Here in Lillooet we get a lot of tourists in the Spring and Summer. They hail from all over the globe and one can hear snatches of conversations in many of the languages of Europe when walking down Main St. The tour buses stop at several locations around town and one of these is near our museum. Nearby is an Esso station which has set up a picnic area on their property for these visitors and provides food and ice cream for those hot days. When you walk past here, two things occur. You hear lots of Aussie accents and you smell something wonderful.
A quick glance at the menu board lets you determine that the source of the aroma is Aussie Meat Pies. You quickly remind yourself that you are a permanent resident here and thus that you should go home and eat there. You may waddle off to the Post Office to pick up your bills and those vacuum cleaner bags you ordered from Kamloops a month ago. On the way back home you pause and look again. They really seem to be enjoying their meal. You promise yourself that one day you will try one.
Exactly what happened to me just the other day. I had never had the pleasure of eating an Aussie Meat Pie although I have traveled the world and have eaten everything offered to me. I had the usual Chicken and Beef Pot Pies while growing up. These anemic distant cousins of the AMP are tinfoil cups full of corn starch, chicken or beef bullion, diced carrots, peas and DICED meat. The typical forkful yielded only enough meat to obscure an American ten cent piece. The whole affair is wrapped in pale half-cooked dough which smells reminiscent of someone else's Grandma's rolling pin rather than your own.
Personally, I detest pie crust, while I love many pie fillings. I make exceptions for thin crust pizza, spanakopita filo pastry and anything with graham cracker crust. I have been like this since early boyhood and it was much later in life I realized I had the ancient gift of the colon whisperer.
Just the other day after over eighty hours of sustained high winds, I ventured forth to collect my mail and buy my tobacco. It happens that the Esso has the best price on that commodity and as I approached two tour buses came into my view. I had just cashed in a five dollar lotto ticket a block before and this brought my pocket total to ten dollars. I went inside and did something I had always wanted to do. I asked the lady to fix me up one of those Aussie Meat Pies. I watched out the window as the picnic tables cleared and the buses re-filled. They were just pulling away when my pie went into the warmer.
While I waited I had a nice chat with an elderly gent about the meal I was about to enjoy. He taught me that what made the Aussie Pie different to any other meat pie, be it British or American, was the meat to vegetable ratio. An Aussie Pie, he told me, was by the meat, for the meat, to protect the meat. It is merely laced with enough peas and carrots to add the tiniest bit of color and afford better traction. I thanked the man and the lady and carried my prize outdoors where I polished it off in the time it takes the kook-a-burras to sing.
The crust was buttery, crisp and very thin for such a robust pie. For this I was thankful. The interior was a lovely brown speckled with green and orange. The consistency was that of a person's first meatloaf before they learned to add an egg or any breadcrumbs. Thick enough to stand alone when dipped into but ready to fall to the gums of an infant. The spicing was, in general, bland as is proper for a dish of British heritage. This said, I soon found that the choice meat, fresh peas and carrots had been allowed full expression of their own flavors.
I was so impressed, I went home and proceeded to adapt what I had learned into something tangible and as a result of this, Cayoosh Pie was born. I will sketch out my method below for any interested parties.
