumpless, fluffy and airy like whipped cream, but made of potato. The vegetables were a perfect complement to the meat, which tasted only ever so slightly gamey but pleasantly so, and had a consistency like beef, but richer, and more tender somehow. I might have even closed my eyes at that moment. Savoring that mouthful of shepherd’s pie evoked a Homer Simpson-esque image of me prancing in meadows, grabbing cartoon lambs with perfectly circular eyes, one in each hand and taking an entire bite out of it before setting it down to grab another.  I was chagrined that I’d missed so many years of eating lamb. The shepherd’s pie was perfectly delicious, and I was lucky enough to have this wonderful man cook it for me and have it ready for me very nearly as soon as I’d gotten home.

“Sorry,” Earl said, breaking my reverie and oblivious to my lambly bliss. I must have opened my eyes at that point, because I remember him looking a little disappointed. “I didn’t cook it long enough and the sauce is a bit runny.”

God bless the British.


5 thoughts on “Pie and Anglophilia

  1. Loving the humour in your posts, keep ’em coming! 🙂

    Mmmmh, shepherd’s pie… *drool* (my wife makes little grooves in the top of the pie with a fork, so that the tips get ever-so-slighly browned, which makes for a great counterpoint to the softness underneath).


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