I wonder if Pip Pirrip ever ate a pork pie in his life without a chill of horror at the memory of the Christmas pork pie when he was a small seven year old who stole the Christmas pork pie from home to give to the starving and wretched convict. If you’ve not read ‘Great Expectations’ by Dickens then you’ve missed a treat – there have been some great films, but the book is greater.
I’ve been thinking about food in books, and food plays an important part in Charles Dickens’ books – perhaps the most obvious item which springs to mind is the gruel in ‘Oliver Twist’ with the poor orphan bullied into asking ‘Please sir, I want some more?’ Those few words immediately conjure the musical ‘Oliver’ with the ear-worm song ‘Food, glorious food!’
Everyday we say our prayer
Will they change the bill of fare
Still we get the same old
Back to the pork pie. Although I enjoy pork pie, I have never made one – they do sound quite difficult to make, mincing and seasoning the pork, making the cod water crust, raising the pie, cooking it so it stands steady in its golden magnificence then pouring in the liquid gel – I think I might have to buy a pie tomorrow while I think about how I might make one. I don’t have a raised pie tin, so I might have to improvise… hmm, thinks…
It is Christmas, and young Pip has been accosted by an escaped convict, alone in the churchyard by the grave of his parents and brothers, and is threatened that he will be killed unless he brings the desperate man a file for his leg irons, and some food. He manages to steal ‘a beautiful round compact pork pie’ from the kitchen while his bullying sister and bullied brother-in-law are asleep. He finds the convict out on the marshes and gives him the file and food, and watches in fearful fascination as the man demolished it:
I had often watched a large dog of ours eating his food; and I now noticed a decided similarity between the dog’s way of eating, and the man’s. The man took strong sharp sudden bites, just like the dog. He swallowed, or rather snapped up, every mouthful, too soon and too fast; and he looked sideways here and there while he ate, as if he thought there was danger in every direction of somebody’s coming to take the pie away. He was altogether too unsettled in his mind over it, to appreciate it comfortably I thought, or to have anybody to dine with him, without making a chop with his jaws at the visitor. In all of which particulars he was very like the dog.
Pip runs away from him and gets home and into bed without his ferocious sister finding out what he has done. He thinks he is safe until guests arrive for Christmas lunch, including Uncle Pumblechook (another magnificent Dickensian name!) who had donated the magnificent pork pie which Pip had taken to the escaped convict. All through dinner, Pip has been in terror of his brutal sister discovering the missing pie and the violent punishment she would unleash on him.
“You must taste,” said my sister, addressing the guests with her best grace—“you must taste, to finish with, such a delightful and delicious present of Uncle Pumblechook’s!”
Must they! Let them not hope to taste it!
“You must know,” said my sister, rising, “it’s a pie; a savoury pork pie.”
The company murmured their compliments. Uncle Pumblechook, sensible of having deserved well of his fellow-creatures, said,—quite vivaciously, all things considered,—“Well, Mrs. Joe, we’ll do our best endeavours; let us have a cut at this same pie.”
My sister went out to get it. I heard her steps proceed to the pantry. I saw Mr. Pumblechook balance his knife. I saw reawakening appetite in the Roman nostrils of Mr. Wopsle. I heard Mr. Hubble remark that “a bit of savoury pork pie would lay atop of anything you could mention, and do no harm,” and I heard Joe say, “You shall have some, Pip.” I have never been absolutely certain whether I uttered a shrill yell of terror, merely in spirit, or in the bodily hearing of the company. I felt that I could bear no more, and that I must run away. I released the leg of the table, and ran for my life.
Whenever I’m offered pork pie, I have to resist quoting Mr Hubble: “a bit of savoury pork pie would lay atop of anything you could mention, and do no harm,”