***Recipe for Cherokee Swede's Cayoosh Pie***
Take about 4-5 lbs. Of grass-fed lean beef, buffalo, deer or moose meat ground fine. Fry it up slow and chop it into puree as it browns. If your meat is good quality, when you are done you should not have enough fat to pour off into anything bigger than a spoon, thus you can save the meat drippings in a cup on the side as they are mostly water and salt. Open up a bottle of Argentine Malbec and pour yourself a glass. Put on some Pink Floyd and crank it. While this is ongoing, scrub up about five spuds each as big as both of your fists, skin them with a ceramic device and boil them in salted water til they yield to a fork. Have the meat standing by in a tall pot with a spoon of olive oil spread across the bottom. Mash the potatoes with real butter and add nothing more to them. Put them in a clean bowl and set them aside. Wash up the stuff you have used already, change the record and top up that wine glass. Get another clean bowl and crush up a six inch stack of Stoned Wheat Thin crackers if you live in Canada or an equal amount of stale baguette if you live elsewhere. Use a clean smooth fist-shaped rock that has been rubbed over with fresh garlic. When this is well crushed add one egg, two cap fulls of Realemon, seven hard shakes of Worcestershire sauce and five soft shakes of Tabasco. Wash your hands with particular attention to getting the dang soap off them. In a small dish, spill out some oregano, thyme, black pepper and dill so fresh it smells like driving down a Texas highway in June with the windows rolled down. Start out with 1/4 teaspoons of each. Open a big can of chopped spinach. The best is from France. After opening the can drain the water off. If you have used the French spinach there will be less than a teaspoon in the largest size can. Roll up your sleeves and dump the spinach into the crumb bowl. You will now plunge into the stuff and hand mix it until it is like green drywall paste. Pour the plate of herbs into it and mix it up again. Taste a bit off your hand and see if, in your opinion anything is lacking and if so go a bit more on that one. Set this aside and wash up again. Put the pot of meat on a burner and bring it up to heat. Dash on some crushed black pepper about the size of a silver dollar in your hand. Stir this constantly with a wooden spoon. If its too dry, add the water you saved from “frying” the meat. Now, add a whole fistful of Sabzhi Ash Amira. This is an easy to find mixture of fresh sun-dried herbs from the mountains over Iran way. There are five kinds of leaves in this mix, cilantro, dill, spinach, parsley and leeks. They are bright green, paper thin and swell up like Japanese seaweed when cooked. They will provide a taste feedback loop to your spinach mix. Take a single crunchy celery stalk and slice it into razor thin half moons. Drop it into the meat pot and stir it in. It will be the last time you see it but you will taste it forever. Now, take a pack of Knorr's Cream of Leek soup mix and hydrate it with 1/2 the water called for on the bag. Whisk it while its still cold and let it heat til it thickens up nice. When this is done, add it to the meat. Keep stirring that pot of meat and pour in about a half teacup of the Malbec. When you get this up to a bubbling heat, take a small bag of frozen diced peas and carrots and add one half to the meat. While that is coming up to bubble again, take two to four big tablespoons of tamarind paste and mix it up with enough warm water or meat juice or spinach juice to make it like enamel paint. Pour that in and stir it up. Watch that pot and keep scraping the bottom as things try to stick and dry out. When the little geysers of water diminish in number to no more than two or so, its done. Give another mighty stir and take it off the heat. Get whatever crockery you happen to own as long as its five to six inches deep and grease up their bottoms, sides and top with a paper towel smeared with a little olive oil. Using a spatula, put down a compact, flat layer of spinach mix on the bottom. Keepit about as thick as 1/2” plywood. Wait til the meat is cooled down a bit and then add a good four fingers on top of the spinach bed. Bang the vessels gently on the side board to get out any bubbles and to level it off. Now you will top it with mashed potatoes as you would do for a Shepherd's Pie. If they are too cold and stiff from the butter, heat them gently by any means available and then spread them on like cake icing. Bang it all flat again and from about a foot high, dust some sweet paprika onto them til the tops look like parking lot snow. Turn on the oven to about 350 and bake the crocks for about 20 minutes. The bottom layer aroma will travel into the meat layer which will in turn seep into the potatoes. Remove it from the oven and let it cool off. You can now slice out big slabs of red/white and green onto a plate to re-heat. Washes down equally well with fresh ground coffee, a glass of Malbec or a Cooper's. Have a puddle of HP Sauce on your plate to swab up with each forkful. Cayoosh Pie takes about 48 hours in the fridge to reach its full potential. Enjoy this treat and remember that when it comes to pie crust, just say no. Cheers from Lillooet, Mate.
Michael Hawes was born in Texas, raised in Louisiana and lives in British Columbia.